Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Benjamin Saunders

Committee Chair and Members

Benjamin Saunders, Chair

Philip Wong

John Jost


Racial identity, Racism, System justification, White defensiveness, White fragility, Whiteness


Racial inequality pervades American society, yet this reality is largely denied or misattributed by many White people (Bonilla-Silva & Dietrich, 2011). Why are White Americans so resistant to acknowledging their privilege as unearned and therefore illegitimate? While some research suggests nominal benefit of raising awareness of White privilege (e.g., decreases in modern racist beliefs), other work indicates outright defensive reactions (e.g., increased hardship claiming). System Justification Theory conceptualizes these defenses as attempts to legitimize the current social order and resist change. In this dissertation, I sought to address the inconsistencies in the literature by identifying factors that affect the type of reactions White people have to being reminded of White privilege. Using an experimental paradigm comparing a condition in which participants read a paragraph about White privilege to a control paragraph about chairs, in a sample of 500 White Mechanical Turk participants, we investigated the degree to which White racial identity, social dominance orientation, and self-regard affected defensive or non-defensive reactions, as measured by racial system justification, colorblind racism, and affirmative action attitudes. We found significant condition x White racial self-regard interactive effects on racial system justification, colorblind racism and affirmative action attitudes. Individuals low in White racial self-regard defended the racial status quo in response to evidence of White privilege, whereas those who were racially secure were able to incorporate information about White privilege and acknowledge systemic racism. Thus, interventions geared toward maintaining racial self-regard while interrogating the ways White people perpetuate racial inequality may be necessary to sustain White engagement in dismantling racism.