Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2014 Nov;9(6):594-609. doi: 10.1177/1745691614554658.


Social scientists have traditionally argued that whiteness-the attribute of being recognized and treated as a White person in society-is powerful because it is invisible. On this view, members of the racially dominant group have the unique luxury of rarely noticing their race or the privileges it confers. This article challenges this "invisibility thesis," arguing that Whites frequently regard themselves as racial actors. We further argue that whiteness defines a problematic social identity that confronts Whites with 2 psychological threats: the possibility that their accomplishments in life were not fully earned (meritocratic threat) and the association with a group that benefits from unfair social advantages (group-image threat). We theorize that Whites manage their racial identity to dispel these threats. According to our deny, distance, or dismantle (3D) model of White identity management, dominant-group members have three strategies at their disposal: deny the existence of privilege, distance their own self-concepts from the White category, or strive to dismantle systems of privilege. Whereas denial and distancing promote insensitivity and inaction with respect to racial inequality, dismantling reduces threat by relinquishing privileges. We suggest that interventions aimed at reducing inequality should attempt to leverage dismantling as a strategy of White identity management.

Keywords: White identity; White privilege; identity management; meritocracy; threat.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Awareness
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Race Relations / psychology*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Identification
  • United States