NYU professor speaks about identity politics

By Leah Depalo

Correspondent

A New York University professor visited the College this past Thursday, Nov. 29 and spoke to students about white identity politics and its effect on the presidential voting process in America.

In the lecture entitled “White Identity Politics in the Obama Era,” Eric Knowles, an assistant professor of psychology at NYU, spoke to students about his study of white identity politics and how white group identity has created an era of post-racialism in America.

“Identity politics is the formation of political beliefs based off in-group alliances intended to further the interest of that group,” Knowles said. As explained in his lecture, identity politics has the power to shape the decision-making process of voters when voting for political candidates.

In order for Knowles to theorize his notion of white identity politics, he first had to conduct a study to prove if people associated themselves with “white identity,” since very little research was previously conducted on the matter.  Knowles then went on to explain his notion of the “White Identity Blind Spot,” which explains how, in the field of social psychology, the study of white identity is drastically understudied when compared to the study of African American or Asian American identity.

“The white race is hegemonic, meaning that they represent the norm or default in society numerically, politically and are considered to be socially dominant,” Knowles said. “Due to the fact that the white race is hegemonic, membership of ‘white identity’ is usually transparent,” and is challenging to study.

In order to collect valid data, Knowles conducted his research by both explicit and implicit means. Explicitly, Knowles used an identity questionnaire.  Implicitly, he used a “White Identity Centrality Implicit Association Test,” which unconsciously measures white identity characteristics of the subject being tested.

“The implicit test measures an automatic association between themselves and being white,” Knowles said.

When asked by Professor Hughes of the psychology department if he preferred the explicit or implicit measure, Knowles said, “Though both tests are valid, I prefer the implicit measure because interpretation of subject answers is not necessary.”

Results of Knowles tests were quite conclusive in supporting that white identity does exist, and that this identity  does influence voting opinion. According to Knowles’s study, Americans with high white identity tend to vote for Obama in order to justify a post-racialist America.  By voting for Obama and creating a post-racialist era in America, those with high white identity seek to justify that racism in America is no longer an issue.

After the lecture, senior psychology major Sara DiGiacomantonio, reflected on Knowles’s findings.

“Currently I am enrolled in a developmental seminar about racism and prejudice views in young children, and the same results of our implicit and explicit findings reflect Knowles results,” DiGiacomantonio said.  “It is really interesting to see how beliefs and children can carry through to adult beliefs and affect the psychology of social politics.”