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Denial of racism and the Trump presidency

Alison M. Konrad (Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 14 February 2018




The purpose of this paper is to document the racist undertones of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign rhetoric and draw implications regarding its impact on equality, diversity, and inclusion. Most contemporary individuals reject explicitly racist beliefs and strive to present themselves as having egalitarian attitudes toward other races and ethnicities. However, commonly held implicit biases toward historically marginalized racioethnic groups drive negative effect that is often unconscious and unacknowledged. Inconsistency between the conscious and unconscious aspects of contemporary racism generates a population of individuals who are uncomfortable with their attitudes, creating an opening for politicians willing to leverage racist rhetoric and gain support by resolving this inconsistency.


This paper applies social psychological theory and research to address the questions of what attracts otherwise non-racist individuals to racist-tinged rhetoric. The paper also provides theory-based interventions for reducing the attractiveness and impact of racist political campaigns.


Supporters of racist politicians resolve the conflict between their negative feelings toward racioethnic minorities and their espoused anti-racist views by distancing themselves from racist rhetorical content in three ways: by denying that racist statements or actions occurred, denying that the statements or actions are racist, and/or by denying responsibility for racism and its effects. These techniques provide supporters with validation from an authority that they can express their negative affect toward out-groups and still consider themselves to be good people and not racists.

Practical implications

Distancing from racism has allowed contemporary American extremists to reframe themselves as victims of closed-minded progressives seeking to elevate undeserving and/or dangerous out-groups at the in-group’s expense. Effective anti-racism techniques are needed to counter implicit biases in order to limit the attractiveness of extremist views. Implicit biases can be effectively reduced through training in counter-stereotypic imaging, stereotype replacement, and structured inter-group interaction. Effectively countering denial of the facts involves affirming the audience’s belief system while building skepticism toward the sources of misinformation.

Social implications

While countering racist politicians requires commitment, these efforts are essential for protecting the identity of the USA as a society striving toward equality, diversity, and inclusion.


By articulating the social psychological principles underpinning racist-tinged populist rhetoric, this paper explains the attractiveness of racist statements by politicians, which tends to be under-estimated.



Konrad, A.M. (2018), "Denial of racism and the Trump presidency", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 37 No. 1, pp. 14-30.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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