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In attempting understand how Americans, who profess to value racial equality, tolerate living in such a racially stratified society, one should not take for granted that Americans, in general, have an accurate perception of current levels of racial inequality. To this point, in one main line of research, my colleagues and I seek to better understand the extent to which Americans hold accurate perceptions of contemporary racial inequality, as well as the psychological factors that influence the accuracy of these perceptions.

Thus far, much of our work in this are has examined perceptions of societal progress toward economic equality between Black and White Americans. In this work, my colleagues and I have found that Americans significantly, and dramatically, overestimate the extent to which the contemporary U.S. has reached economic parity between Black and White Americans (Kraus, Rucker & Richeson, 2017, PNAS). And although high-income, White participants generated the least accurate estimates of current economic equality, Black participants and White participants from low-income backgrounds also profoundly overestimate progress toward racial economic equality (for a review, see Kraus, Onyeador, Daumeyer, Rucker, & Richeson, 2019, POPS).

Building from these initial findings, our more recent work has focused on uncovering the psychological factors that may underlie Americans’ profound overestimates of racial economic progress. For instance, we have found that greater endorsement of “just world beliefs” (e.g., Lipkus, 1991), or the belief that the world is generally fair and that people get what they deserve, is a robust, consistent predictor of greater overestimates of progress toward racial economic equality (Kraus, Rucker & Richeson, 2017, PNAS). Moreover, we have also begun to uncover factors that lead to more accurate estimates of racial economic equality. For instance, we have found that priming White Americans with evidence of rising societal economic inequality, more generally, and potentially undermining perceptions of economic opportunity (e.g., McCall, Burk, Laperrière, & Richeson, 2017), lead to more accurate estimates of progress toward Black-White economic equality (Hudson, Rucker, Callaghan, Kraus, & Richeson, in prep).

In our ongoing work in this area, my colleagues and I have also collected data examining misperceptions of racial inequality other important societal domains. For example, we have started to examine misperceptions of Black-White disparities in educational outcomes (e.g., Rucker & Payne, in prep). In this work, we have found that, in general, participants both more significantly overestimate White Americans (v. Black Americans) levels of achievement on academic performance measures (e.g., tests of reading and math performance), while also underestimating White Americans’ levels of educational attainment (e.g., the percentage of post-secondary degrees received). Another set of colleagues and I are also preparing to collect data for a series of studies examining misperceptions of racial disparities in health outcomes and how these perceptions may relate to attributions for poor health (e.g., personal failings vs. lack of adequate health care access; Rucker, Muscatell, Alvarez & Galvan, in prep). Given that an accurate understanding of the scope of racial inequality seems to be a critical element in creating effective interventions to reduce it, my future work will continue to investigate the psychological factors that can be leveraged to bring these misperceptions closer to reality.