Protecting Whiteness

Protecting Whiteness

White Phenotypic Racial Stereotypicality Reduces Police Use of Force

  1. Kimberly Barsamian Kahn1

Department of Psychology, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207, USA. Email:

  1. Phillip Atiba Goff

Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

  1. Katherine Lee1

Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

  1. Diane Motamed

Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA


Focusing on intergroup anti-non-White bias in the criminal justice system, little attention is given to how Whites may additionally be protected from negative police treatment. This study examines intragroup bias via perceived suspect phenotypic racial stereotypicality (e.g., how strongly members possess physical features typical of their racial group) on severity of police use of force. It is hypothesized that the Whiter one appears, the more the suspect will be protected from police force. Internal use of force case files from a large police department were coded for severity of police force, and suspects’ booking photographs were scored for phenotypic racial stereotypicality. Regression analyses confirmed that police used less force with highly stereotypical Whites, and this protective effect was stronger than the effect for non-Whites. Results suggest that intragroup bias is a protective factor for Whites, but not for non-Whites, providing an additional route through which racial disparities in policing operate.

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