Intersectional Patterns of Prejudice Confrontation by White, Heterosexual and Cisgender Allies

Intervention by a third party and gender determine if, and to what extent, an ally chooses to confront a prejudicious comment.


Prejudice confrontation, which refers to expressing a negative attitude towards a prejudicial statement or action, is an important strategy for achieving a more socially just society. Previous evidence on prejudice confrontation focuses on the behavior of oppressed groups when facing harmful actions and attitudes against them when in reality challenging oppressive systems can and should also be done by allies. 

Using an intersectional lens (that is, a lens that takes into consideration multiple forms of oppression that interlock and affect us in unique ways) is important when studying prejudice confrontation, as social identities that cause oppression and privilege function together. A lack of intersectional analysis in prejudice confrontation research has previously prevented scholars from finding how allies might use their multiple privileges when witnessing prejudice against distinct marginalized groups. 

To understand how this interconnection takes place, the authors conducted two experiments to analyze the prejudice confrontation behavior of allies. The first experiment explored the rates and types of confrontation to anti-Mexican and antigay comments, while the second analyzed the confrontation of anti-Arab and anti-transgender comments. 


Gendered Differences in Prejudice Confrontation

  • Men were initially more likely to speak up when confronting an anti-Mexican comment than women (63% vs. 35%), but this difference was no longer statistically significant when confronting a second comment (67% vs 53%).
  • Women were more likely than men to respond to anti-gay comments. (52.9% of women vs 20.0% of men confronted a first anti-gay comment, 49.4% of women vs 26.7% of men confronted a second anti-gay comment)

Influence of a third party

  • Almost half of the participants confronted anti-Arab (49.3%); previous intervention of a third party had no influence in this rate. However, participants were more likely to use direct confrontation (calling a perpetrator racist or prejudiced) rather than indirect confrontation (making statements about how they value diversity in general) in the case of anti-Arab comments when a third party spoke against it first (90% vs 58.8%), with no significant differences between men and women.
  • Participants were more likely to confront anti-transgender comments when a third party spoke first (36% vs 67%), but it had no effect on the type of confrontation. There were also no differences between men and women. 

Developing interventions to train potential allies to understand and reflect on intersectional systemic power disparities, including how they can take action to confront discrimination is key to establishing allyship within dominant communities. Bystander intervention training that acknowledges the ways systems of oppression maintain social inequality could be helpful within workplace professional development, diversity courses and education policies.


Two studies were conducted at a public university in Texas. 

Study 1 explored rates and types of confrontation during encounters with anti-Mexican and antigay comments. Study 2 used an experimental design to assess rates and types of all confrontation of anti-Arab and anti-transgender comments in the presence of another party who either confronted the prejudice or remained silent. 

In both studies, the authors analyzed whether participants acting as allies subtly or directly challenged the antigay, antitransgender and antiracist comments, coding their responses as subtle challenge or direct challenge. 

Study 1 examined privileged participants’ reactions to two derogatory comments about Mexican Americans (n=88 White participants) or gay individuals (n=100 heterosexual participants) in an online discussion with a confederate chat partner. Researchers put participants alone in a room with a laptop and instructed them to chat with another student for about 20 minutes. Participants were told the study investigated the use of the chat feature within online courses and were given $15.00 dollars for their participation. 

Study 2 analyzed the response of participants to a biased comment against Arab individuals (n=75 White participants) or transgender individuals (n=87 cisgender heterosexual participants) in an online discussion with two confederates. The first confederate made the prejudicious comment, and the second confederate either confronted the prejudice or remained silent. Participants were told the study investigated age differences in the use of chat rooms. 

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