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Exploring Unintentional Racism

The Case of Tim Hanks


Thomas E. Ford
Psychology Department
Western Carolina University


This case study is designed to help students explore their attitudes about race and examine the complexity of racism. It also has been used to teach about the social psychology of unintentional racism, attribution theory, and institutionalized racism. The case has been used in an introductory psychology course, in which it was used as the focus of the social psychology unit; in a social psychology course, where it was used to accompany the unit on prejudice; and in a course on prejudice.  In addition, it has been presented in a workshop format to faculty interested in reducing racism and improving multicultural programming.


  • To have students think about their definitions of racism and recognize that there are several different ways of thinking about it.
  • To promote awareness of the subtle, unintentional forms of racism which operate to discriminate against African-Americans.
  • To increase understanding of and appreciation for cultural differences between African-Americans and whites.


Race; racism; discrimination; institutionalized racism; unintentional racism; aversive racism; attribution theory; fundamental attribution error

Topical Areas

Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Continuing education, Faculty development



Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Psychology  |   Sociology  |   Teacher Education  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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