Robert D. Mather, Ph.D.

The Conservative Social Psychology Blog
Review of the Clarence Thomas Movie "Created Equal"

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” is a new documentary of the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The movie documents his rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most important legal minds of his generation. In his childhood, he was raised by his grandparents and followed very strict rules. During his time in college, he strayed away from being a conservative, only to gravitate back to conservatism.

Towards the end of the movie, Thomas discusses at length his experience as a Black conservative and how that does not fit with people’s stereotypes of what he should and should not believe. Those reflections are fascinating because they touch on several different psychological themes. Prejudice is a negative attitude against a group of people. The cognitive component of prejudice is called a stereotype. The discrimination component is the behavioral aspect of the prejudiced attitude. The experience of Justice Thomas as a Black conservative, violating other people’s stereotypes, leads to a phenomenon called subtyping. Subtyping occurs when we see someone who does not fit with our belief of what someone in a group should act like and we recategorize them and classify them as something different from a member of that group. Someone who deviates from a stereotype and is welcomed into another group gets subtyped. The other group members might say “You’re not like the rest of them,” whatever the stereotyped outgroup may be. In this case, most Democrats perceive the stereotypes of “Black” and “Conservative” as conflicting.

We see regular subtyping of conservatives when it comes to different ethnic groups. For example, Nikki Haley, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Devin Nunes, and Tim Scott are all current leaders and thought shapers in the Republican Party, and all are ethnic minorities. Similarly, all are dismissed by many as not being representative of their ethnic groups. By dismissing their ethnicity, Democrats and others ignore the diversity of thought of any social category. Outgroup homogeneity is a social psychological phenomenon where all of the people in the outgroup are perceived to be the same while ingroup members are celebrated for their diverse range of ideas and individual differences. Thus, many Democrats view these Republican minorities not as ethnic minorities, but as Republicans, and discount the great diversity of the GOP.  This is the context to Joe Biden’s recent statement “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” Biden is featured prominently in the film as he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 and led the opposition to the nomination of Justice Thomas.

In the past we have seen this subtyping of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, and J. C. Watts (from my home state of Oklahoma). We see it with conservative commentators as well. Stacy Washington, Candace Owens, Diamond & Silk, and Dinesh D’Souza are some of the minority commentators who are regularly viewed as not representing their groups because they have ideas that deviate from the stereotype of what their ethnic group members might hold.

The Clarence Thomas documentary is fascinating and worth looking at through a social psychological lens of prejudice, outgroup homogeneity, and subtyping.   

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