White people are having a tough 2009.   And it's going to get worse if new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is accurate.    A series of six studies conducted by University of Washington and Michigan State University psychologists says that whites react more negatively to racial minority individuals who strongly identify with their racial group than to racial minority individuals who weakly identify with their group.

The research, they say, may provide evidence for the claim from some blacks that they personally experience more prejudice than they see  others receiving.

The researchers believe strongly identified minorities are not paranoid in claiming they experience increased levels of prejudice and weakly identified minorities are not being self-deceptive when they report experiencing low levels of prejudice, said Cheryl Kaiser, a UW assistant psychology professor and lead author of the paper. Instead, they just may simply be reporting on reality as they experience it.

"Research has shown that the more minorities identify with their group, the more prejudice they report experiencing," said Kaiser. "Most research has explained this finding by focusing on factors within minorities that make some individuals more susceptible to perceiving prejudice than others. Our studies provide an alternative explanation by showing that whites react more negatively toward strongly identified minorities than weakly identified ones."

Kaiser and her colleague recruited nearly 400 college students for the six studies that measured whites' attitudes toward Blacks and Latinos. They also were surveyed on their general attitudes about Blacks or Latinos, depending on the study. In the studies, minorities were either described as being strongly identified (where their group was very important and a central aspect of their self) or weakly identified (where their group was less important and not at the core of their self).

She said individuals typically want to be around others who share their values and exclude people who don't share those values or world views. The research indicated that whites perceived strongly identified minorities as less likely to share similar worldviews with them relative to weakly identified minorities.

"Take a situation where a person is ambiguously rejected for a new job," she said. "A person with a strong minority identification might wonder if the rejection was due to prejudice while one with a weak minority identification might not. If you experience more prejudice you expect more prejudice. These things work in tandem and feed each other.

"Some research about prejudice has tended to lump members of minorities into homogenous groups. But there is a lot of heterogeneity. People differ in looks, language ability, attitudes and many other ways, but we tend not to pay attention to these factors. That's why it is important to identify those subsets in groups, why people react to them and what are the active ingredients of prejudice. Whites need to understand that they distribute prejudice unevenly and target those who strongly self-identify as being Black."

Jennifer Pratt-Hyatt, a doctoral student at Michigan State is the co-author of the paper. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UW's Royalty Research Fund.