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Your colleagues may wonder why you always respond so strongly to racist comments—well, perhaps it is because you’re black. A new study shows that black women have a more direct response to racist comments compared to Asian women because of their cultural heritage. Black women do not tolerate these comments, and in fact, they never have.

Researcher Elizabeth Lee, a doctoral student at Penn State University, tells PsychCentral that their “work shows that racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are sources of diversity that may explain why different targets of racism behave the way they do.”

“Our findings are consistent with Black women’s cultural heritage, which celebrates the past accomplishments of other Black confronters of discrimination, as well as Asian women’s heritage, which advises finding expedient resolutions in the name of peaceful relations,” she said.

The study, which was published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, continues past work’s observations of communication, emotional display and conflict management across various cultural backgrounds. Researchers tested responses to racism by asking both black and Asian women to use Instant Messenger (IM) to chat with other college students. These other college students were in reality research assistants in disguise told to make racist comments about dating.

Participants then completed a seemingly unrelated taste test study where they chose jellybeans for their prospective online conversation partners from good tasting flavors such as cherry and lemon, to bad ones such as ear wax and dirt.

Researchers found that black women were more likely to directly respond to the racist IM comments made by the conversation partners. In contrast, the Asian women were less likely to respond to the racism online, instead they chose the bad tasting jelly beans for their conversation partners to eat in what Lee calls “a sort of quiet revenge.”

In a separate test with different participants, Asian and black women were asked to imagine having a hypothetical conversation with a stranger that made racist comments and to give their response.

Again, Asian American were found to not directly respond to the comments while the black women verbally disclosed their disapproval of the racist statements. Despite the differences, Lee cautions the study’s observed not to be fooled by the indirect methods of the Asian participants.

“[R]esponding to racism in what seems like a passive or indirect way does not indicate being any less offended by the racism compared to responding behavior that is more direct and verbal,” she said.

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