Many have argued that over recent decades the nature of prejudice has become more subtle, less negative, and less hateful (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Katz & Hass, 1988; McConahay, 1986). It is therefore difficult to reconcile such reports of lessened prejudice with the racial discrimination found in laboratory and field studies, as well as labor statistics (Human Resources Development Canada, 2001; Landau, 1995; Rudman & Glick, 1999; Sackett & DuBois, 1991; Sinclair & Kunda, 1999). One possible reason for the inconsistency between lessened prejudice, on the one hand, and continuing discrimination, on the other hand, is that the apparent decline in prejudice is illusory. It is possible that as societal norms have become more egalitarian, people report less prejudiced attitudes due to internal or external motivations (Crandall, O'Brien, & Eshleman, 2002; Devine, Brodish, & Vance, this volume; Plant & Devine, 1998). A second possible reason for the apparent inconsistency is that discrimination is due to prejudices that people are unaware they hold. If individuals are not consciously aware of their racism, they will honestly report low-prejudiced attitudes. Yet, such unconscious prejudice may result in discriminatory behavior.
The theory of aversive racism (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986) deals specifically with individuals who are presumed to be consciously egalitarian yet unconsciously prejudiced.