Your Race Is My Race Too: Racial Fluidity in Survey Interviewer Self-Identification


This paper examines racial self-identification, exploring how an individual’s self-identified racial category is subject to change over time, and may be shaped by the context of interaction in an interview. This paper uses data from the General Social Survey, in which interviewers are asked to identify their own race following each interview. We find that over 20 percent of interviewers change their racial self-identification at some point in a 1 year period, and that this fluidity is structured by the context of the interview. In particular, we find that interviewers are influenced by the racial identification of respondents, and are likely to report their own racial categories to match the identification of the respondent. We find that this patterning is widespread, not confined to only some racial groups, types of interviewers or respondents, interviewer tenure, or due to particularly anomalous days or weeks. We also explore the timing of racial fluidity and find that identification may change situationally, not needing long periods of introspection and identity formation. These results have implications for how we conceptualize race – further demonstrating that it is not a category that individuals have, but instead a characteristic that individuals renegotiate within interactions – for how we think of race-of-interviewer bias, and for how we measure racial identification.

Montreal, Canada
Robert Pickett
PhD Candidate in Sociology and Demography