You are here:

Racial disclosure in online racial dialogues: A study of how and why participants disclose, and how others respond to the disclosure

, Harvard University, United States

Doctor of Education, Harvard University . Awarded


Race is an integral part of the American experience. Engaging in shared inquiry about race-related issues, as in racial dialogues, has been argued to have the potential to promote racial understanding in face-to-face settings.

Online text-based discussion forums have also served as venues for such dialogues. These forums are regarded as lacking in nonverbal and social context cues. Thus, the identity of a communicator is usually unknown, unless s/he decides to disclose information that may indicate her/his race. In Hockenberry's informal 1998 study, participants of a race-related online discussion were told not to disclose their race. However, a few did.

Knowing the race of another in an interaction may influence the way people relate to each other. To find out more about online racial disclosure, 1,613 messages from 25 race-related discussion forums were investigated to find out how race is disclosed and why, and how people respond to the disclosure. Themes from the 127 messages with disclosures and the 146 responses to these messages were coded. An email questionnaire was also sent to the people who indicated their race in their postings. The respondents' answers were compared with the results of the text analysis to determine any similarities and/or differences.

In this study, eight percent of the messages indicated a racial disclosure where a poster either wrote his/her race in a message (direct), implied (indirect) it, disclosed someone else's race, or disclosed what s/he was not. Of all the race categories, being White was disclosed the most.

In these online racial dialogues, participants racially disclosed mainly because they wanted others to understand their perspectives. When people responded to a message with racial disclosure, they usually did so in a positive way, sometimes also disclosing their own race or sending statements with positive sentiments to the initial discloser. Having a positive interaction with someone could lead to some understanding.

This study is a first attempt at investigating online racial dialogues. While face-to-face racial dialogues are regarded as having the potential to promote racial understanding, further investigation on how online racial dialogues might also have this potential is worthwhile.


Castano, M.S. Racial disclosure in online racial dialogues: A study of how and why participants disclose, and how others respond to the disclosure. Doctor of Education thesis, Harvard University. Retrieved August 12, 2020 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 22, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

For copies of dissertations and theses: (800) 521-0600/(734) 761-4700 or