Immigration and Race Attitudes

Chapter 10: Counter-Attitudes

Emory S. Bogardus

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Racial attitudes are not always simple reactions to repulsive or attractive stimuli. They are often counterreactions to other racial attitudes. This development of racial attitudes illustrates circular responses. One aggravation or imagined aggravation leads to another ad infinitum.

A newly arrived immigrant may act cautiously, because of the strangeness of the " new " social environment. He may respond slowly, if at all, to advances made to him. But his caution may be charged by the natives as backwardness or even stupidity, and in consequence he may be viewed as a curiosity. He is ignored or else made fun of. In turn, he senses the meaning of the furtive glances at him, withdraws further " within himself," and acts more strangely than previously. The natives withdraw, and social distance both ways increases. He cannot now seek their acquaintance without such a move being charged against him, and they cannot approach him without being regarded with supreme suspicion.

Segregation. - In a distinctly different way, the situation of the Negro in the United States illustrates the operation of counter-race attitudes. He prefers segregation and yet fears it. White people segregate the Negro, but in so doing accord him a lower status. The Negro wishes to work out " his own salvation " in his own way and with his own people. He does not wish " favors " from the white race; but in accepting segregation, he finds that it does not give him full status, and thus is obnoxious. He does not wish assimilation with white people lest that should mean the

( 136) passing of his race. He is not happy in segregation, for the label of partial status is unbearable. He is struggling up from low cultural levels to higher levels, but with the loss of his race facing him on the one hand, and with denial of full status, on the other. All people are willing to fight for status, and so the Negro is moving not only into segregation, but also into a fighting mood. The conflict of attitudes is well illustrated by the Negro who states the situation as follows:

83. Although I'm an American-born Negro, I do not want to belong to any groups other than those of my own race. The Negro does not want intermarriage with any other group but his own race. Where he has deliberately violated this rule, he is ostracized from his own race. All he wants is a real, equal opportunity to vote, education, and recognition in economic, literary, and other ways, according to his ability-in other words - status. When he does something worth while, he wants to be considered just as good as a white man who does well.[1]

The Jew often finds himself in a complicated situation. He strives to get ahead, but in so doing arouses adverse attitudes against him. He reacts against these, thereby displaying his worst nature. Still more antipathy against him is aroused, and the race situation changes from bad to intolerable. He easily becomes the victim of circularresponse situations. The antipathy generally expressed against Russian Jews, says a German Jew, is credited to their habit of not assimilating. But this failure is accounted for by the rebuffs which they receive when they attempt to mix with Americans. The latter think of them as being dirty, radical, and disagreeable; of the German Jews as being too forward, of both as thinking too much of themselves and as being characterized by bickering and littleness. Hence, their attempts toward assimilating are not welcomed. Thus the chasm widens and widens. Adverse impressions

( 137) on the part of both Americans and Jews lead to new adverse reactions. The process acquires a momentum hard to stop and turn back.

The mulatto, likewise, is often hopelessly confused. If born out of wedlock, he bears the stigma that usually belongs to one or both of his parents. If his father be a white man, he never knows advice or care from his own father. His mother, often uneducated, gives him limited training in a deficient environment. Often he has the appearance of a white person, but he has been brought up in the Negro's culture. He may have a white man's temperament but live in a colored man's environment - a situation that is baffling. If he secures an education and aspires to success in the white man's world, he is halted at the door of the professions, if not sooner.

He is ignored, and status is denied him no matter how earnestly he may wish to " make good." He reacts against both the colored and the white man's worlds but cannot establish a world of his own.

White Negroes. -Unique counter-attitudes are experienced by the " white Negroes," who in order to maintain status play the role of white persons in the white man's environment.[2] The following illustrations relate to only one side of this situation. Only those individuals who hold their racial identity as Negroes could be approached by the interviewer. A study of those clinging to their white blood would be revealing, but very difficult. Because of the consequences which would naturally follow any self-admitted black blood in those who have severed any relations with it, information would be almost impossible to obtain. Interesting situations are revealed in the following illustrations.

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Miss A., who is a young college graduate, became a teacher in —— school where there are many little Spanish children. " Soon after my appointment, the principal came into the room one day and asked me to interpret the conversation of two of these children. I declared my ignorance of the Spanish language and the principal was surprised. Turning to me, she said, "Aren't you Spanish? " " No," I replied, " What are you, then? " she asked. I told her, and she looked as though she were astounded. A few hours later I was summoned to the office and requested to resign. She said that a terrible mistake had been made as I had been mistaken for Spanish. You can see that the disadvantage of my acknowledging my race is only too obvious. However, on the other hand, I could never have been happy there had I been forced into deception."

Miss B. is head girl in a large and responsible business concern. When she secured the position, no question about her race was asked, and she vouchsafed none. When asked why, she replied, " Do you honestly believe I could have gotten that position or any decent one if it were known what I am? I'd likely be offered a maid's job. As it is I am paid the highest salary and given more authority than any girl in the office. My attitude toward my associates there is restrained. Sometimes I am inclined to be bitter when I reflect that the girls who profess the deepest devotion would turn in a minute if they knew of my one-eighth black blood. I never accept any of the office hospitality. I offer the subterfuge that my mother's illness prevents my entertaining and that I can't accept hospitality of others when I can't reciprocate. The idea of my cutting loose from my race is even more preposterous to me than abandoning my family. I'd work as black any time if I were given the same opportunities and advantages."

Dr. C., who has associated almost strictly with white students during his college days, explains his actions as

( 139) follows: " It didn't take me long to realize that if I was going to have any fun - really - I'd have to forget any black ancestry I had. Too, in my associations here I wasn't always being depressed by any possibilities of insults and discriminations. Negro students don't get anything out of white colleges but work and pity. My passing as white was intentional and deliberate, and I'd do it over again. The advantages were my unhampered participation in activities and human treatment I received. Of course, I couldn't really leave my race permanently, because I have too many fond remembrances. When I get ready to marry, I'll pick out a girl just like myself, not that I adore a light girl more than others but because, when we go to shows and travel, we can do so without any discrimination."

Mrs. D., a young woman who has just recently married, stated that in working prior to her marriage she had never any unpleasant or unusual experiences. " The most appalling thing that ever happened to me, however," she stated, " occurred at the time of my marriage. When my intended husband and I appeared at the license bureau to secure our marriage license, they told me white women weren't allowed to marry Negroes in this state. My husband became furious, and it was only after heated words and witnesses that my statement was accepted. Too, when my husband and I go out, the curious attention that we attract makes my husband disgusted. You can see, then, that my color, although an advantage when I used it to ` get by ' has proved rather a nuisance to me since. I sometimes feel inclined to wear a sign ` I am a Negro,' so that my husband won't be the recipient of such hostile glances from every white man that notices us."

Miss E., who is a young girl so very white that the keenest of examination cannot reveal any trace of Negro features, complains of her experiences in a manner similar to the above. " My color has been an awful nuisance to me." She

( 140) explains, " Frequently when I was in school various teachers reprimanded me for becoming so intimate with little colored children. One sent a note home to my mother stating my unnatural attraction for little black girls. Once a white man threatened to slap my little brother for daring to pull a white girl's hair. And right now, what advantage is my color aside from theaters and tea rooms? You girls are asked or invited out by young men who wouldn't think of taking me any place because they are afraid they will be embarrassed because I look like white. I sometimes wonder, if I crossed over, if my troubles would be over. I couldn't do that, though, because everybody that I love is on this side. No, I've never deceived any one. I've never had occasion to. Those whom my color deceive I usually enlighten, to their horror."

Miss F., who worked with both men and women in a large store, said that they never suspected she was colored - they'd have died, she said, if they thought I even knew any colored persons. They ridiculed every Negro that passed the store. " Sometimes it used to fill me with unholy glee to hear them condemn all Negroes after having lavished such flattering attentions upon me. Sometimes their remarks would make my blood boil. I left there primarily because I was tired of them. Too, they were a much lower type of people than I was accustomed to meeting in my own group. I'd much rather work in an office in our own group if I could, because I might lose my temper sometime."

Miss G. says that she doesn't know whether she is or had been " passing " or not. " They never asked me what I was, and I never told them. I like the girls I'm working with very much, though. They are a fine group. It has been an advantage to me to be able to work here, because I have had an opportunity of knowing and studying them in a different way than I could otherwise. There is a certain culture that representative white people have that I admire

( 139) -not enough to give up my own race for, but, nevertheless, I have more faith in them and less skepticism as a result of my contacts."

Mr. H., who is a mechanic, said that he had never hidden the fact that he was colored, although his appearance could easily have allowed him to do so. " I always have been treated well. Most of the fellows think that my fairness gives me a distinction that my darker brothers lack. It has meant that I could go where I wanted, and I guess that counts. The most unpleasant experience I had happened not so long ago. The workmen from a rival shop complained to the owner of the restaurant where most of the fellows in our neighborhood lunch that he was allowing a Negro to eat at his place. The man politely informed me and asked if I'd mind coming to the back in order to keep from hurting his business. I hold my racial consciousness above any material gain. Never could I forget my parents for a job or a few extra privileges."

Mr. I., another young man with a very influential position, states that he is going to resign shortly. " The strain in keeping up this deception is terrible. I know I'll not have the salary, but I'll have peace. I never go out with a colored person without being in mortal fear that some of my business associates will see me. On the other hand, I can't go out with some of my business associates without fear of meeting some of my own people. The most cruel experience I've had was the occasion when I was compelled to walk by my brother and his wife because she showed undoubtable si: s of being a Negro. Ican never get away from even the little black blood that's in me - sometimes I wish I could. I know I can't, so I'm going to quit even this pretense soon."

Miss J., who is a student at a prominent dancing academy, reports: " I guess I deceived my coworkers until I ' got in' with them. There had never been ally question raised

( 140) about me until finally some one saw me out one evening with a colored boy. Of course, then, when I was asked about it I admitted my own race. They were surprised, but not as much as I was when they continued to treat me nicely. I really expected to have been snubbed when they found out about me. Of course, if I had had brown skin, I probably would never have had the opportunity to make such interesting and cordial friendships. The girls have occasionally wanted to sympathize with me, saying, 'It must be awfully hard on you. Why you're as white as we are! ' I said, ` Oh, I don't know -I've never had many serious difficulties.' I sometimes think I am more fortunate than my dark sister whose color prevents her even getting the chance of making good that I have. I've always lived with and mingled with my own people. Whether or not I could do differently is a question I've never analyzed. Others do. Maybe if the circumstances were different and my racial ties less permanent, I might, too - but really I don't know."

These Negroes, whether immigrant or not, have " countered " successfully in an environment which puts a premium upon being white and a reproach upon being colored. Nearly all the persons who have crossed the color line, as indicated in the cases cited, have done so because of the economic opportunities afforded thereby. The crossing of the color line, says the interviewer, was not due to a dissatisfaction with the Negro group, but to a desire for the advantages open to white persons and closed to colored persons.

Second Generation. -Another type of social situation where race attitudes become highly complicated is illustrated by the American-born Chinese and Japanese in the United States. By education in the schools and by other means, they become American to a surprising degree. But in adolescence and early maturity they find themselves the

( 141) victims of adverse social and occupational stimuli. Their ripening American responses are checked and turned back by ostracism.

But when their attention returns to things oriental, they discover that they are out of touch with oriental-life, that they-do not know the native tongue of the " old country " well, that they have become separated in thought and feeling from the older generation, and that they cannot return to the old life. They have responded favorably to an environment that refuses to receive them fully and have lost touch with the old environment. They are people without a country through no fault of their own. Conflicts disorganize them; race attitudes are hopelessly tangled

84. Not long ago I met a Japanese boy who was reared in America and who did not pay attention to his race. He played and associated with American boys. Then suddenly one day he found he was being discriminated against. He became conscious that he was not allowed to associate freely with the other white boys. While thoroughly Americanized, he was isolated from American contacts by race. He decided to go to Japan. Upon arriving in Japan, where he supposed he would feel at home, he was as isolated as in America. Their customs and habits were as strange to him as they were to other Americans. He returned to America to lead a life of isolation. He was a man without a country, cut off from America by race and from Japan by custom.[3]

85. We are neither Americans nor Japanese. The Americans will not receive us into their group; we cannot go back to the life on the plantations. If we went back to Japan, conditions there would be so different that we would feel like aliens. We are urged by American teachers to go on to college, but often we find that we would have been far happier without an American education. Why are we urged to go on to school when we are never placed on an equal basis with Americans? The color line is not drawn at your colleges. We are permitted to attend your schools and donate our money to help build better social institutions. Why are we not good enough too belong to them? We, the second gen-

( 142) -eration, who by virtue of our birth are American citizens, why are we considered alien Orientals? [4]

It is often necessary or at least natural to counter and recounter --- to zigzag one's racial attitude course. The " second-generation " immigrant is often the victim; particularly, the Oriental-American is likely to suffer beyond comprehension. The following case is not untypical.

86. I was distrustful of the Japanese. I did not like them. Their mode of living was so strange. I had not a single thing in common with them. But what happened? During my early high-school years there were many clashes of wills between my father and me. He was old Japan, and I was the new. To me, it is interesting to note that up to this period I had never thought of myself as a Japanese, but always as an American. I was never conscious of the difference. To nie, Japan was_ a foreign country. I knew absolutely nothing about it. I knew more of Europe and of America than ofJapan, I was more interested in studying about India and China than about-Japan: studying, as the circle in which I moved became larger, I met different people of various temperaments. My simple outlook on life became complex, and more complex, as I unwillingly realized that I was not to be classed as one of them. It was one of the most heartbreaking periods of my life. I wanted to be American; I wondered why God had not made me an American. If I couldn't be an American, then what was I? A Japanese? No. But not an American, either. My life background is American. My ideals of life, of education, of religion, were all American. I knew the Constitution, the oath of allegiance; I knew the history of America from its earliest beginnings. I knew its strength and weaknesses, and its drabness and its romance. I loved America and its ideals, because her ideals were my ideals. I used to rise up in wrath against any criticism which might be made against America, my country. But they tell me I am not an American; that I cannot ever be assimilated for no reason which I have ever been able to understand... .

During the last five years I have been slowly educating myself in things Japanese. As I learned their customs and their point of view, I have liked them immensely. And during these last five

( 143) years I have become bitter in my attitude toward certain standards of the American people. The rash, unjust statements, the utter lack of human courtesy, the various These things have all made me feel heart-heavy. . .not only hurt me materially, but have lessened my faith in human honesty, in human good will, and in even the religion of Christ which the people of American think we " heathens " need so badly.

My contact with certain Americans has given me a certain reserve which has often branded me as a " cold, expressionless person without any feeling." When I am with those whom I love,

I am my natural self. Japanese are classed as cold, unemotional people. But what of individuals like myself who are naturally impulsive and emotional? It is not because of my racial heredity that I am often cold or expressionless; it is my contact with certain classes of people who have taught me the wisdom of keeping my thoughts to myself.[5]

The converts made by a missionary are also likely to experience counter-race attitudes. They have been pulled away from their own racial kind but have not accepted all the culture patterns of the missionary. They maintain conflicting culture traits - for instance, the religious against family traits. Their adjustments are contradicted by well-established sentiments. Moreover, they are living the new life while still surrounded by all the powerful objects of sentiment of the old life. They are often isolated from the home folks while living in the home folks' territory. When the missionary leaves, the convert's loyalty becomes strained. The old racial pull becomes strong again, and yet to return would be unsatisfactory after having known the new life.

It is fair to say that a large amount of racial antipathy is due to frictions or " circular-response " causes. Dislike stimulates dislike, antipathy reaps antipathy, and fortunately, good will leads to more good will. The emotions of fear and hatred on the part of the native rather than real

(144) weaknesses of the immigrants cause a considerable share of racial prejudice.

By the same token, friendly attitudes of natives as well as the worth of the immigrants are fundamental. The psycho-logical process appears to be the same. Either antipathy or good will emerge in stimuli which arouse further antipathy or good will. Psychosocial momentum is often the main story in a racial conflict situation.

A person's real racial problems sometimes occur when a person's direct racial contacts contradict his derivative experiences, or vice versa. A deadlock may occur in a person's reactions and result in a static condition - a theme significant enough to be treated separately.


1. Give an account from your experiences where a minor incident has started a strong prejudice or friendliness momentum.

2. What kind of an educational procedure can be inaugurated whereby counter-race prejudice movements may be overcome?

3. Compare the counter prejudice with the counter friendliness momentums in as many specific ways as possible.

4. Indicate a program for meeting the needs of American-born Chinese or Japanese who have " outgrown " China or Japan but who are not received in the United States.

5. Take five unfavorable attitudes of your own toward as many different races and estimate the rôle that " circular-response " developments have played.

6. Choose five races toward which you have an unfavorable attitude and estimate in each the proportion that circular response reactions have played in each.


BRAWLEY, B., A Social History of the American Negro, pp. 267-81. Macmillan, 1921.

DETWEILER, F. G., The Negro Press in the United States, Chap. VI. University of Chicago Press, 1922.

IYENAGA, T. AND SATO, K., Japan and the California Problem, Chap. VI. Putnam, 1921.

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MILLER, H. A., Races, Nations and Classes, Chaps. III, IV, XIV. Lippincott, 1924.

PANUNZIO, C., Immigration Crossroads. Macmillan, 1927.

PRICE, M. T., Christian Missions and Oriental Civilizations, Chaps. IV-VIII. Shanghai, 1924.


  1. Social Distance Studies.
  2. The illustrative materials used here have been obtained by Juanita Ellsworth , a social-research interviewer from the University of Southern California.
  3. Pacific Coast Race Relations Survey.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.

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