Immigration and Race Attitudes

Chapter 17: Personality and Race Problems

Emory S. Bogardus

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

After all, racial problems are personality problems. They originate in personal experiences, either direct or derivative. They begin and end in social situations with persons the main actors. They involve changes in the racial attitudes of persons, reversals in these attitudes, development of new or augmentations of old attitudes. Adjustments of racial problems imply changes in personal attitudes. The reduction of these problems depends upon an intensive understanding of the disturbing centers of all human attitudes: namely, personality clashes.

A clash may be defined as the coming together of two dissimilar forces. A personality clash may be thought of as the contacting of two human beings possessing antagonizing behavior traits. The general type may be illustrated by the case of the thin, angular, freckle-faced, dirty immigrant boy who walked into a public-school classroom at the beginning of the school year. The teacher was a prim, precise spinster who had been accustomed only to " cultured children." She looked critically over the room and saw the uncleanly lad. She noticed his unkempt hair, and his yellow teeth. He glanced at her, heard her strange, snappy voice, and shifted uneasily in his seat. Like Skeezix of cartoon fame, on one occasion, " he felt that he was going to be the cause of impending trouble."

The personality clash was on, though neither teacher nor boy had said a word to the other. Neither even knew the other by name, but each had experienced an unpleasant, disagreeable picture of the other. Earlier unpleasant fixa-

( 220) -tions on the part of both may have been aroused, and without rationalization, mutually antagonistic feelings were set in motion. The clash assumed overt proportions on slight provocation, and a long-term conflict became established.

Temperament and Culture. — A personality clash may often be traced back to differences in standards of physical appearance, of body care, and of culture status. The origins may be similar to a child's dislike for particular foods, involving bio-chemical factors. The processes are opposite to those of " falling in love." " To fall in hate " is as normal as " to fall in love." A study of either process will throw light on the other.

Again, a personality clash may arise out of normal social situations. An illustration has already been given of one common type of situation; namely, that involving immigrant children and the public school. Another common situation is that in which immigrant children clash with native-born adults, thus creating " neighborhood rows." An immigrant boy was innocently standing on a neighbor's lawn one Saturday afternoon. The neighbor made a petulant remark to the boy, and the boy's Italian temperament " fired up." The neighbor replied angrily, seeing in the boy numerous disagreeable traits. The boy then began to act " mean," and the neighbor yelled something about " Dago kid." The boy was off his guard, and the neighbor was having an offday. A boy's restless energy and a man's previous experiences of being annoyed were important factors. In other words, the setting for a personality clash was complete. The necessary conditions had been operative for some time, and on the given day, the juxtaposition of temperament and conditions for a clash was perfect.

Personality clashes of a neighborhood variety are often due to differences in racial temperament and culture backgrounds. " Those horrid R.'s —they throw ashes out into the street— I'd like to teach them a lesson." but the su-

(221) -perior way in which the " instruction " is given brings more ashes out into the street. Consequently the police are sent for. Mrs. R. knows who telephoned the police, and a whole set of personality clashes become " fixed." In the European peasant village from which the R.'s came, they had been required to put ashes in the street (as a substitute for paving) ; in this country they had done likewise with a calm assurance that had been unduly jarred by the superior " instructions " from their American neighbor.

Personality clashes between members of different races may be accounted for by the exhibition of sheer disagreeable attitudes on the part of one or the other party to the conflict. " He was a smart Aleck," said an American, after trading with a Japanese vegetable dealer. " Those remarks of his were uncalled for. I'm not going there again. I can't help it, and I know that it isn't fair, but I think of the whole Japanese race in terms of him and his disagreeableness." A man trading for the first time at a certain German store, referred to the proprietor's gruff manner and said: " I'll not go in there again, not even if the goods are superior."

126. Where we used to live there was a Greek store in the neighborhood. It was filthy and untidy, but we often traded with them because it was the only fruit stand near by. Several times they short-measured our things, but we said nothing. One time they short-pounded me about one-half of a pound of peas, and I thought then it was time to say something. He was very dis agreeable so that I felt that I was not wanted in his store anyhow. After that I traded there as little as possible, but when I did he gave me the feeling of dislike. He made me feel that he was doing me a favor, whereas I was doing him a favor by trading there.[1]

The loss of one's status is often sufficient to lead to a personality clash, especially so if the loss has been caused by the activity or success of a " foreigner." A broad-minded American youth felt a liking for a capable, well-mannered

( 222) Japanese boy, until he was defeated by the latter in a swimming match. He could not bear to think he had been defeated by a " Jap," nor could he bear to hear the cheering for the Japanese boy. This cheering caused a " violent feeling of hatred to rise in my breast against him. His smile aroused my hatred all the more." The American boy avoided meeting the Japanese student, and the latter in turn ceased to pay any attention to the former. They have not spoken to each other for two years.

Racial differences in temperament are causal factors in personality clashes. The talkativeness of the members of one race is poison to a quiet-demeanored people. Reticence on the part of immigrants is misinterpreted as " subtleness," "grouchiness," or plain stupidity. By virtue of these false interpretations of personality traits, human patience is unnecessarily tried to the point of creating conflict conditions.

127. He approached me in a fine spirit and told me how far he had come to see me. He was well dressed and showed an active mindedness that pleased me greatly. He is going to be my star pupil, I soliloquized. In class he sat near the front, which pleased me. He was Greek, and so could contribute a great deal to the class discussion. Presently, however, the other students began to protest against his " talkativeness " and his tendency to " argue." " He bores us to death," they said, and I wondered what could be done. I asked him, along with the others, to make an investigation in a field in which I thought that he would be particularly interested, but he declined. He grew disappointed in the class and I in him. He wanted to talk and argue, and I wanted him to do research and present the findings — without " talking and arguing." That was fifteen years ago, but I have had the situation almost literally duplicated several times since, although my last Greek was not of this type at all, but a scientific investigator .[2]

Personality clashes occur within immigrant homes, because the children often represent new world ways, while the parent-, maintain old world patterns. These differences lead

( 223) to misunderstandings and personality clashes. The chasm widens.

An immigrant boy may become a conscious and self-important leader in the home, and the training process may be reversed. He will take no orders from his " ignorant parents," who lose complete control over him. If he earns money, he feels still more independent. He makes rapid strides in learning " undesirable " American ways. The interests of the boy and his parents grow far apart, and they become strangers within the same home. A personality clash reaches the point where the parent despairingly says: " He's no good. We can do nothing for him."

Social distance is created by the children's rising tide of knowledge of the American's language, amusements, and other customs. The very land which the immigrant parents look forward to as giving their children opportunities which they did not have, steals these children from them, and many of them spend their last days in isolation from their own children. The children turn against their parents because the parents have become" old fogies." One immigrant boy bluntly says: "My parents don't know anything. I am under no obligations to them, and why should I submit to ignorant authority? " A Jewish social worker reports that in her district nearly every Jewish home has a car, even among the poorer people, where they have second-hand Fords, but " even these tend to separate the children from the parents." The motion picture likewise tends to create a disrespect for parental authority, for the blunders of the " old folks " are made fun of. " Parents have their European ways so definitely ingrained that they cannot change a great deal. The boys are getting American ways very definitely, and hence there is an uncrossable chasm for which there is no adequate solution. Differences in the home begin with the language."[3]

( 224)

The problem of bridging the chasm between an American-born son or daughter and immigrant parents is most troublesome. The American-born boy who comes back from school in his bright sweater with a big letter on it, with corduroy trousers and an American cap " looks like a wild Indian " to his parents. At school he is a hero; at home, his parents shrink from him and ostracize him. He cannot easily play a dual personality rôle. His school looking-glass self is stronger than his home looking-glass self. Social distance rapidly widens.

128. He is the first in the home to represent American democracy to his parents. He is looked upon with pride by the family. He becomes a conscious and self-important element in the home, and the training of the home is reversed. He will take no orders from his " ignorant parents," who lose complete control over him. If he helps out financially, he feels still more independent. He makes rapid strides learning the desirable as well as the undesirable. The interests of the boy and the parents grow far apart, and they are strangers within the same home.[4] — A RESEARCH WORKER

129. And when the boy leaves school, he has to run around to find work. Goes downtown and thinks he is master. In Europe these kids work on the farms for their fathers, and he supplies them with what they need. Here they decide for themselves, and most of the time decide wrong. How do you suppose we feel when the juvenile court officer comes around? I am ashamed. I am vexed and troubled. As long as they are small, there is no trouble; but as soon as they are old enough to make friends and run around with gangs, then they quit minding their parents, and the trouble begins. They have learned to complain to officials when they are severely punished, and what can you do? Very few people understand us and take an interest in our troubles. — A PARENT [5]

Intrapersonality Problems. — A peculiar but common personality problem relative to race relations is that of the person who is in continual " conflict with himself," because of possessing diverse or even diametrically opposed attitudes toward specific races. Conflicts in attitudes regarding races arise to plague many people. Sometimes the direct expe-

(225) -riences with the members of another race are favorable and the indirect, derivative ones unfavorable. Then a personal conflict ensues. The opposite type of situation is far less common, for, other things being equal, the verdict of direct personal experiences usually receives the greater weight.

Where derivative experiences have created a friendly attitude toward a race but have been followed by adverse direct experiences, disappointments are likely to occur. Another set of experiences leading to personal conflict is expressed thus: " Those you meet in the university seem to be of the higher class and are friendly, but those you see elsewhere and on the street look dubious."

Oftentimes the personal conflict arises from the perception of cultural differences in a specific race. We react toward those persons of our own culture level, but against those of a different level, particularly those of a lower level (unless sympathy operates strongly), and against those of a greatly higher level (to which there is little prospect of our attaining). " I am divided on the Jewish race. I have many Jewish friends whom I like extremely much. They are smart, big-hearted, good company, well-groomed. I must like them in spite of myself. But on the other hand, there is a lower class of Jew whom I detest. He may be rich or poor, but the lower type in my judgment is always flagrant, loud-mouthed, overbearing, and a bore."

Oftentimes the conflict takes a more personal turn as in the case of the individual who had established an intimate acquaintance with a Japanese and had found him a true and agreeable friend. But the newspaper reports that the Japanese laborers worked in California for smaller wages than white men, that they have an excessive birth rate, and that they would overrun the West if given a chance, were disturbing. A personal affection for an individual Japanese is overcome by a general fear for the welfare of the nation based on hearsay evidence.

( 226)

130. In order to avoid any possible misunderstanding, it is wise to discuss American people as I imagined them when I was in Japan, and then to give my impression after associating with them for quite a long time. This does not mean that my estimation of Americans is not as high as that of any other race; in fact, I still believe Americans are one of the most cultivated nations in the world.

To be sure, Japanese are ardent followers of democracy; consequently, we students in Japan did not fail to study American history and American government. As a result, we were thoroughly familiar with such famous persons as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, etc. Not only that, but we were also acquainted with what these great men had done for the United States and for the sake of humanity. When we thought of George Washington fighting for the independence of the American Colonies, Abraham Lincoln shedding blood for the abolition of slavery, and Woodrow Wilson sacrificing his life for world peace, we respected American public and American people who were largely responsible for the production of such geniuses.

Expecting Americans to be such and thinking them to be the nearest model of Bible teachings, I arrived in San Francisco and became a member of American society. For a few months, on account of ignorance and unfamiliarity with real American society, everything appealed to me as ideal. But I began to learn things about America and its daily happenings, and my respect for American people gradually faded away until I began to think of them as ordinary people, having unbalanced civilization, materially strong and spiritually weak.

Perhaps it will be interesting to state some of the factors which shook my confidence in American people as idealistic. First, the passing of the Anti-Alien Land Law, which aimed to rob bread and butter from poor oriental farmers who were trying to settle peacefully and desiring to be assimilated into American society. If the law had any sound economical reason to support its existence, then I have no objection; but the passing of the law was merely based on race prejudice and misunderstanding or ignorance.

Second, the attempt to segregate Japanese children from public school in Sacramento was not the kind of action that people who boast of their democracy should take. If the Japanese school children in that district were subnormal and hindered the progress of other American children, then their attempt was justified. But

( 227) the investigation proved that that condition was not so; hence no justification for the action.

Third, that public opinion which made the Japanese consul general at San Francisco stop picture brides from coming was poor expression of sense of fairness, for although the coming in of a great number of brides to this country was not desirable, yet people should be fairminded enough to give opportunity to those already settled in this country to establish their respective families.

Fourth, the passing of the recent immigration law, too, was undemocratic; for admitting that the restriction of immigrants is wise policy, we cannot very well agree that exclusion alone of Orientals is justifiable policy. Any action which is based upon discrimination and bias is not the kind of action we expect from people who believe in democracy.

Now, let me recount a few experiences I have gone through in the past. One day, hoping to get away from the burning sun of the summer, I tried to go into a certain plunge; but contrary to my expectation, I was flatly refused. I did not know the reason then, but later on I was informed that the manager at the plunge refused to admit me because of my race.

In a certain district, a friend of mine rented a house, but he was compelled to move a few days later because neighboring people did not want Japanese in their district. The other day the building of a Japanese M. E. Church was being planned in a certain district; but when neighbors heard this, they filed petition with the city clerk and prevented construction of the building.

If Japanese were asking for admittance to any social functions and for other similar privileges, then they may be justified in being refused, but in these cases they were merely asking for the peaceful settlement and unharmful pursuit of peace. Still, in spite of these unpleasant experiences, I have no bitter feeling toward Americans; only I think of them as ordinary nation, no better than most of other races. Thus I feel less friendly toward them than I did in the past .[6]

Personality differences are of two types. (1) Certain differences lead naturally and easily to clashes even when all parties belong to the same race. Sometimes the differences are purely (a) temperamental and inherited; sometimes

(228) they represent (b) different levels of culture development. Of course, where two or more races are involved, such personality differences easily generate fire. (2) Sometimes personality differences represent different races but similar levels of culture development. Such conditions are a fruitful source of racial conflicts. Status, competition, and invasion are usually influential factors.

The adjustment of the personality differences that cause racial problems is complicated. The adjustment of temperament clashes involves a knowledge of psychiatry, psychology, and sociology, as well as an understanding of how to apply these disciplines to social situations where two or more persons are in conflict. The adjustment of the culture differences that lead to race conflicts is, however, a less difficult matter, for education can eliminate culture distances. Public opinion, however, may increase social distances, for it often "educates " people to look for and magnify personality differences, to generalize these differences into racial fears and prejudices, and hence to hinder personality adjustments.


1. Describe in detail any two personality clashes that you have had with members of any race besides your own.

2. Compare and contrast these two personality clashes in as many ways as possible.

3. Interview some other person, and write out in full a personality clash that he or she may have experienced with a member of any race not his own.

4. Analyze the different stages in a personality clash involving two races.

5. Describe the different types of endings in which personality clashes may result.

6. Analyze personality traits, making two classes: (1) those that easily lead to race clashes and (2) those that do not. Give illustrations of each.

( 229)


GAVIT, J. P., Americans by Choice, Chap. VI. Harper, 1922.

HOFFMAN, O. F., " The Nature of Life Histories," Jour. of Applied Sociology, Vol. XI, pp. 147-59.

JOHNSON, J. W., The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Knopf, 1927.

MILLER, H. A., Races, Nations, and Classes, Chap. I. Lippincott, 1924.

PANUNZIO, CONSTANTINE, The Soul of an Immigrant, Chap.XVIII. Macmillan, 1921.

PRICE, M. T., Christian Missions and Oriental Civilizations, Chap. I. Shanghai, 1924.

PORTEUS, S. D., AND BABCOCK, M. E., Temperament and Race, Chaps. X, XI, XVII, XVIII. Badger, 1926.

RAVAGE, M. E., An American in the Making. Harper, 1917.

WASHINGTON, BOOKER T., Up From Slavery, Chaps. I-IV. Burt, 1900.


  1. Social Distance Studies.
  2. Social Distance Studies.
  3. Boys' Work Survey of Los Angeles, 1925.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2