Racial Attitudes and Sentiments
University of Chicago
If the reader will permit a paradox,—race prejudice is a phenomenon that is not essentially connected with race. This paradox has its justification when the results of any attempt to secure a classification of mankind into races has been seriously made. The only sense in which race prejudice deals with race is in the naive and untechnical fashion in which the United States Government lists races for the purposes of the immigration law, where one may read in the list of races of the Irish race, the Welsh race, the Bohemian race, the African race, the Spanish-American race, the Canadian race, the Italian race, to a total of some thirty-nine.
Another way to say the same thing would be to assert that as races are dealt with and as races are disliked, there is little or no connection with the scientific concept of race. Not that this is without ,justification, for, in this crude world in which we live, it is of importance to determine not what races are, but what men call races when they manifest racial antipathy. And it is an extremely easy task to show in this connection that race prejudice is contingent upon a certain type of group consciousness which may have no defense in a scientific classification, but which does determine in large measure what men live by and what they do when they live.
Now concerning group consciousness we do know something and one thing we know is that group consciousness has a be' ginning in each particular case. It has been repeatedly shown by competent and careful men that group consciousness, like self consciousness, arises in a condition of inhibition or contrast which may be acute enough to be called conflict, but is always capable of being studied genetically.
If the foregoing statements are convincing we have as a starting point of our discussion a complete repudiation of the mythological school of sociologists who derive race prejudice from organic attitudes. The chief reliance of such writers seems to be the olfactory apparatus, with some attention to the
( 480) gustatory function. There is also the unproved inaccurate assertion that the strange or unfamiliar is a native stimulus to fear. Such writers in moments of absent-mindedness present the reader with equally untenable statements about curiosity which would contradict what they have written about fear, but let us not digress. So far as the present writer's facts show, there is no race prejudice prior to group consciousness, and new and unfamiliar people are more apt to be interesting and intriguing than to excite either fear or disgust. In short, without going into detail here, the assumption is made that the consciousness of one's own group and the consciousness of another group, which require specific and definable conditions for their creation, are held to be necessary for the existence of race prejudice. The group to which I belong is the in-group, but I can only belong to an in-group if there is also present the conception of one or more out-groups. The reaction in race prejudice is never to an individual, but always to some person or persons as representing, belonging to, included in, an out-group over against which my own in-group is contrasted.
But group consciousness does not always mean group prejudice. An athletic contest between two rival colleges may be conducted in an atmosphere of more or less chivalrous strife, with the rules of the game carefully defined and scrupulously kept, the defeated team accepting gamely the result, and while group consciousness in such cases is sometimes intense, the mark of antipathy and the peculiar feeling tone which we associate with prejudice may be entirely absent. But group prejudice does arise, and often, and seems to possess all the criteria of race prejudice even when race is not the object. There is class prejudice seen in the attitude of the proletariat toward the capitalist bourgeoisie. There is sectional prejudice which has been bitter enough to cause bloody wars. There is political prejudice, not to be lightly spoken of, and involving on occasion intense antipathy. The writer as a child listened one day to a Southern Democrat discussing a certain Republican. With great feeling he insisted that he would not dream of allowing a Republican to enter his house and didn't see how any self-respecting Southerner could feel any differently. It would be impossible in this case to appeal to race,
( 481) but the group prejudice involved all the characteristics of very intense race prejudice.
Race prejudice, when it exists, has apparently no distinguishing qualities, but it does perhaps admit of somewhat different defenses of rationalizations. The writer has attempted to show in another place in discussing "The Nature of Human Nature", that men are held to be human when they act in a comprehensible manner. If the group against which we feel strongly is strange in its customs or habitually given to disapproved actions, it is difficult to regard them as wholly like us. If, therefore, the term race can be brought in, it gives a sort of pseudo-biological defense to the emotional attitude. In one instance of the group antipathy toward a recently arrived group of Bohemian farmers in Texas it was asserted that the people were really not human beings, they worked their women in the fields, they went without shoes, and it was commonly believed that they lived in their houses like animals and devoid of the normal human comforts. If you feel that way about a people you are much more comfortable if you can call upon biology to classify them as belonging to a different race from your own. This call has often gone forth but has never been answered. Biological science has no word to say. Biologists classify men as one species. Anthropology alone has given marks of race and they class Berbers and certain children of Mother India as of the Caucasian race—to which the popular response is a law keeping them out as of another and lower race.
If the theory of organic attitudes as a basis of race prejudice were true, then we could not account for the fact that the first Chinese were welcomed and approved. The earliest Japanese were interesting and charming. The Mexicans in the artists' colony are the subject of exceptionally favorable attention.
A phenomenon in point on the campus at Chicago is the popularity of the Hindu students with the romantic-minded girls. They are new, unfamiliar, and strange, therefore they are rather attractive than otherwise. Prejudice against them is improbable because they are too few in number for group consciousness to arise. Nor are we left to guess what happens when they are more numerous. We know something of the history of the subject in California, in Texas, in South Africa.
We may conclude then in the first place that race prejudice is a social phenomenon with nothing in the organic or innate constitution of man that offers any explanation. It is rather due to a complex situation in which two or more contrasting or conflicting groups come into contact in such a way that one is set over against the other with certain emotional aspects to the conflict such as hostility, antipathy, and the like, to the consideration of which we may now turn.
One of the most difficult theoretical aspects of this problem of race prejudice lies in the difficulty of accurately defining its limits. Robert E. Park has taught us to distinguish between prejudice and the condition where accommodation exists. This insight seems profoundly valuable and gives warrant for saying that a caste system may exist without the phenomenon of group prejudice. The essential difference here seems to be the stability of. the organization and the absence of tension. Each group is ranked, allocated, and relatively stable, and content with its position. Analogous conditions can exist in class distinctions where no race questions are involved. The lower class in England thirty years ago looked upon the aristocracy without envy or antipathy. They had always been rich and powerful, and the poor had always been restricted in their lives. It seemed part of the order of nature. The prayer books seemed to assert that it was indeed the will of God. There were many distinctions, but they were accepted. Class prejudice was absent. Even in England it is not so now, and in Russia the conditions are strikingly different. If the situations where race prejudice is clearly recognized be brought together for comparison there appears to be a common element in them all. There is everywhere some degree of tension, some struggle real or impending, some uncertainty of the outcome, some competition or conflict, either for economic opportunity or for social status or for some other desired goods, and along with this tension there can be made out differing degrees of hostility, antipathy, the extreme limit of which is extreme hatred.
The problem then is to define accurately the situations which produce this emotional stress and to point out clearly the different types of emotional stress which are produced. For it is clear that race prejudice exists in an infinite number of
( 483) graded intensities shading all the way from slight tendencies to withdrawal to the violent extremes illustrated by the activities of the Scotch shepherds in Auracania who organized shooting parties and by paying bounties for tongues of dead Indians soon exterminated all the natives.
Race prejudice therefore is a particular class of social attitude, a particular sub-class of a group attitude, involving a feeling of negative affective tone varying through a wide series. Prejudice seems therefore to be always emotional. It is a sentiment. The object of the sentiment is never a perceptual experience, but always a concept, a subjective image, of a class of persons toward whom the attitude is directed.
Being emotional, race prejudice is not rational. It is perhaps this fact which has misled the authorities above referred to into the error of assuming that it was organic or native. Sentiments arise in the emotional conflicts but emotional conflicts are always the result of an attempt to reorganize life and to overcome new difficulties. Any collectivity has in it the potentialities of new and unheard of bifurcations and divisions. Everyone understands what is meant by violent sex prejudice, men prejudiced against women and vice versa. We have witnessed recently the rise of youth movements and interesting talk about what youth is doing or thinking, and their success or failure in inventing original sins that they might commit. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in some of these "youth movements" we have men prejudiced against their own children—and, pari passu, a group prejudiced against their own parents. The inevitably transitory nature of this phenomenon requires no elaboration.
Race prejudice, being a collective phenomenon, is always localized in space, for groups are situated on the land. Race prejudice is thus attached to the soil. It should be studied with the assistance of the map. It would be highly profitable to have a world map of race prejudice which would show the different groups in different areas where the phenomenon is present and would reveal the interesting facts as to the unilateral or bilateral character of the attitude. Sometimes the prejudice is mutual, at other times it is one-sided. Moreover, such a map could be drawn so as to show the varying degrees
( 484) of prejudice in so far as these are capable of objective statement and record. But such a map, even if completely and accurately made out, would not exhaust the possibilities of cartography in research on prejudice. It would be profitable to have historical maps showing areas where prejudice formerly existed and has now disappeared. It is easy to show that many such areas can be deliminated. The historical map would also reveal previous periods when existing prejudice was not present. In short, the ecological study of race prejudice seems to offer a fruitful field for investigation and one which seems to have been hitherto overlooked. In July, 1928, a delegation of Presbyterian ministers appeared formally before the Home Secretary of Britain, requesting a quota arrangement against the invasion of the Irish into Scotland. They represented that the Irish are far too numerous in Glasgow and are increasing at an alarming rate. Constituting 25 per cent of the population of the city, the Irish receive 70 per cent of the poor relief. In the past twenty years the Irish increased 39 per cent and the Scottish only 6 per cent. Here are all the essential elements of race prejudice. Moreover, the Scoti from Ireland invaded Scotland, so that they are identical in race. No sociologist could say of the invading race in this case that the trouble with the Irish is they have the wrong color.
It has elsewhere been pointed; out that prejudice is a bivalent attitude. The rejection of one race is coeval with the acceptance and allegiance to another. When prejudice against a group is found it seems always possible to discover the correlative prejudice for another group. Moreover, both the favorable and unfavorable attitude varies in a continuous series with a middle or zero point of neutrality or indifference. Sometimes in defending the prejudice against a group the main emphasis is placed on devotion to the conflicting group. The literature produced in India in defense of what we may now call caste prejudice is devoted chiefly to idealistic phrases claiming a divine origin for the upper caste and defending the system as a benevolent institution which enables the privileged group best to serve the people as a whole. The current writings of the Ku Klux Klan abound in highly idealistic phrases in which loyalty and devotion to the precious heritage
( 485) of the white race are set forth as the chief motive of their activity and the main defense of their program. In this sense it may be said that race prejudice takes the form of altruistic devotion to the threatened group. The hostility may easily masquerade as love, and the wolf of antipathy wears not infrequently the sheep's clothing of affection and solicitude for the beloved group.
But here emerges a very interesting and important problem. The whole of a series from absolute devotion on one side to complete rejection on the other would thus seem to be characterized as prejudice, and yet prejudice is held to be an undesirable attitude, and is so described in the law books and so treated in the administration of justice. Freedom from prejudice is held to be the mark of a cultivated member of society. No refinement of dialectic seems sufficient to take away a certain moral stigma which has always been attached to the term. To be prejudiced is to be biased, bigoted, unfair, one-sided. A man may admit that he is prejudiced and may even boast of it, but one can also admit being blind or glory in the possession of a goiter. This will lead us to suspect that some attitudes of rejection could exist which do not deserve the name prejudice and corresponding attitudes of approval and loyalty may be described which are not even prejudice in favor of their object.
Just how the nice distinction here involved can be investigated is an interesting problem for social psychology. The research could involve specific inquiry into the exact nature of the feelings, their attitudes, their genesis, and above all, their immutability. Not to be deflected by any threatened logomachy, we can assert that some attitudes which we may call X vary from extreme admiration to extreme rejection, and other attitudes of the series Y vary likewise between the two extremes. And these differ in some essential respects. The former appear to belong to the category of representations collectives which have been fully set forth by Levy-Bruhl. He who holds an attitude of extreme prejudice or reacts to an object which has extreme prestige is, in the phrase of the French author, "impermeable to experience." The attitude is fixed. He is "wedded to the notion," he believes in spite of the facts. Arguments against his view only make him
( 486) worse. If forced to admit the untenable nature of rationalizations he does not give up his prejudice, but merely seeks out other rationalizations.
Against this the series Y is more objective. It is called judicial, since we expect judges to feel and act that way. Sometimes we refer to a scientific attitude or an open-minded attitude. The theory of gravitation had high prestige for several generations, but was abandoned in a short time and without any mental discomfort when a few facts were brought against it. Scientific theories seem to belong to class Y, though when the partisans of rival schools repeat their formulation the latter sometimes approach the character of represensations collectives, and are hardly to be distinguished from the slogans of politicians and other conflict groups. The conditions under which these divergent classes of attitudes are created is a fruitful field for research and one which seems to have been relatively uncultivated. The term rationalization is so useful a word and has so definite a meaning that it will never do to apply it to every reason one gives to justify his conduct or to defend a conviction.
There is a sharp difference between emotionally toned nonrational attitudes and those other attitudes whose real defense is identical with the expressed reasons. There is knowledge, certainty, and conviction; there is opinion and belief, and also prejudice. Our knowledge of their exact distinction awaits the result of the future investigation of some skilled psychologists.
We have referred to race prejudice as a collective phenomenon. The object has been shown to be a concept. Racial prejudice against a man is always against him as belonging to a conceived group. Now this group can be studied by the sociologist for he is always at home in studying groups. And if two groups in conflict are found, in connection with which prejudice exists, it seems always possible to describe them as different. These differences can be described in many forms: physical appearance is one, including color of the skin, but religion is another and very important difference. Language is such an important difference that to say "sibboleth" instead of shibboleth on one occasion cost many thousand people their lives. But prejudice is kept alive, or even at times created,
( 487) in a situation which calls attention chiefly to some other aspect of the collective life. A difference in food habits is important, striking differences in dress may be the center of attention. Difference in moral codes or variations from the folkways serve at times to mark off an out-group and to prevent us from including them when we say "we."
The particular situation determines the gestalt. For purposes of political action we may temporarily unite with our religious opponents and such activities tend to mitigate and diminish the intensity of race prejudice.
It is important to observe that where several of these differences combine in a single group the prejudice is strengthened in intensity and prolonged in time. The perennial nature of anti-semitism is by no means a solved problem, but it seems relevant to note that in many cases there is an accumulation of these symbolic differences. There is a so-called race or slightly different appearance, a different religion, a different dietary, and even a different costume. It would be interesting to know whether, if religion, language, food, and dress were identical, the race prejudice against the Jew would survive. There is reason to think that it would not.
This last remark gives occasion to emphasize an important aspect of race prejudice. In the experience of him who manifests it the conceptual image of the out-group tends to persist so long as any considerable number of the members retain the differences, even though most of the out-group have become assimilated to other ways of living. It is the poor Yiddish-speaking, kosher-eating Jew who is in a large and undermined measure responsible for the attitudes felt toward the completely assimilated members of his group. It is the illiterate unwashed and dissolute Negro who keeps alive the conceptual image which is responsible for much of the unjust treatment which wholly assimilated members of his race receive.
In the above suggestions there seem to be also fertile areas of investigation. The varying differences, the extent to which they are focal in consciousness, and the ease and speed with which they are modified could be carefully studied with great profit, and the results ought to make significant contributions to what we would like to know about race prejudice.
Another aspect of prejudice which should be studied concerns the degree of exclusion or distance. Some work has been done in this field already, but much more light is needed. Complete assimilation, inclusion of the other race in the we-group, is one limit, the other extreme being the desire to annihilate the out-group, or the less sanguinary expedient of sending them all across the sea, or keeping them there if they are there now. Between these extremes the out-group may be permitted to buy and sell, but in specified times and places only. They may be allowed to use the roads where horses walk, but not the paths reserved for foot passengers. A less degree would allow the privileges just mentioned, admitting the out-group into the public meetings and vehicles, but in a segregated area. To continue the series, they might be allowed to attend meetings but would be excluded from hotels and restaurants where the in-group go, and near the end of the series they would be allowed to attend meetings and mingle freely, but would not be eligible to legal marriage.
This series is merely suggestive and not at all complete. An exhaustive exhibit could be made with sufficient patience and industry which need would be not only the picture of a situation but would include the changes in time. Concerning the conditions under which these various items in the mores arose and persisted, or did change and modify, the facts seem to be accessible and ought to throw much light. The Hindus in Natal are not more unwelcome than they are in Vancouver, yet the form of their treatment differs widely, and the study of the difference and the account of how and why it arose ought to be very valuable information.
In the next place, we need a careful study of the decline and disappearance of race prejudice. The difference between the Norman and the Saxon in England was physically very striking, and the student of history knows that the prejudice was very strong. The process is called assimilation, and about assimilation we know much, but need to know more. For race prejudice seems to go in a cycle. It has a sort of life history. We can record in many cases the conditions in a period when it would not exist. We can describe the very beginnings and set forth the peak. In some cases the cycle has been completed and the very conceptual image of the out-group has
( 489) disappeared from human experience. And if a sufficient number of these were set forth with completeness and accuracy the documents would be very precious and the insight would have no small value.
Concerning the relation of race prejudice to argument and discussion, it would probably be agreed now in the light of what we have come to know of human experience, that the reasons assigned, the rationalizations, the derivations are the result not of the attitude itself, nor of the object, nor the situation which produced race prejudice. The arguments, reasons, rationalizations are the result of controversy. They bear the same relation to race prejudice that theology bears to religion. Reasons are not essentially the products of the attitude, but rather are they separate acts. Arguments are the blows struck in wordy warfare. They are efforts to make ourselves appear rational to others or consistent to ourselves. The serious wastes of time which well-equipped men have suffered from when they tried to discover the attitudes by getting written or oral answers to questions is perhaps not too great a price to pay for our progress, but surely is a blunder which need not be again repeated.
When the attitude changes it must disappear in the melting heat of an emotional experience and the new attitude is moulded in exactly the same kind of matrix as that which gave form to the earlier one which it displaces. And since emotional experiences involving race result in attitudes toward a conceptual and not a perceptual object, it is possible for this to be vicarious with almost an equal effect as if it were personally experienced. Indeed, many of our prejudices are formed as a result of artistic experience. The Turks are detested by millions of people who have never seen a Turk. Instead of seeing the Turk they have lived through a dramatic and highly emotional experience where the Turk has been blamed for atrocious acts and prejudice against him has been strongly formed.
The cure is similar to the cause. What art gives art can take away. Uncle Tom's Cabin produced emotional attitudes and occasioned epoch-making changes in the objects which men held in mind over a large section of the nation. The Clansman
( 490) and the Birth of a Nation had identical tendencies in the opposite direction. Poetry, painting, the novel, and the drama, to which may be added that form of literature which we call history, are perhaps responsible for more of our prejudices and for more of the changes which take place in time than actual experiences.
But actual experiences do modify us. An emotional situation can never leave us unchanged. Every interesting and sympathetic contact with an approved member of a despised group is a drop of water slowly wearing away the granite of a collective attitude.
Race prejudice may then be called a natural phenomenon, in the sense that a drought, an earthquake or an epidemic is a natural phenomenon. It is defended by many as desirable; it is deprecated by others as an evil. But whether it be good or bad, and its effects desirable or undesirable, there is everything to be gained by considering it objectively, studying the conditions under which it appears, the causes of its origin, the forms and conditions under which it has increased or decreased in intensity, and whether it disappears and why. We have had much literature on the subject but most of it might be listed as propaganda. If objective social science were to proceed to an industrious and indefatigable investigation of this perennial aspect of collective life the results would have much theoretical value and would offer as well useful instruments of control.