Race, Racism, and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History

By Graham Richards | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

'Race' in US Psychology to 1945: I. The rise and nature of 'Race Psychology'

INTRODUCTION

The most intense exploration of psychological race differences, known as Race (or Racial) Psychology, was undertaken by US psychologists between 1910 and 1940. Historical coverage of this has so far been highly selective. In the following two chapters I attempt to unravel the unexpectedly complex nature and meaning of this episode.

Race Psychology's origins lie in a very specifie historical context which largely determined its nature and fate. All knowledge is 'situated' in specific times and places-and none more so than racial 'knowledge'. If today, many believe such knowledge to be in principle impossible, it was otherwise in, for example, New York and Virginia in 1917. In these sites two issues had arisen which enabled psychologists to muster the resources (economic, ideological, scientific) to embark on the empirical investigation of 'race differences'. Taking slight chronological precedence was the 'Negro Education' question. Second was the immigration issue-settlement in the USA during the decade 1900-10 amounting to the largest voluntary migration in history. 1 The first of these was the longer lasting and has, in various guises, continued to dominate, if not monopolise, US Psychology's orientation to the issue. Some initial historical elucidation of this is especially necessary. 2

During the post-Civil War 'Reconstruction' period, which lasted until about 1883, considerable governmental and philanthropic support had been forthcoming for the education of the African American population in the South towards full participation in the nation's socio-economic life. This aspiration proved vain. With the fall of the Hayes Presidency and mounting legal chicanery, white hegemony was firmly re-established, which the North acceded to with few qualms. 3 In the new circumstances black leadership had little option but to adapt as best it could. Under Booker T. Washington, the goal of socio-economic and political parity was abandoned and hopes pinned on a programme of separate, complementary, development. 'Negro' education was to focus on inculcating values of hard-work and self-respect and be vocationally oriented towards agricultural, domestic and industrial skills fitting pupils for the only modes of life open to them. A handful of all-black universities would supply the doctors and lawyers needed to service the southern African American community, while Booker T.

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