Race, Racism, and Psychology: Towards a Reflexive History

By Graham Richards | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8

Racism at bay: Psychology and 'race' 1945-69

The immediate post-war years were dominated by two historical factors which, with a few exceptions, effectively suppressed whatever aspirations towards overtly racialist theorising and research were left within mainstream Psychology: the Holocaust and the US Civil Rights movement. This suppression was reinforced by the continued elaboration of those alternative 'paradigms' identified previously, particularly the culture and personality school and the study of 'race prejudice' in Social Psychology. In the USA moreover, the 'applied and intra-racial' genre had initiated what is today known as 'Black Psychology', albeit small in size and as yet insufficiently intellectually secure to radically challenge orthodox methodologies and conceptual frameworks. Even if somewhat lethargically, professional Psychology's ethnic composition was also diversifying. More generally, the 1940s saw the 'nature-nurture' issue acquire clear-cut ideological connotations, adherence to nativist positions becoming seen as inherently right-wing and racist. During the period under consideration here overt racism was clearly at bay within US Psychology. At the same time, anti-racist Psychology's understanding of the issue can now be seen to have retained a considerable degree of naivety, the erosion of which began in earnest in the 1970s. By the 1990s it is apparent, as we will be seeing, that a host of implicitly racist and ethnocentric assumptions persisted undiagnosed among many of even the most anti-racist psychologists.

The discussion will be organised around five principal topics. First, the metamorphosis of the Culture and Personality approach into Cross-cultural Psychology will be considered, continuing the story begun in Chapter 5. Secondly, we will look at the continuing 'prejudice' tradition in Social Psychology and the impact of 'authoritarianism' theory, which leads into the third, broader, issues of the role of Social Psychology in the US Civil Rights movement and studies of 'Negro personality'. Fourthly the residual continuation of race-differences work will be considered. Moving to a more general level, the 'nativism=racism' doctrine will be briefly examined before a concluding interpretation of the post-war phase. The date of 1969 is taken as the cut-off date because it (a) sees the publication of Arthur Jensen's work on race differences in IQ which broke the post-1940 antiracialist consensus and (b) sees the arrival of a more self-consciously 'Black' Psychology in the USA, the Association of Black Psychologists being founded in 1968.

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