Racial Attitudes of Black and White Adolescents Before and After Desegregation
George E. Dickinson
Studies on the effects of desegregation in public schools are inconclusive. Schofield and Sagar state that although numerous studies suggest that school desegregation can have a positive impact on intergroup attitudes and behavior a greater number reveal no effect or even a negative effect. (1) Webster found that desegregation reduced prejudice for blacks toward whites, (2) while Sheehan reports a "modest improvement" in students' attitudes after desegregation in the Dallas school system. (3)
Pettigrew noted that most research on the effects of school desegregation has been in schools not meeting Gordon Allport's criteria for promoting positive interracial attitudes and behavior: equal status within the contact situation, shared goals, cooperative dependence in reaching these goals, and the support of authorities, law, and custom. (4) There is support for Allport's contention that mere desegregation (simply mixing of students) does not necessarily result in more positive intergroup attitudes. (5)
Simpson and Yinger state that prejudice is sometimes explained as a result of the lack of contact with members of a minority group and sometimes as a result of the presence of such contact. (6) Unpleasant contacts probably increase the strength of prejudice, while certain kinds of contacts are effective in reducing the strength of a tradition of prejudice.
There is evidence that stereotype-breaking contacts reduce prejudice. Deutsch and Collins found that in integrated housing projects in which blacks and whites were scattered indiscriminately, agreeable relations between whites and blacks were much more common than in two segregated projects. (7) Another survey by the United States War Department concluded that two months after desegregating soldiers in U.S. army platoons in 1945 in Europe over seventy-five percent of white officers and noncommissioned officers expressed more favorable feelings toward blacks. (8)
With inconclusive evidence regarding the results of desegregation in public schools, further research is needed. The present study involves two follow-ups (after desegregation in 1970) of an earlier investigation in 1964 of a racially segregated high school system in a Northeast Texas community (population of 4000 in 1960 and 6000 in 1980) with a racial composition of two-thirds white and one-third black.
Although desegregation occurred in 1970, racial segregation remains throughout the community in churches, residential areas, government, and jobs. While mixing of the races tends to be largely limited to school- related activities, Dickinson reported in a 1974 follow-up of the 1964 study that changes for black adolescents' behavior over time are evident