Racism and Traditional
BYRON M. ROTH
Gunnar Myrdal's thesis that the racial prejudices of white Americans are the primary cause of the problems confronting black Americans continues to dominate debate on race relations. If this understanding, certainly correct at the time when it was formulated by Myrdal, is no longer sound, its continued endorsement only serves to block the development of alternative and more realistic explanations upon which to base social policy. A good deal of research effort, for instance, is devoted to finding the causes of white prejudice, a task that may not be very useful if whatever prejudice remains among whites is relatively unimportant for an understanding of black difficulties.
This is well illustrated by recent research in social psychology that follows the logic of The Authoritarian Personality in attempting to link prejudice with adherence to free-market and other traditional American values. This research tries to show that the traditional values of individualism and self-reliance, for example, are mainly a cloak for prejudice and are used to justify opposition to policies designed to promote racial equality.
People who express disagreement with affirmative action policies favoring minorities in university admissions, for instance, and who justify their objections on the basis of a commitment to the American values of self-reliance and equal treatment, are said to use those traditional values as a disguise for opposition to equality. This new understanding, ironically, turns Myrdal's thesis on its head. Myrdal argued that a true commitment to America's traditional values was the best antidote to discrimination against blacks. Today those selfsame traditional values are said to be the primary hindrance to racial equality. . . .
Many social scientists interpret whites' rejection of policies of preferential treatment for minorities as evidence of continued widespread racism. This general view is expressed in numerous books and articles which in recent years have lamented the fact that although whites increasingly seem to support the general principles of