Source Book for Social Psychology


505 Sociology; Social Psychology



In the present chapter are presented materials treating largely of the Negro-White prejudices. There are also included by way of concrete personal documents, examples of White-American Indian prejudice, of anti-Jewish attitudes, and of religious prejudice.

While much has been written to prove marked differences between races, it is generally agreed today, among competent scholars, that while there may be slight differences between races, by far the greatest differences exist between sub-racial groups and between individuals of races. The range of individual variation far outruns any racial differences, as such. Then, too, the factors of numbers and of culture opportunity play a distinctive rôle in determining present cultural standing. For example, a large group has distinct advantages over a small one not only in sheer mass of numbers, but in the fact that it would possess, ordinarily, a wider range of variation with more persons of outstanding native capacity. Couple with this cultural contacts and one has the conditions for advancement. Nothing so retards cultural advancement as small numbers and isolation.

Boas reviews the present anthropological viewpoint concerning Negro as against white capacity. Wallis points out the peculiar difficulty in judging cultures of races different than our own. The third selection has been made from that wealth of materials contained in the published report of the Chicago Race Commission made following the race riots of 1919. Here we see the attitudes and stereotypes which exist in both white and Negro groups concerning each other. Both groups carry ideas, images and attitudes about the other which make for racial misunderstanding. These attitudes concern every aspect of life where the two races have come into contact.


The following copy of a telegram from a southern governor illustrates a prevalent attitude among the older generation in the South. In reply to a query from Chicago about the possibility of returning some of the surplus Negro population from the North to the South, Governor Bilbo said:

Your telegram asking how many Negroes Mississippi can absorb received. In reply I desire to state that we have all the room in the world for what we know as "n-i-g-g-e-r-s," but none whatever for "colored ladies and gentlemen." If these Negroes have been contaminated with Northern social and political dreams of equality, we cannot use them, nor do we want them. The Negro who understands his proper relation to the white man in this country will be gladly received by the people of Mississippi, as we are very much in need of labor.1

Ratliff’s narrative, in the form of a letter, describes the procedure in dealing with a Negro accused of murder of a white man. The picture is a plain, unvarnished tale revealing the attitudes of the dominant race toward the servile one. The definitions of the situation for the white men are well stabilized. In the mind of "Mr. Tom" as of Governor Bilbo there is only one manner of dealing with the obstreperous Negro.

Yet lynching is itself a social custom affording a certain emotional release and satisfaction apart from any social control factors it may have. This is brought out by the short quotation from Tannenbaum.

In contrast to the negro-white friction which is so common in the United States is the interracial relations in other areas, such as Jamaica. The paper included here is from a resident of the island, who has had much opportunity to observe the bi-racial accommodations which have been worked out there.

Following these papers on the Negro, are three personal documents giving other phases of racial and religious prejudice. The first of these is from a life story of a girl of mixed Indian and white parentage. It reveals that even though the American Indian has not been in competition with the white men as has the Negro, there exists a good deal of mild prejudice against him. Once more we note how stereotypes and legends about the Indian come into 507 play in defining present relations. That is, the legends about the American Indian furnish a basis upon which to build a dislike of the individual Indian.

Moreover, we see something of the tremendous isolation which the person feels who stands between a group obviously less civilized than the white and the white group which will not admit one to full participation. It is hard to be a "man without a country" but it is also difficult to be a person without a solid cultural footing even though one may have one’s citizenship.

The selection from the autobiography of a young Jew does not show the violent prejudice which is sometimes encountered by persons of the Hebraic cultural background. It does indicate, however, the gradual development of race consciousness from a mild beginning. Again, in this instance, the felt isolation may be largely due to the restriction as it touches full participation in the American life about him.

The selection on religious prejudice gives the historical setting of a prejudice that although somewhat dissipated continues into the present. It reveals the long life of custom and mental pattern in spite of external changes in economic condition, in spite of the passing of many generations. Once more one may remark that to understand the social behavior of an individual or a group it is necessary to understand the culture patterns as well as the physiology of the individual organism and the interplay of person on person in the social interaction.



132. The Negro Problem in the United States1

When we turn our attention to the Negro problem as it presents itself in the United States, we must remember our previous considerations, in which we found that no proof of an inferiority of the Negro type could be given, except that it seemed possible that perhaps the race would not produce quite so many men of highest genius as other races, while there was nothing at all that could be interpreted as suggesting any 508 material differences in the mental capacity of the bulk of the Negro population as compared to the bulk of the white population.

Much has been said about the shorter period of growth of the Negro child as compared to the white child, but no convincing data have been forthcoming. Considering the great variation in the duration of growth and development in different individuals in various social classes, according to the more or less favorable nutrition of the child, the information that we possess in regard to the Negro child is practically without value. We have not even evidence that would prove that a shorter period of development must be unfavorable in its results. As it is, almost all we can say with certainty is, that the differences between the average types of the white and of the Negro, that have a bearing upon vitality and mental ability, are much less than the individual variations in each race.

This result is, however, of great importance, and is quite in accord with the result of ethnological observation. A survey of African tribes exhibits to our view cultural achievements of no mean order. To those unfamiliar with the products of native African art and industry, a walk through one of the large museums of Europe would be a revelation. None of our American museums has made collections that exhibit this subject in any way worthily. The blacksmith, the wood-carver, the weaver, the potter,—these all produce ware original in form, executed with great care, and exhibiting that love of labor, and interest in the results of work, which are apparently so often lacking among the Negroes in our American surroundings. No less instructive are the records of travellers, reporting the thrift of the native villages, of the extended trade of the country, and of its markets. The power of organization as illustrated in the government of native states is of no mean order, and when wielded by men of great personality has led to the foundation of extended empires. All the different kinds of activities that we consider valuable in the citizens of our country may be found in aboriginal Africa. Neither is the wisdom of the philosopher absent. A perusal of any of the collections of African proverbs that have been published will demonstrate the homely practical philosophy of the Negro, which is of often proof of sound feeling and judgment.

It would be out of place to enlarge on this subject, because the essential point that anthropology can contribute to the practical discussion of the adaptibility of the Negro is a decision of the question how far the undesirable traits that are at present undoubtedly found in our 509 Negro population are due to racial traits, and how far they are due to social surroundings for which we are responsible. To this question anthropology can give the decided answer that the traits of African culture as observed in the aboriginal home of the Negro are those of a healthy primitive people, with a considerable degree of personal initiative, with a talent for organization, and with imaginative power, with technical skill and thrift. Neither is a warlike spirit absent in the race, as is proved by the mighty conquerors who overthrew states and founded new empires, and by the courage of the armies that follow the bidding of their leaders. There is nothing to prove that licentiousness, shiftless laziness, lack of initiative, are fundamental characteristics of the race. Everything points out that these qualities are the result of social conditions rather than of hereditary traits.

It may be well to state here once more with some emphasis that it would be erroneous to assume that there are not differences in the mental make-up of the Negro race and of other races, and that their activities should run in the same lines. On the contrary, if there is any meaning in correlation of anatomical structure and physiological function, we must expect that differences exist. There is, however, no evidence whatever that would stigmatize the Negro as of weaker build, or as subject to inclinations and powers that are opposed to our social organization. An unbiased estimate of the anthropological evidence so far brought forward does not permit us to countenance the belief in a racial inferiority which would unfit an individual of the Negro race to take his part in modern civilization.

The traits of the American Negro are adequately explained on the basis of his history and social status. The tearing-away from the African soil and the consequent complete loss of the old standards of life, which were replaced by the dependency of slavery and by all it entailed, followed by a period of disorganization and by a severe economic struggle against heavy odds, are sufficient to explain the inferiority of the status of the race, without failing back upon the theory of hereditary inferiority.

In short, there is every reason to believe that the Negro when given facility and opportunity, will be perfectly able to fulfil the duties of citizenship as well as his white neighbor. It may be that he will not produce as many great men as the white race, and that his average achievement will not quite reach the level of the average achievement of the white race; but there will be endless numbers who will be able to outrun their white competitors, and who will do better than the defectives 510 whom we permit to drag down and to retard the healthy children of our public schools.

The anthropological discussion of the Negro problem requires also a word on the "race instinct" of the whites, which plays a most important part in the practical aspect of the problem. Ultimately this phenomenon is a repetition of the old instinct and fear of the connubium of patricians and plebeians, of the European nobility and the common people, or of the castes of India. The emotions and reasonings concerned are the same in every respect. In our case they relate particularly to the necessity of maintaining a distinct social status in order to avoid race-mixture. As in the other cases mentioned, the so-called instinct is not a physiological dislike. It is rather an expression of social conditions that are so deeply ingrained in us that they assume a strong emotional value; and this, I presume, is meant when we call such feelings instinctive. The feeling certainly has nothing to do with the question of the vitality and ability of the mulatto.

It appears from this consideration that the most important practical questions relating to the Negro problem have reference to the mulattoes and other mixed bloods,—to their physical types, their mental and moral qualities, and their vitality. When the bulky literature of this subject is carefully sifted, little remains that will endure serious criticism; and I do not believe that I claim too much when I say that the whole work on this subject remains to be done. The development of modern methods of research makes it certain that by careful inquiry definite answers to our problems may be found. Is it not, then, our plain duty to inform ourselves, that, so far as that can be done, deliberate consideration of observations may take the place of heated discussions of beliefs in matters that concern not only ourselves, but also the welfare of millions of Negroes.

1 Reprinted by permission from The Crisis January 1920. The quotation appeared originally in the Chicago Herald-Examiner.

1 From F. Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man, pp. 268; 269–74; 277–78. Copyright 1911 by The Macmillan Company. Reprinted by permission.


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Chicago: "Source Book for Social Psychology," Source Book for Social Psychology in Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. Young, Kimball, 1893-1972 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), Original Sources, accessed February 24, 2024,

MLA: . "Source Book for Social Psychology." Source Book for Social Psychology, in Source Book for Social Psychology, edited by Young, Kimball, 1893-1972, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1927, Original Sources. 24 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Source Book for Social Psychology' in Source Book for Social Psychology. cited in 1927, Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. , Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 February 2024, from