The Damaging Psychology of Race
Cold War showdowns in faraway corners of the Third World may have been dramatic examples of how psychological expertise could be drawn into the fabric of postwar U.S. foreign and military policy, but they were hardly unique. Intergroup conflict did not fade away in 1945, and the appearance of a mass-based civil rights movement in the 1950s—inspired in part by the painful contradictions black Americans had lived with during World War II—pushed race and racial conflict to the center stage of public policy more insistently than ever before. To the World War II generation, it was apparent that levels of racial tension at home were in desperate need of monitoring and control, and, if at all possible, prediction and prevention as well.
In this critical area of domestic policy, the reminders of war and its benefits were ever-present. The domestically oriented government bureaucracies that purchased expert advice and supported research on the development of racial identity and the psychology of prejudice in the years after World War II drew on the same sources of inspiration as their Cold War counterparts. They depended upon explanations for racial crises that were founded, as theories of Third World development and revolution were, on such psychological basics as personality development, the roles of frustration and aggression in motivating behavior, and the logic of identity formation. In the decades after 1945, experts recalled World War II as their touchstone as they set out to develop a
"strategic guide to the war against prejudice," "community diagnosis and treatment" of this "contagious disease," and "the conquest of conflict itself."
This chapter locates the origin of postwar psychological perspectives on race in the transforming experience of World War II, briefly describes a few of their characteristic features in the decades that followed, and offers a number of examples of the translation of psychology into public policy on a variety of racial matters—from educational segregation to employment. Just as chapter 5 explored some of the developments that eased the transformation of psychology into public policy in the area of Cold War military policy, the pages that follow offer a similar analysis in an important sphere of domestic politics and policy-making.
The World War II Dilemma
Fighting a global war against an oppressive racial ideology brought to the surface deep contradictions in U.S. society at home, sharply contrasting political ideals of equality and opportunity with the historic fact of slavery and the contemporary reality of segregation and discrimination. That black soldiers were called to fight racism in a segregated military and Japanese-Americans were forced by law into internment camps were only the most conspicuous manifestations of America's continuing racial dilemma.
Between 1941 and 1945 there were Americans who protested such terrible ironies, and the war reinvigorated old civil rights organizations and spurred the formation of new ones destined for a central role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), for example, was founded in 1942 by a small group of black and white activists who pioneered the tactic of civil disobedience that would become such a familiar feature of protest, especially during the 1960s. Many of them had been involved in the religious-pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation and were disturbed enough by domestic racial injustice to declare themselves conscientious objectors, even during this "good war." For their part, government agencies operating in the area of race relations during the war years did what was possible to control angry outbursts of intergroup tension, thereby keeping civi1ian and military morale as high as possible. The tangible results
ranged from the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Commission to the desegregation of the military shortly after the war, long before the rest of U.S. society followed suit.
World war made an international issue out of U.S. race relations as well, and brought global attention as surely to the country's racial hypocrisy as it did to the nobility of those ideals, historically associated with the United States, that were being trampled in Europe. This international spotlight would remain an important factor in debates on U.S. race relations after World War II, as it would in the history of the civil rights movement, because the anticolonial revolutions that followed World War II throughout the Third World, along with the growing U.S. involvement in Indochina, underlined the chasm separating the stirring rhetoric of racial equality from the ugly reality. Racial justice and liberation, in fact, sometimes appeared as or even more likely in Southern Africa than it did in the U.S. South, a confusing and shameful development in light of many emerging states' initial identification with documents like the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Ambitious studies of race relations and riots were conducted during the war years for the explicit purpose of morale-related policy-making. Many of these had lasting influences on the direction of postwar behavioral science. Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, however, funded by the Carnegie Foundation, was the landmark World War II-era study in this field. Myrdal, a Swedish economist, politician, and architect of his country's welfare state during the 1930s, was chosen to head the project because its funders believed an outsider might be more objective on a subject so touchy with Americans.
Carnegie's choice of Myrdal was influenced by individuals who operated on the boundaries between intellectual life, business, and foundations. Beardsley Ruml, for example, treasurer of Macy's and a psychologist who had directed the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial during the 1920s, was a vigorous proponent of behavioral research aimed at solving a multitude of social problems, a vision institutionalized in the 1923 founding of the Social Science Research Council. More than a decade later, Ruml was the first to suggest Myrdal's name. And Lawrence K. Frank, whose formulation of "society as the patient" had struck such resonant chords in World War II work on national character, heartily endorsed Myrdal for both his familiarity with psychiatry's clinical methods and his proven ability to transform theoretical exper-
tise into public policy on a very grand scale. Frank was influential in directing social and behavioral science from a series of high foundation posts: the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, the Spelman Memorial, the Rockefeller General Education Board (1923-1936), and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation (1936-1941). He was so dedicated to synthetic insights and practical applications in fields ranging from child guidance to psychosomatic medicine that Harvard's Henry Murray called him "the procreative Johnny Appleseed of the social sciences."
Myrdal arrived in the United States to begin work on the project in the fall of 1938, long before U.S. entry into World War II. There is no doubt, however, that Myrdal's emotional and intellectual relationship to this massive research project on U.S. race relations was, from beginning to end, decisively shaped by its wartime context. This was certainly the case for most, if not all, of the others who worked on the project. Samuel Stouffer, to mention but one, headed one of the most important military efforts to monitor and influence soldiers' attitudes, the army's Research Branch. During Myrdal's temporary return to Sweden in 1940-1941, he also directed the research for An American Dilemma.
Like Stouffer and other World War II-era social and behavioral scientists who have been discussed in earlier chapters, Myrdal considered World War II a golden opportunity to advance behavioral theories, practical applications, and patriotic service—all at the same time. Myrdal called An American Dilemma his "war work" and pointed out the relevance of the subject to global military conflict. "In my investigation I have the world's problem in miniature: the whole aggression-complex and the circle of prejudices, violence and poverty. At the same time, the race problem is even greater than the war." He also suggested that the proliferation of crises, abroad and at home, was the best argument for an accelerated program of government-supported research and rational state planning.
From the point of view of social science, this [World War II] means that social engineering will increasingly be demanded. Many things that for a long period have been predominantly a matter of individual adjustment will become more and more determined by political decision and public regulation. We are entering an era where fact-finding and scientific theories of causal relations will be seen as instrumental in planning controlled social change. The peace will bring nothing but problems, one mounting upon another, and consequently, new urgent tasks for social engineering. . . . To find the practical formulas for this never-ending reconstruction of society is the supreme task of social science.
The final product, published as a 1,400-page book in 1944, was an emphatic and explicit statement of the World War II ethos. This was the same constellation of beliefs that had characterized military psychology and work on managing international diplomatic and military conflict. It included a commitment to applying behavioral theory and research to the amelioration of pressing social problems through the policy-making agencies of the state (Myrdal termed this "social engineering"); an optimistic belief that interdisciplinary research was essential to enlightened government policy; a rejection of value-free empiricism and methodological obsessions within behavioral science; and the embrace of liberal values such as racial equality and harmony.
Published in 1944, An American Dilemma was hailed as a monumental work of comprehensive, interdisciplinary social science. It dominated both popular and academic debates about U.S. race relations, and the status of black Americans, well into the 1960s. The incorporation of its ideas into public policy was rapid. The Truman administration's 1947 report To Secure These Rights was the first acknowledgment of federal responsibility for civil rights since Reconstruction; it served as ammunition for the solicitor general in cases before the Supreme Court. The report restated Myrdal's thesis, cited numerous wartime studies of intergroup conflict, and pointed to the psychological cost of racial inequality, "a kind of moral dry rot which eats away at the emotional and rational bases of democratic belief."
The cost of prejudice cannot be computed in terms of markets, production, and expenditures. Perhaps the most expensive results are the least tangible ones. No nation can afford to have its component groups hostile toward one another without feeling the stress. People who live in a state of tension and suspicion cannot use their energy constructively. The frustrations of their restricted existence are translated into aggression against the dominant group. . . . It is not at all surprising that a people relegated to second-class citizenship should behave as second-class citizens. This is true, in varying degrees, of all our minorities. What we have lost in money, production, invention, citizenship, and leadership as the price for damaged, thwarted personalities—these are beyond estimate.
Ironically, An American Dilemma was so successful, its reception so positive, that many scholars, especially from black universities, found it difficult to secure foundation funding for social scientific studies of race in the postwar era because the perception existed that the definitive statement had already been written. Even so, most, and probably all, of the postwar perspectives discussed in this chapter were indebted to its
model, not infrequently through the direct involvement of their authors in this mammoth research effort.
The experts whom Myrdal put to work writing reports, literature reviews, and monographs included a wide range of social scientists and an equally wide range of topics, from the structure of southern agricultural economics to the incidence of mental disorder within the black community. In An American Dilemma, psychological topics were sometimes addressed directly, as in sections on "Psychic Traits" and the "'Peculiarities' of the Negro Culture and Personality." At other times, psychological concepts were imported into the analysis of historical and political developments from civil rights activism ("The Protest Motive and Negro Personality") to patterns of racial violence ("The Psychopathology of Lynching"). Myrdal's discussion of black community institutions anticipated much of the "social pathology" literature that would appear in the postwar years, suggesting that every facet of black culture, from family to personality, "is a distorted development, or a pathological condition, of the general American culture."
Some of the material that was produced for Myrdal, in order to summarize current research in various fields, was also published separately in book form. Characteristics of the American Negro, edited by Columbia University social psychologist Otto Klineberg, originated in one such monograph. Klineberg had dedicated his entire career to banishing racial explanations from psychology by gathering evidence that cultural determinants (educational opportunities, for instance) were responsible for social differences between groups. Klineberg was also a proponent of the national character concept that informed so much wartime work on enemy morale.
Most important, the central thesis of An American Dilemma served to push future work and policy on matters of race in decidedly psychological directions. Myrdal's main argument was that the dilemma of race for white Americans was fundamentally moral and psychological. "The American Negro problem," he wrote, "is a problem in the heart of the American. It is there that the interracial tension has its focus. It is there that the decisive struggle goes on. This is the central viewpoint of this treatise. . . . The moral struggle goes on within people and not only between them." Located safely in the United States throughout most of the war, Myrdal worried constantly about his native Sweden's delicate neutrality. Certain that the decisive European battle was for hearts and minds, he carne to see U.S. race relations in similar terms: as an index of struggle within the U.S. psyche. Surely this justified a new approach
to social engineering, one that would attempt to instill democracy "within" persons as well as rearrange social conditions "between them."
Myrdal's wife, Alva, also influenced his choice of a psychological approach. A brilliant intellectual, activist, and diplomat in her own right, Alva Myrdal's serious interests included child guidance, psychoanalysis, and behaviorism. Although she did not draft any of the material in An American Dilemma, the couple shared a long history of intellectual and political collaboration, neatly captured by the image of the desk at which they both worked, which had been designed so that they would face each other while writing. Alva's role in shaping the book was no less important for being formally unacknowledged. She debated each and every point with her husband, just as she had when they were working as coauthors. Her wartime activities, which included advising the OSS as well as making speeches for Swedish broadcast under OWI auspices, emphasized the strengths of U.S. democratic morale. She called for a program of spiritual and ideological preparedness much as Gordon All port and Margaret Mead had. In her written work she drew sharp moral and psychological lines between democracy and fascism.
This contrast became the centerpiece of An American Dilemma. At the core of Myrdal's analysis was the description of a unifying national conscience, a repository of principles like equality and democracy and a source of tremendous respect for individual dignity and the rule of law. Termed the "American Creed," it was destined eventually to triumph against the backwardness of racism and segregation, which Myrdal considered an extreme example of cultural lag. All ordinary white Americans, even the most bigoted, believed in the "American Creed," according to Myrdal, a fact which produced "a volcanic ground of doubt, disagreement, concern, and even anxiety—of moral tension and need for escape and defense."
Racism and segregation, in other words, were covering up the terribly guilty, conscience of the white majority. As alarming as such psychological defense mechanisms were—they provided the foundations upon which racially oppressive institutions were built and perpetuated—Myrdal was certain that psychology, also held the key to undoing racism. In the final analysis, he predicted that white guilt would become the black community's best ally. Since the "American Creed" prohibited the thoroughgoing, official incorporation of racial subjugation into U.S. institutions, surely it could serve a more positive function and actually dissolve the caste barriers that comprised the American dilemma. An
important task of postwar social engineering would therefore be the further investigation of white racial attitudes, so that appropriate reforms could be designed and implemented where they would count most: on the psychic interior.
Theoretical Building Blocks: The Psychological Basis of Racial Identity and Prejudice
Unleashed by pressing wartime concerns about anti-Semitism and urban doting, and stimulated by the appearance of An American Dilemma, a flood of studies about the psychology of racial identity and prejudice appeared during the years that followed World War II. Whereas the bulk of psychological research on racial issues prior to World War II had been limited to investigating—and frequently verifying—differences in intelligence, postwar researchers cast their net widely, grappling with new topics and promoting a decidedly environmentalist approach (culture over nature) that toppled conventional assumptions about the existence and permanence of white racial superiority. Otto Klineberg's "Tests of Negro Intelligence," a literature review written for Myrdal's project, set the postwar tone. It directly repudiated biased mental testing experiments (beginning with Robert Yerkes's data from the World War I military), challenged the notion that psychological tests could even measure innate intelligence, emphasized education as a key social variable, and identified "rapport" (the racial relationship between investigator and subject) as a central methodological question. It emphasized psychological experts' obligation to go beyond uncovering the facts, making the design and creation of a nonracist social environment the special responsibility of behavioral scientists.
While the scope of their ambitions widened, the subject of behavioral research on race narrowed in the postwar years. It was more concentrated on the antiblack attitudes of whites than it had been during the war or in earlier decades. Although a widely felt compulsion to make the Holocaust comprehensible was responsible for much new interest in the field, research on anti-Semitism eventually slowed to a trickle, and the attitudes of and toward a variety of other racial and ethnic minorities escaped the notice of most researchers until social
movements among Native Americans and Mexican-Americans during the 1960s (to mention only two examples) made the point that the psychology of race was a diverse, even contradictory field. Between World War II and the mid-1960s, black Americans were the chief subjects for psychological investigators interested in race. Research efforts focused either on uncovering white prejudice or on measuring psychological damage and assessing social pathology among blacks. These trends were consistent with Myrdal's conclusions and illustrated the growing symbiosis between racial identity and blackness, and racial prejudice and whiteness.
The tight fit between investigations of race relations and investigations of black Americans only gained momentum in sympathy with the gathering forces of the civil rights movement during the 1950s. Although events like the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott shocked much of the country and grassroots activism among masses of poor black Americans broke the bubble of middle-class contentment and consensus, the movement demonstrated real concern with the issues of psychological freedom and healthy personality development that were, during the 1950s, becoming standard features of U.S. popular and consumer culture. Until the early 1960s, movement leaders, none more so than Martin Luther King, Jr., united behind appeals to the moral conscience of white Americans. While they had taken some cues from Myrdal, their commitment to moral exhortation had other important roots: the traditions of the black church, for one. The enduring impact of An American Dilemma was, finally, as indebted to the spiritual and psychological concerns of the movement as the movement was indebted to the work of liberal social and behavioral scientists.
Personality theory and research were increasingly foregrounded in studies of black and white racial psychology after 1945. A partial explanation, at least, can be found in the widespread influence of The Authoritarian Personality, which had done so much to convince so many that prejudice was determined by deep psychic structures and, conveniently, offered a practical way of measuring the personality's inclinations toward (or away from) authoritarianism. While authors of psychological perspectives on authoritarianism usually stressed the profound roots of prejudice (and the unconscious ones too, if they were psychoanalytically inclined), that did not mean they were pessimistic. Quite the contrary. If the World War II experience had shown them how social arrangements—childrearing patterns, for example—could have momentous, and sometimes lethal, consequences on the level of national character, it also taught them that bold sock l intervention could and should ac-
complish great things. They tended to believe, in Gunnar Myrdal's words, that "the social engineering of the coming epoch will be nothing but the drawing of practical conclusions from the teaching of social science that 'human nature' is changeable and that human deficiencies and unhappiness are, in large degree, preventable."
Prejudice was one of those preventable "human deficiencies" because the personality was reachable, hence reformable, through social engineering. This was hopeful indeed, and echoes the confidence psychologists expressed about manipulating the personality in order to achieve any number of other public policy goals. Since the redistribution schemes of the New Deal were under sharp attack in Congress after the war, education was really the only kind of social engineering that appeared likely to succeed in a politically conservative era. Campaigns to change white attitudes by providing information about and establishing contact between otherwise segregated groups consequently became the core of a flourishing movement known as "intercultural education." These were considered the techniques most likely to eliminate ignorance and fear. The number of organizations working to reduce racial hostilities grew from approximately three hundred in 1945 to almost fourteen hundred five years later, a dramatic increase that brought the concept of prejudice into the lives of millions of Americans for the first time.
If white attitudes were in need of change, black personalities were the proof that change was both mandatory and long overdue. Postwar studies that differed in other ways all agreed that racism did terrible damage to the developing self-image of the child and the mature personality of the adult. The case for psychological harm—to self, to gender identity, and to family relations—was the most effective argument that experts brought to public policy efforts in the postwar period. Gordon All port's attempt to state this case listed the following as characteristic psychological traits in people who were targets of prejudice: ego defensiveness, insecurity, withdrawal and passivity, clowning, slyness and cunning, self-hatred, aggression, and neuroticism. Minority group status and psychological victimization, in other words, were treated interchangeably, as the various examples described in this chapter will show.
Black personalities, like white ones, could be tested and measured. Perhaps, psychological experts reasoned, the damage could be controlled or even reversed. This position was well intentioned and ambitious, based on the World War II doctrine that behavioral scientists had serious public obligations to enlighten policy on matters of social
importance. Neither was it insignificant that many postwar intellectuals had liberal political sympathies, becoming strong supporters of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. As early as 1934, the vast majority of "scholars in the field of racial differences" had been all but unanimous in their refusal to recognize racial superiority or inferiority as scientifically validated facts. By 1948 a survey of hundreds of social psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists found that their professional experience and scientific research had convinced almost all of them that legal segregation had detrimental psychological consequences for blacks and whites alike. By the mid-1950s, support for desegregation and federal civil rights legislation had become fixtures of social scientific orthodoxy.
Social Context as the Source of Prejudice
The environmentalist consensus that emerged from World War II generally prevented psychological experts from advocating crude versions of psychological reductionism and encouraged them to incorporate sociological variables into their discussions of the development of black personality or the causes of white racism. This trend was yet another instance of the abstract commitment to a comprehensive behavioral science approach during this period. It was, however, also the case that the institutional realities of race—the elaborate apparatus of legal segregation in particular, but also the legacy of slavery—were so clearly salient and so impossible to ignore. One consequence was a marked convergence between the perspectives of psychological and nonpsychological experts. Some psychologists started sounding like anthropologists, and there were many sociologists who eagerly incorporated the language of psychoanalysis into their research. Not infrequently, research involved interdisciplinary team efforts.
An example of this, which simultaneously illustrates the centrality of the war experience to postwar work in this field, was the research on racial attitudes jointly conducted by emigré psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim and sociologist Morris Janowitz. Both had been indelibly marked by the war. Bettelheim's first-person account of concentration camp survival had confirmed that German national character was severely disturbed and furthered the vision of postwar psychological reconstruction on a national and international scale. For his part, Janowitz had worked as an intelligence expert and "sykewarrior" during World War II. His postwar research on the political sociology of mili-
tary institutions would make him a key player in Cold War behavioral science.
The Bettelheim and Janowitz study was conducted among 150 male veterans in Chicago and was published in 1950 as Dynamics of Prejudice: A Psychological and Sociological Study of Veterans. The effort was funded by the Department of Scientific Research of the American Jewish Committee and was part of the famous "Studies in Prejudice" series that included The Authoritarian Personality, also published in 1950. Bettelheim's and Janowitz's own backgrounds, as well as the source of research support, undoubtedly informed their choice to study both anti-Semitic and antiblack attitudes, a choice of multiple subjects in the study of racism that would become rarer and rarer in later years, as noted above. Their use of veterans as subjects was quite deliberate. They believed that World War I veterans had been an important vehicle of anti-Semitism in Germany, and they were concerned that maladjusted U.S. veterans might contaminate the postwar domestic landscape with similar prejudices.
Their stated goal was very practical: to formulate a "diagnosis" and then "a cure for one of the major disorders in contemporary American society: ethnic discrimination and aggression." This was perfectly consistent with the desire (so evident in Myrdal and in many other contemporary experts) to make behavioral expertise inform government policy and inspire social action. Bettelheim and Janowitz reached the following conclusions about the nature of prejudice. First, prejudice was an expression of fundamental hostility, anxiety, and aggression. Second, it originated in past deprivations (especially in childhood) and anticipation of future deprivations (especially economic threats). Third, it resulted from an absence of ego strength and inadequately internalized controls, which caused aggression to be discharged indirectly and irrationally rather than directly and rationally. Fourth, prejudice was more likely to correlate with downward socioeconomic mobility than to be located on any particular rung on the ladder of the U.S. class structure.
All of these themes were standard fare in postwar studies, with the exception of their final conclusion about class mobility, which rejected the assumption that working- and lower-class individuals were necessarily less tolerant than middle- or upper-class individuals. Equally standard was their view that such theoretical conclusions deserved direct translation into government action, even when that meant radical shifts in public policy. Bettelheim and Janowitz saw fit, for example, to call for programs of full employment, an adjusted annual wage, and a dra-
matic extension of social security benefits. Reforms that would protect people from sliding downward, they argued, would do more than simply offer an economic safety net and insurance against poverty. They would actually insulate people from the emotional hazards and frustrations that resulted in explosions of racial intolerance and ethnic hatred.
In the end, like the experts who have been described in previous chapters, Bettelheim and Janowitz preferred prevention to even the most dramatic of social rearrangements. Because nothing appeared to have quite as much preventive potential as education, "tolerance propaganda" should begin at a very early age, guiding the release of aggression and hostility (which they assumed to be a fixed and universal feature of human psychology) in more socially acceptable directions than racial animosity.
Rearranging personality structures through manipulating the process of parenting and childhood socialization held the greatest promise of all. One of the chief characteristics of the democratic personality was that it incorporated symbols of appropriate authority rather than left social control to the whims of external coercion. Bettelheim and Janowitz had contributed to the theoretical literature that implicated deep personality structures in the production of prejudice, making the manufacture of tolerant personalities the most effective route to eliminating such objectionable attitudes. The reform of childrearing was also attractive for practical reasons: it was more likely to succeed than the radical economic redistribution they had called for. "In any case," Bettelheim and Janowitz pointed out, "it seems simpler, and more feasible, to influence parental attitudes toward children, when compared with the efforts needed for assuring a stable economy free from the fear of war and unemployment." David McClelland had reached similar conclusions in his quest to promote achievement-oriented personalities in developing countries as a method of heading off the violent upheavals that international inequalities and tensions were likely to produce. Mothers, everyone seemed to agree, were an appealing audience because they had an immediate impact on their young children. Moreover, they could be reached, counseled, and tested.
The Gender Problem and the Black Family
Psychological and psychoanalytical approaches to containing and preventing prejudice leaned toward reforming childhood
socialization practices, parenting patterns, and family relations of authority for reasons that were both theoretical and practical, as noted above. Given this bias, the deep concern with gender roles and their development that pervaded the postwar literature on race is not very surprising. Mothers, it was clear, were strategically positioned as cultural architects because families were personality factories. To the extent that the United States succeeded in overcoming its social problems, mothers could be credited. To the extent that social crises remained unresolved, or even worsened, mothers could be blamed. And they often were.
In the case of the black family, however, the gender problem extended well beyond the willingness to identify mothers as agents of socialization and powerful sources of all sorts of attitudes—tolerant and prejudiced, achievement-oriented and fatalistic—in their (male) children. Beginning with E. Franklin Frazier's landmark study of the black family in 1939 and continuing with Abram Kardiner's and Lionel Ovesey's psychoanalytic theory and Mamie Clark's and Kenneth Clark's research in the 1950s and 1960s, "matriarchal" gender relations within the black family were analyzed and discussed as significant defects in their own right, immediate sources of personality and social problems (from warped self-esteem to juvenile delinquency to school failure), and appropriate targets for policy designed to improve race relations by enhancing masculinity and bolstering patriarchal authority. By 1965 a report on the state of young urban criminals that appeared in the New York Times Magazine simply stated that "the welfare world of New York is a fatherless world" in which "people infect one another with the virus of failure." The article continued:
The "unavailable mother"—unwed, indigent or surviving on welfare payments, socially deprived, economically deprived, intellectually deprived, often friendless, depressed, mentally disturbed, lonely, frightened, unable to supply the needs of a newborn child, already burdened with children she has rejected—the unavailable mother produces the unreachable child. This is the woman who needs the attention of the social welfare world. . . . We know that the damage to the [black] infant takes place long before he sees the dirt, the drunks, the drug addicts, the spilled garbage of the slum; the damage takes place when the unavailable mother brings her child home from the hospital and realizes she hates him for being alive.
A good look at gender arrangements, in other words, showed just how deeply the black personality—specially the black male personality—had been damaged.
The emphasis on gender roles was accepted unquestioningly as an essential component of comprehensive research and policy at the time. It was, after all, completely consistent with broad cultural trends, including the widespread popularization of psychoanalysis (still associated with the scandalous yet scintillating taint of sexuality in popular perception), an avid ideology of domestic and dependent femininity in the period after 1945, and the growing interest in the history of black Americans that was sparked by the emergence of the civil rights movement. The antifeminist implications of this emphasis in the psychological literature, however, became infinitely clearer in retrospect, especially in the wake of policy controversies like the Moynihan Report and in the face of a new women's movement prepared to criticize and defy notions of essential differences between men and women, in the family and elsewhere.
E. Franklin Frazier's monumental work The Negro Family in the United States was a touchstone for virtually every subsequent addition to the postwar literature on the psychology of race. His thesis was that the history of marriage, family, and childrearing in the black community had been determined by external and impersonal forces since the Civil War, especially the long march of industrial capitalism. Personal and even cultural factors were, in comparison, relatively insignificant. Considering this fundamentally nonpsychological argument, which consistently attributed causal status to economic over psychological processes, Frazier's prominence in the postwar psychological literature seems puzzling. Perhaps his subject matter—the family—was such familiar territory, to psychological experts, and so readily identified with them, that theorists and researchers in psychology were encouraged to claim at least Frazier's starting point as their own: that the black family was a Pandora's box that had been opened.
As a historical sociologist, Frazier emphasized long-term, macro-social and macroeconomic developments like slavery, mass migration, and urbanization as the hinges upon which the black family's history, and future, turned. He countered the theory that the black family's peculiarities revealed its African heritage by arguing that black Americans were shaped by exactly the same historical forces as white Americans and by describing how the passage from Africa and the experience of the first several generations of black American slaves had wiped out any possibility, of African cultural holdover. Frazier considered slavery to be among the most important factors shaping black families, even long after emancipation, and insisted that many contemporary features
of black gender, sexual, and parenting relations could be traced to its harsh consequences.
In particular, slavery, interfered with what Frazier understood to be the fundamental facts of gender, sexuality, and family economy. Women were naturally inclined toward monogamous and long-lasting emotional bonds. Male sexuality was naturally wild and terribly undiscriminating. The purpose of stable marriages and families was to tame men so that women could accomplish the necessary feats of reproduction and childrearing while being supported and protected by dependable breadwinners. Because becoming dependable breadwinners conflicted with male nature, however, incentives were required. Frazier saw those incentives in capitalist economic relations. For Frazier, ensuring patriarchal black families required an economic guarantee: that black men would be as free as white men to accumulate property, sell labor power, and otherwise function within the marketplace. In other words, Frazier assumed that capitalist patriarchy was the aspiration that made the most sense for black Americans at the moment, even while he criticized it as a historically specific social arrangement and called, at various points in his career, for nationalist and socialist alternatives.
These assumptions were so profound and widespread as to merit little contemporary attention, but they defined the nature of the black family's problem nonetheless. Slavery had interfered with patriarchy by making it impossible for black men to be breadwinning husbands and devoted fathers. This had forced black women into unnatural roles of family authority and replaced the primary family relationship—between a monogamous heterosexual couple—with unusually strong mother-child bonds and little, if any, dependence on the regular economic or emotional contribution of men. Although Frazier described some slaves as heroic in their efforts to maintain loving and loyal families in spite of the inhumanities of servitude, slavery ultimately stripped men of their male prerogatives and put "motherhood in bondage."
New challenges faced black families in the twentieth century, when mass migrations out of the rural South and the increasing pace of urbanization turned gender nonconformity into the kiss of death for black Americans. Frazier argued that the matriarchal family structure had been relatively benign in the rural isolation of Reconstruction, really only a matter of the "simple folkways and mores" of black peasants. Once in contact with the strong patriarchal norms of the dominant white culture, however, the black community started to disintegrate at its core. The "city of destruction" freed the corrosive forces of selfish
individualism among black Americans and the result was a proliferation of "roving men and homeless women," newly equipped to destroy any hope of stable families and communities through exploitative and violent behavior.
Frazier concluded that only by altering the course of those macro-social forces that had so destabilized the black family was there any hope of encouraging more stable (i.e., more patriarchal) families in the future. Including black men in the ranks of industrial workers might be one worthwhile avenue to pursue because gains in economic power and security offered a solid basis for increasing men's power in the family and therefore the viability of the black family itself. In the long run, only the complete integration of black men into the economic life of the United States, and equal opportunities to rise or fall there, would do.
In Frazier's analysis, constructive solutions for the black family were as deeply gendered as the definition of its problems had been in the first place. In The Negro Family in the United States, economics and demography typically preceded psychology. For example, Frazier never suggested (as some others did later) that black families were disorganized because their men were plagued by syndromes of low self-esteem. Offering men an opportunity (such as therapy or another method of individual treatment) to sort out their feelings about themselves or their parents was not considered. Employment was. Postwar research and policy directed at black Americans consistently emphasized male employment, although in some cases psychological failures were implicated as causes where Frazier had seen them merely as painful consequences. As we shall see in the next chapter, policy planners during the 1960s hoped that getting black men into good jobs with decent pay would correct the matriarchal deviations of the black family by allowing men to function as reliable breadwinners and domestic authority figures. Supporting masculinity was, in other words, a preferred method of tackling poverty, illegitimacy, inadequate housing, poor academic achievement, and a host of other community problems, including rioting.
Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey confirmed, with clinical data, the gender- and family-related damages that had been cataloged by Frazier on a sociological level. For Kardiner and Ovesey, however, personality was the primary. source of institutional reform and psychology the crucible of social change. In spite of their significant departure from the direction of causation in Frazier's work, Kardiner and Ovesey's The
Mark of Oppression was deeply indebted to Frazier's study. They took to heart Frazier's cue about the black family and its destruction under the conditions of slavery. They incorporated his concern with the disorganizing clash between black matriarchy and the patriarchal norms of the majority. white society. Finally, they showed how far explanations of U.S. racial identity. and race relations had moved in psychological directions by the early 1950s, and how serious psychological experts were about seeing their theories turned into practical plans for "social engineering" in the area of race.
Based on twenty-five clinical case studies and the results of their subjects' Rorschach and TAT test results, psychiatrists Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey developed a psychoanalytic perspective on black personality development that displayed sensitivity to sociological factors, like class differences, which had been illuminated in the research of Bettel-heim and Janowitz. They treated class differences extensively. They explained why, for example, black middle-class families were more likely to achieve patriarchal norms than their poor counterparts. Nevertheless, the case studies led them to view caste (i.e., racial barriers), rather than class, as the unifying, psychological reality that left a "mark of oppression" on all black Americans, male and female, poor and well off, rural and urban.
Kardiner and Ovesey understood gender and family as the most important vehicles through which the mark of oppression was reproduced. As critics of the looseness and superficiality with which World War II-era experts like Margaret Mead and Geoffrey Gorer had treated patterns of childrearing in their profiles of national character, Kardiner and Ovesey offered psychoanalytic principles as the preferred alternative. They substituted new terms ("basic personality" instead of "national character"), elevated the status of unconscious motivation, and applied the theory to black Americans instead of German or Japanese citizens. The result was a psychoanalytic variation on the environmental theme offered by Otto Klineberg and others during the war years. What had previously appeared to be racial differences in personality were not. If black American personality seemed different, it was a product of shared social circumstances, especially the pressures of institutionalized racism. Discrimination had constructed differences. Aggressive, antidiscriminatory policies could therefore eliminate them.
Among the social variables that produced black personality were black men's difficulties finding and keeping jobs and black women's tendency to "hold the purse-strings" and conduct their affairs indepen-
dently of men. Psychologically speaking, Kardiner and Ovesey noted, this type of family pattern bred disrespect, emotionally and sexually unsatisfying relationships, an unnatural dominance of "loveless [female] tyrants" exerting harsh discipline over children, and an epidemic of social disorganization that flowed outward from the domestic sphere.
In addition to being impoverished, discriminated against, and ghettoized, black Americans led wretched inner lives. Hostility and aggression were, according to the projective tests administered by Kardiner and Ovesey, the most typical traits in their subjects' personalities. Considering the immense frustrations caste threw in the way of the release of black feelings, was psychological damage really such a shocking re-suit? Instead of expressing their rage directly, it was channeled inward against the self, producing oceans of self-loathing that caused more and less severe instances of emotional incapacity. "The Negro," they concluded, "has no possible basis for a healthy self-esteem and every incentive for self-hatred."
Kardiner and Ovesey were straightforward in their expression of sympathy for the plight of black Americans and direct about their anti-racist intentions: "Obviously, Negro self-esteem cannot be retrieved, nor Negro self-hatred destroyed, as long as the status is quo. What is needed by the Negro is not education, but re-integration. It is the white man who requires the education. There is only one way that the products of oppression can be dissolved, and that is to stop the oppression ." "Stopping the oppression" and liberating the black personality clearly involved changing the attitudes of white Americans. It did not, however, involve any reassessment of what normal gender roles or families were like in spite of the fact that Kardiner and Ovesey considered the pressure to conform to white ideals "a slow but cumulative and fatal psychological poison."
It was Kenneth Clark who put the final touches on the equation between the pathology of the ghetto and the destructive "cycle of family instability" in his famous 1965 study of Harlem, Dark Ghetto . Making the same gendered assumptions that Frazier, Kardiner, and Ovesey had made before him, Clark wrote that, because of slavery's legacy, "psychologically, the Negro male could not support his normal desire for dominance." Nothing about this statement—in particular its contention that male domination was "normal"—required any explanation. As we have seen, the disabilities of black masculinity had been a constant refrain since before World War II. Attacking dismal rates of black male un- and underemployment was, for Clark, simply the obvious way to correct what was wrong with the black family.
Kenneth Clark, before and during the 1960s, was always sensitive to the many and complex aspects of ghetto life. In his concern for issues of self-image and identity, he never lost sight of the realities of institutional power, and he had only sharp words for proposals that did not include the redistribution of material wealth and political authority. His view that matriarchy had created a "distorted masculine image," damaging men far more than women, however, reinforced the rationale that men were the primary concern of psychological theory. Women's psychological state was considered only secondarily, and usually as a by-product of the male experience.
By the 1960s, policy's impact on male self-esteem would become a significant and official indicator of government's success or failure, even when social welfare programs specifically targeted women and children. That self-esteem became such an important factor in policy calculations, and in such a gendered fashion, can be attributed to the persuasiveness of the postwar experts reviewed in this chapter, the progress of the civil rights movement, and a social context hospitable to turning psychology into public policy for a variety of reasons, several of which are considered below.
Policy and the Racial Politics of Self-Esteem
The truly decisive evidence of personality damage, presented accessibly and in a way that finally moved a tiny group of white Americans in a position to make a big difference, was offered by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the early 1950s. Kenneth Clark had been a research assistant on Myrdal's project after earning his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1940. He later moved on to found (with Mamie Clark) the Northside Center for Child Development and Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a prototypical community action program sponsored by the War on Poverty. And he was awarded numerous professional honors, including terms as president of SPSSI (in 1959) and the APA (in 1970). Mamie Clark had explored racial identification and self-esteem in all of her research since the 1930s; her masters thesis, awarded by Howard University in 1939, was rifled "The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children." Two of their joint studies of black children's self-images, published in 1947 and 1950, probably did more to push theoretical treatments of
self-esteem into the light of public policy than any other postwar work in the field of the psychology of race. Their effectiveness was due to the Clarks' ability to personalize the consequences of racism in a vulnerable group—children—and to do so in the name of empirical, scientific research.
Their experiment consisted of giving some 160 children, ages five to seven, a coloring test. Children were asked to color objects like leaves and oranges (in order to ensure that they had a realistic sense of color relationships) before they were asked to "color this little boy (or girl) the color that you are." What the Clarks found was that the children consistently portrayed themselves as distinctly lighter than the actual color of their own skin. Further, the gap between realistic and unrealistic coloring was largest among children whose skin was darkest.
Such marked preferences for light skin made the awareness of racial differences among young children, and the acceptance of racist valuations of those differences, impossible to ignore. The Clarks' accomplishment was to demonstrate that racial hierarchies were not simply a matter of abstract injustice in a society dedicated to the principle of equality, but rather a question of immediate, subjective experience: how people felt about themselves. It is hard to imagine anything that could have made this point more effectively than children's sense of who they were, damaged at such a young age. The Clarks concluded, "It is clear that the Negro child, by the age of five is aware of the fact that to be colored in contemporary American society is a mark of inferior status. . . . This apparently introduces a fundamental conflict at the very foundations of the ego structure." Because the Clarks shared in the reforming zeal of their colleagues, they underlined quite explicitly the practical policy implications of their experiment.
These results seem most significant from the point of view of what is involved in the development of a positive, constructive program for more wholesome education of Negro children in the realities of race in the American culture. They would seem to point strongly to the need for a definite mental hygiene and educational program that would relieve children of the tremendous burden of feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which seem to become integrated into the very structure of the personality as it is developing.
In fact, the Clarks' findings did encourage fresh strategies among civil rights advocates. Having reiterated that racial distinctions were morally and politically unjustifiable for decades, to little effect, activists turned to emphasizing how racism destroyed the developing personality of the black child, an argument destined to have tremendous success.
Even before the Clarks' work became widely known, the toll exacted by "damaged, thwarted personalities" was being seriously considered in important policy documents such as the Truman administration's To Secure These Rights, as we have already seen. But the Clarks wasted little time in bringing their work to policy-makers' attention. In 1950 Kenneth Clark attended the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth and, as a result, a chapter on "The Effects of Prejudice and Discrimination" was included in the conference's official fact-finding report. Little experimental literature existed in the early 1950s—other than the Clarks' own work—to prove that racism and segregation caused personality damage, so the chapter relied heavily on theoretical perspectives like The Mark of Oppression and The Authoritarian Personality. In spite of the scarcity of empirical research on the psychological consequences of racism, Clark suggested that an overwhelming consensus existed: psychologists knew that supporters of segregation were psychologically maladjusted and that segregation harmed the youthful and adult psyches of minority and majority group members by disturbing individuals' sense of reality and filling them with inner conflict and guilt. Clark's conclusion restated the environmental emphasis of postwar expertise, and added to it: "It is a mistake to believe that personality patterns found among Negroes indicate inherent racial tendencies. . . . As minority-group children learn the inferior status to which they are assigned and observe that they are usually segregated and isolated from the more privileged members of their society, they react with deep feelings of inferiority and with a sense of personal humiliation. Many of them become confused about their own personal worth." He articulated a deep concern for the personal self-esteem of children that would prove eminently effective and influential on the level of law and public policy, as legal history would soon show.
Brown v. Board of Education: Personality Damage as a Constitutional Issue
Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that overturned school segregation, and certainly one of the most important of the twentieth century, was also the first to place psychological arguments at the very heart of a Supreme Court decision. The Court's fondness for social science dated back to Muller v. Oregon in 1908, a case that deployed data collected by social researchers and settlement house
workers to argue that the constitutionality of protective legislation limiting women's work hours should be upheld. (It was.) But Brown went further. It illustrated how effectively psychological perspectives on the development of racial identity, and the damage done to it by prejudice, could penetrate the public sphere as constitutional issues.
In 1951 Robert Carter and Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund put out the call for social-scientific help in the state-level cases that preceded Brown. Marshall explained what was considered a chancy and extremely unorthodox legal strategy as follows.
I told the staff that we had to try this case [Briggs v. Elliott in South Carolina] just like any other one in which you would try to prove damages to your client. If your car ran over my client, you'd have to pay up, and my function as an attorney would be to put experts on the stand to testify to how much damage was done. We needed exactly that kind of evidence in the school cases. When Bob Carter came to me with Ken Clark's doll test, I thought it was a promising way of showing injury to these segregated youngsters.
Organized by Kenneth Clark, psychologists did indeed attempt to prove damages in Briggs v. Elliott and the other cases that led up to Brown . Consider, for example, Clark's own role in Briggs. He administered a psychological test (very similar to the coloring test described above, but employing dolls instead) to the children in whose name the suit had been brought. Then he offered the following testimony to the court, in which many of the themes of postwar psychological research and theory on racial identity can be found.
I have reached the conclusion that discrimination, prejudice and segregation have definitely detrimental effects on the personality development of the Negro child. The essence of this detrimental effect is a confusion in the child's concept of his own self-esteem—basic feelings of inferiority, conflict, confusion in the self-image, resentment, hostility towards himself, hostility towards whites . . . [or] a desire to resolve his basic conflict by sometimes escaping or withdrawing .
Arguments such as these did not significantly sway the judges involved, who sided with the state, but the NAACP legal team did not abandon the strategy of showing damage. When the Brown case was being prepared, members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) were asked to write a summary statement of the supportive testimony that social and behavioral scientists had offered in all the school segregation cases to that point. SPSSI formed a committee in order to comply with this request and eventually the statement was
signed by thirty-two behavioral scientists and filed as an appendix to the appellants' brief in Brown . The signatories comprised an honor roll of World War II-era experts; many had pioneered work on the effects of prejudice on wartime morale. They included Gordon Allport, Hadley Cantril, Kenneth Clark, Mamie Clark, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Otto Klineberg, Alfred McClung Lee, R. Nevitt Sanford, and Samuel Stouffer.
The statement itself was titled "The Effects of Segregation and the Consequences of Desegregation: A Social Science Statement." Admitting that the question of personality was located "on the frontiers of scientific knowledge," it nevertheless made a forceful case that "segregation, prejudices and discriminations, and their social concomitants potentially damage the personality of all children—the children of the majority group in a somewhat different way than the more obviously damaged children of the minority group." The damage was done through a process that destroyed self-esteem (in the case of black children) and generated guilt feelings, unrealistic rationalizations, and uncritical idealization of authority (in the case of white children). The authors had been influenced by Myrdal's faith in the "American Creed" as well as by their own work in the field of race relations. While the statement was being prepared, Gordon Allport wrote to Kenneth Clark,
The one point that I hope will be made to the Supreme Court is this: People really know that segregation is un-American, even the masses in the South know it. They also have prejudices. This mental conflict is acute. . . . But, let the backbone come from the Supreme Court, and it will strengthen the moral backbone of those who now live in conflict. The decision will be accepted with only a flurry of anger, and soon subside. People do accept legislation that fortifies their inner conscience.
The finished product made empirical evidence of psychological damage the focal point of the argument. Because twisted psychology could have such negative social consequences—riots and racial violence were the events most frequently cited—immediate action should be taken to desegregate schools. The statement tried to convince its audience that behavioral science, during World War II and in the years since, pointed inevitably toward this goal. It tried to reassure the Supreme Court justices that desegregation would proceed smoothly and nonviolently provided their decision was firm and united.
The statement was a huge success. The Brown decision argued that racial segregation in educational institutions had to be eliminated, not
only because it violated the civil rights of black schoolchildren, but because it damaged the integrity of their psychological development. The opinion respectfully noted the contemporary insights of "psychological knowledge."
To separate them [black students] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. . . . A sense of inferiority. affects the motivation of a child to learn. . . . Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.
Kenneth Clark's work and his impact on the Midcentury White House Conference were prominently noted in Brown's eleventh footnote, along with references to the work of Gunnar Myrdal, E. Franklin Frazier, and others. The decision produced an unprecedented level of concerted debate about the role of such evidence and the apparent legal power of psychology's "modern authority." The decision's opponents reacted by, on the one hand, mounting McCarthyite attacks on the "socialism" of the social sciences and, on the other, by enlisting social science on the side of segregation.
Brown was celebrated as well as scrutinized. Throughout the social scientific community, the decision was greeted with an outpouring of jubilation. In 1954 Senator McCarthy was censured by the Senate and the temperature of domestic anticommunism was finally starting to drop. Most experts probably thought the camouflage that racist reactionaries had found in anti-Communist rhetoric was transparent, and no real threat to their status. Apparently unconcerned, many psychologists continued to work with the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations, putting themselves at the service of legal and political strategies designed to thwart resistance to Brown throughout the South. As had been the case during World War II, doing the right thing and advancing the causes of science and professionalization were so tightly enmeshed as to be inseparable. Experts associated with the Brown statement exulted in the view that the 1954 decision had been "a landmark in the development and practical significance of the social sciences."
Subsequent developments would cause some of them to rethink this view. White resistance to Brown, which materialized immediately and sometimes took shocking and violent forms, made it plain that predictions (such as Allport's, quoted above) of orderly compliance with the "American Creed" had been overstated, to put it mildly. Desegregation
efforts during the fifteen years following Brown offered no convincing data that the tide of psychological damage had been stemmed, either among whites or blacks. If anything, self-esteem became an increasingly public issue as time passed. After the civil rights movement's turn toward nationalism in the mid-1960s, black activists expressed great hostility toward arguments about the psychological damage wrought by segregation. Instead of repeating old maxims about the disorganizing effects of slavery, they dusted off histories of slave resistance, emphasized the cohesiveness of black families, and celebrated the resilience of black culture over time. Infused with pride, many black Americans were no longer willing to serve as exemplars of psychological debility and, as often as not, turned the tables completely. White Americans were now accused of being "sick" or "pathological."
It was after this sea change in the movement that "The Effects of Segregation and the Consequences of Desegregation" came under fire for being a premature, naive, and unrealistic contribution to public policy. The self-esteem of southern black children was, it turned out in subsequent studies, higher than their northern counterparts. This finding, which prompted a cautious reassessment of segregation among advocates of integration, was not lost on advocates of black separatism like Malcolm X. In defense, Stuart Cook, one of the authors of the original statement, reasserted his belief that "we must neither underestimate the potential value of social science knowledge to significant societal decisions nor overlook our obligation to make that knowledge available when and where it is needed." This did not really answer the question, however, of how an allegedly scientific consensus had failed rather miserably to predict the course of desegregation and stand the test of close examination. If psychological recommendations for repairing personality damage had turned out not to be scientifically valid after all, what claims could psychological experts possibly make to influence future public policy?
The Moynihan Report and the Question of Black Masculinity
By the 1960s, concepts of self-image, self-esteem, and self-identity were commonplace in discussions of race. Pushed along by Brown, these themes were also advanced through the popularization of psychotherapy and the publication of a virtual flood of behavioral and clinical studies. Best-sellers like Robert Lindner's The Fifty-Minute
Hour (1955), a collection of psychoanalytic case studies, presented prejudice as, above all, an irrational psychological condition. Explorations of racial psychology also found institutional support in new federal bureaucracies—especially the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)—established after World War II to support civilian behavioral research and promote mental health in the U.S. citizenry. Self-esteem was a concern that migrated from the theoretical terrain of personality development to take up residence in policy debates about black unemployment, poverty, and education in the New Frontier and the Great Society. And self-esteem typically encompassed the emphasis on gender and family issues that was so central to the work of postwar experts.
The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, popularly known as the Moynihan Report, was probably the most controversial example of postwar behavioral research transformed into public policy, and its ideas have proven remarkably tenacious, outlasting the debate over social policy in the 1960s by several decades. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a young political scientist who went to Washington after Kennedy's election and upon receipt of his Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Moynihan was representative of the new breed of "social scientist-politico" who populated military and civilian bureaucracies in the 1950s and 1960s, promoting the idea that social and behavioral science should play a much larger role in government: diagnosing problems, suggesting solutions, evaluating programs.
In March 1963 Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz asked Moynihan to head the new Labor Department Office of Policy Planning and Research, and Moynihan became the youngest assistant secretary in the federal government. A year earlier, Moynihan had been involved in important policy debates among psychological experts as a member of the Kennedy administration's Interagency Task Force on Mental Health. That experience exposed him to the single most important innovation in the mental health field at the time—the replacement of institutionalized treatment of mentally ill individuals with community programs to prevent and contain emotional maladjustments, a radical shift in policy that served to implicate all individuals (not just crazy ones) in the quest for psychological health. In his new job at the Department of Labor, Moynihan read Selective Service Director General Lewis Hershey's 1963 report on the dismal mental and physical state of the U.S. military, a report so shockingly reminiscent of World War II military statistics (a 50 percent rejection rate, for example) that Moynihan decided
to do something about it. The something was a novel mixture of welfare and warfare. "The thought of using the Selective Service System as a national screening device came instantly to mind. To link social issues to military preparedness was, well, an idea I called Theodore C. Sorensen at the White House [about]. He liked it."
Moynihan went on to contribute to a task force report, One-Third of a Nation: A Report on Young Men Found Unqualified for Military, Service, which emphasized how effective the military might be as a social welfare program—preparing young men for jobs and offering them opportunities for education and training. Several years later, telltale traces of these recommendations showed up in Project 100,000, a Defense Department program that lowered military admissions standards with the goal of uplifting the "subterranean poor" and curing them, in the words of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, of the "idleness, ignorance, and apathy" that marked their lives. It was not coincidental that Moynihan found inspiration and reason for hope in exactly such products of military psychology. They linked warfare to welfare, neatly illustrating an important, recurring theme in the history of psychology: the reverberation of wartime developments in distinctly nonmilitary policy spheres. In the short run, One-Third of a Nation functioned as a blueprint for the War on Poverty and as a model for Moynihan's next project: a report on the black family.
In writing the report, Moynihan undoubtedly drew on his own recent experience analyzing the problems of a gender-specific subject— young men unfit to serve in the military. He also drew, freely and consciously, on the insights that E. Franklin Frazier, Kenneth Clark, and others had offered into the gender dynamics of the black family. The Moynihan Report thus reproduced many of the features of the postwar literature reviewed in this chapter. It blamed slavery for lowering self-esteem and increasing dependence, accepted patriarchy as normal and natural, identified black families as matriarchal and deviant, and called for the employment of responsible male breadwinners as the solution to a host of social problems in the black community. It is worth quoting the Moynihan Report at some length in order to illustrate the centrality of gender in the link Moynihan forged between welfare and warfare.
At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. . . . In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great
many Negro women as well. . . . Given the strains of the disorganized and ma-trifocal family life in which so many Negro youth come of age, the Armed Forces are a dramatic and desperately needed change: a world away from women, a world run by strong men of unquestioned authority, where discipline, if harsh, is nonetheless orderly and predictable, and where rewards, if limited, are granted on the basis of performance. The theme of a current Army recruiting message states it as clearly as can be: "In the U.S. Army you get to know what it means to feel like a man."
Very little, if anything, that Moynihan wrote about the black family was new, although he did pepper the report with more copious charts, graphs, and statistical correlations than had previous writers. Moynihan did call the black family damaged and disorganized, but hadn't Frazier pointed out the terribly destructive consequences of slavery and urbanization twenty-five years earlier? Moynihan used the term "tangle of pathology," but hadn't Kenneth Clark articulated a comprehensive approach to the "social pathology" of the black ghetto which had been hinted at in An American Dilemma? Moynihan pointed out that the family was a useful target of government intervention, but hadn't one of the most appealing things about the family always been that it seemed particularly susceptible to conscious change by outside agents?
The charges of racism that swirled around the public debate over the Moynihan Report were especially ironic because Moynihan allowed race far less autonomy as a factor in historical development than had the other experts—Myrdal, Frazier, and colleagues—on whose work the report depended. Based on his own recent study of the history of various immigrant groups, Moynihan believed that nothing about the black family's problems was specifically "racial." One journalist even summarized Moynihan's view as follows: "Paddy and Sambo are the same people." Like other desperately poor individuals, blacks living in poverty needed decent jobs, educational opportunities, and the hope of attaining some measure of security in life. What Moynihan wanted to do was turn a ghettoized black underclass into an urban industrial working class, hence providing the basis for an interracial economic alliance, much as Frazier had suggested. His vision of a stable black working class did not imply that voting rights or desegregation, the core demands of the civil rights movement, should be rejected. Indeed, Moynihan supported these aims. But he insisted that guaranteeing the symbols of legal equality, while doing little to promote concrete opportunities for economic participation, was merely a way of repeating the
tragic errors of Reconstruction. Black people's basic problems, according to Moynihan, were about class, not color.
Gender was implicated in either case, however. The destruction undisciplined men would wreak on a community—any community—was as evident in the histories of Irish and Italian immigrants as it was in black urban ghettos during the 1960s. Moynihan warned,
There is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder—most particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved.
He had personal reasons to know. Moynihan had grown up in the poor, heavily Irish Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan, the product of a female-headed family. During his teenage years, he worked in his mother's bar, where he and his brother frequently intervened in rough disputes between customers and got a firsthand look at the anarchy of unchecked masculinity.
The assumptions that Moynihan and his contemporaries made about gender were deep and consequential, but they went largely unquestioned at the time. There were, however, a few exceptions: women who insisted, in 1965, that female "domination" was a perverse male fantasy and that reinforcing male supremacy in the domestic sphere simply scapegoated women (like Moynihan's own mother) who were forced to earn an independent living in order to support their children. One such critic was Mary Keyserling, director of the Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor. She tried to expose and counter Moynihan's gendered assumptions about economic roles in the family by arguing that wage-earning black women were not a problem, that "our under-utilization as a Nation of the great national resource which is our womanpower" is an "item of unfinished business." Only men like Moynihan, Keyserling tersely pointed out, were saying that black women were "over-employed." Abandoning the workforce to become dependent wives and mothers was no solution, in Keyserling's view, because the obstacles facing black women were at least as great in the case of earning decent wages as they were in the case of finding reliable male breadwinners. She calmly noted that improving the employment
status of men was a noble goal, but it should not come at women's expense. Black women, after all, were concentrated in the lowest-paid, most dead-end jobs. They needed economic advocacy as much, if not more, than others.
These were exactly the criticisms that would become standard feminist arguments just a few years later. In 1965, however, Keyserling's was a rather solitary voice. Most women active in the civil rights movement, understandably enough, would not have welcomed a choice between endorsing black women's economic dependence or abandoning the code of racial solidarity, and until the appearance of an autonomous women's movement several years later, these appeared to be the only choices. Nevertheless, research on black women's organizations has shown that the controversy over the Moynihan Report served to push many black women toward feminist consciousness several years prior to women's liberation. It was only a matter of time, of course, before a chorus of feminist denunciations of Moynihan would appear.
In 1965 though, the deafening silence that greeted Moynihan's gendered ideology helps to explain why Moynihan did not seem to realize, either while writing his report or afterwards, that gender, sexuality, and the family would be such hot button issues and the unacknowledged source of a great deal of the controversy. Alarm over families, and over what occurred within them—between men and women, parents and children—doubtlessly reminded the report's critics of the self-improvement approaches of psychological experts because the explosion of postwar clinical work was tied so firmly to personal difficulties and domestic adjustments. Because the women's movement had not yet turned issues like sex-role socialization into questions with legitimate public standing, it was no wonder that so many of Moynihan's critics reacted to his emphasis on sex roles and family skeptically, as a dangerous detour into the private sphere. They worried that, whatever Moynihan's intentions, policy-makers would respond to the report by endorsing counseling or therapeutic treatment because they viewed black Americans' real problem as "ego inadequacy" or "deviance" rather than an absence of equal opportunities.
After decades of performing as walking, talking examples of racism's psychological destruction, black Americans had had enough. Part of the national spasm over the Moynihan Report was surely due to the fact that it appeared during a moment of critical transition in the civil rights movement. Black Americans were no longer willing to wait patiently as experts observed their behavior, peered into their psyches, and moni-
tored levels of social pathology in their communities. William Ryan, a psychologist and one of the most prominent of Moynihan's critics, articulated the anxiety that psychology would displace politics, and bluntly caricatured psychological experts as follows.
Writers about the Negro family dwell on the issue of sexual identification as if they had just stepped off the boat from Vienna forty years ago. They are more kosher than a rabbi, holier than a pope, more psychoanalytic than Freud himself. It sometimes appears that they worry more about the resolution of Negro Oedipus complexes than they do about black men getting decent jobs. . . . They see psychological functions, particularly sex-role induction, as far more prominent than other more important functions of the family.
For many civil rights advocates who criticized the Moynihan Report, "family disorganization," "social pathology," and "the culture of poverty" were code terms. They intimated that since black Americans' problems were primarily personal and psychological, institutional racism and discrimination could be deemphasized or even eliminated as a terrain of government action. Many mainstream civil rights activists shared Moynihan's belief in the naturalness and superiority of patriarchal gender and family arrangements; even black power advocates frequently recommended a heavy dose of patriarchy as the best antidote to the poison that whites had forced on the black community. Almost all, however, emphatically objected to the notion that matriarchal families were the source of black Americans' problems. The vast majority of black families were still headed by men and, in any case, the causal relationship went in the other direction. Racial oppression produced social pathology rather than vice versa. To put the family under a microscope threatened to undermine the very foundations of the Great Society by "blaming the victim."
Moynihan's goal all along had been to design a universal system of social provision to care for Americans at the bottom of the class ladder, regardless of race. His choice to promote family policy as a means to that end had more to do with practical, political considerations than anything else. Families, it has been pointed out, were relatively straightforward targets of intervention and measurement. Further, family policy had a chance of winning support in a Congress dominated by a conservative majority of Republicans and southern Democrats, whereas general social welfare measures, presented as such, did not. Moynihan understood this very clearly. In later years, the War on Poverty's abandonment of class issues (for Moynihan, these were repre-
sented by jobs programs and income guarantees) and its embrace of community action programs and ideas like "maximum feasible participation" (which Moynihan rejected as an example of importing useless social-scientific concepts into government programs) was, for Moynihan, proof positive that he, and the War on Poverty, had failed. Convinced that race had been overemphasized, Moynihan wrote a memo in 1970, as an advisor to the Nixon White House, urging the federal government to treat the circumstances of black Americans with "benign neglect."
In 1965, when Moynihan began work on the black family report, his purpose was, quite simply, "to win the attention of those in power." He wrote it "for an audience of a dozen, at most two dozen, men who in their brief authority had become accustomed to . . . making large decisions on the basis of manifestly inadequate information." It was never intended to go beyond a tiny circle of high-level policy-makers, although it eventually did. Between March 1965, when the report was initially approved and printed, and July 1965, no more than eighty numbered copies had been distributed in the Department of Labor and the White House. What opened the report to a firestorm of public criticism, and what made Moynihan a household name after July, was largely a fluke of timing. The Watts riot exploded on August 11, just two days after Newsweek had summarized the Moynihan Report. Watts was the most destructive riot in the United States since the 1943 riot in Detroit. Demand for copies of the report skyrocketed immediately; seventy. thousand copies of it were eventually printed.
This coincidence of timing generated a widespread perception that Moynihan's "tangle of pathology" was the Johnson administration's official explanation for the violence, arson, looting, and death that had appeared with such ferocity in Watts. The establishment news media certainly adopted this view. The Wall Street Journal announced that "Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sows Seeds of Violence—Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms, Sociologists Say"; the Washington Post reported that "the Los Angeles riots reinforce the President's feeling of the urgent need to help restore Negro families' stability." Moynihan encouraged such conclusions by pointing out the dramatic rates of female-headed families and illegitimacy in Watts, and by offering his customary warnings about the dangers of unchecked masculinity. In a 1967 article, Moynihan reflected that "Watts made the report a public issue, and gave it a name."
Watts also made him into an instant riot expert. Embittered by the avalanche of protest over the report, Moynihan left Washington to head the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies, where he spent the next several years designing a plan of expert first aid for the country's crisis-ridden cities. Central to his new public authority was the real desperation of federal, state, and local administrators to find anyone who might help. During the Detroit riots, in the summer of 1967, Moynihan was urgently called to that city by a mayor in need of advice. That fall, Life produced the following solemn headline: "A Troubled Nation Turns to Pat Moynihan."
Even more than timing, the fear and angry reaction that ghetto riots provoked in white Americans seemed to vindicate Moynihan's perspective as well as erase any remaining hopes that the conscience of white America could be moved in antiracist directions. Deep reserves of feeling that black men were especially disordered in attitude and uncontrollable in behavior had been fortified by experts' emphasis on irresponsible, nonmarital sexuality, illegitimacy, and the burgeoning literature on black "matriarchy." These reserves were obviously much easier to tap than the "American Creed," if the latter even existed at all. Hadn't Moynihan at least offered a plausible explanation for this moment of crisis? What was rioting, after all, if not convincing proof that black families had twisted the masculinity of their sons to the point of extreme irrationality and violence?
Moynihan's solution, too, rang true for many. The transformation from marginal, defiant loners to integrated and responsible breadwinners would be produced by upward mobility, a move which required money but whose essence lay in wholesale changes of attitude and loyalty. As one Moynihan observer put it, "In the lower class, they don't take care of property; in the working class they do. In the lower class, the men don't work; in the working class, they're trying to get overtime. It's the difference between the rioter and the cop." Just how large policy-makers thought this attitudinal gap was, and how profoundly implicated in it were postwar investigations of the sources of prejudice among whites and personality damage and gender nonconformity among blacks, can be seen in the work of the Kerner Commission, the federal government's major response to ghetto riots after 1965.