African American Citizenship
Abstract and Keywords
This article highlights the social and economic experience of African Americans and comments on their lives with respect to politics, law, and education. Following the Civil War, the economic benefits of paying black workers in the cotton industry as little as possible, and much less than their white counterparts, certainly provided a major motivation for the curtailment of social and political rights of the former slaves. How would the country's history since 1865 have been different had this not been the case? What would the American economic and political landscape look like at the dawn of the twenty-first century? The article focuses on various scholars' deliberations on such intriguing questions. Despite the historical barriers to their participation in civic life, African Americans continued to strive for a full share of the American dream. This article traces these efforts from the collapse of Reconstruction through the Gilded Age and the Great Migration to the post-WWII era. In addition, the article examines race-conscious “color blindness,” especially in relation to WWII.
Shortly before the turn of the new century, Franklin Raines, then the CEO of Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association), approached me in my capacity as the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and asked if my colleagues and I would consider attempting to answer a question: What would the United States look like today if the newly freed slaves at the end of the Civil War had been granted full political and social equality, along with equal economic opportunities?
This did not happen, of course, for a host of reasons. A central reason was economic: the continued cultivation of cotton was essential to the restoration of the economy of the South and to the prosperity of the United States as a whole. The use of slave labor in the cotton industry had been crucial to the generation of American wealth in the three decades before the Civil War.
By 1850, more than two billion dollars were invested in slaves, the equivalent of sixty billion dollars today. Before the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, one slave could clean one pound of raw cotton per fourteen-hour day. With the cotton gin, production increased by a factor of fifty, so that one person could now clean fifty pounds of cotton per day. The cotton gin transformed the economy of the South: whereas three hundred thousand bales of cotton were harvested in 1820, three million bales of cotton were harvested in 1850. America overtook India as the world's principal cotton producer.
Cotton was driving America's industrial revolution. By 1850, five hundred cotton mills were in operation throughout the North, particularly in New England. Cotton was planted and picked by slaves in the Deep South, especially on particu (p. 4) larly fertile land formerly occupied by Native Americans of the “Five Civilized Nations,” who had been forcibly removed from this land in the 1830s in the dreadful “Trail of Tears.” (The Five Civilized Nations—the Creek, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Cherokee, and the Seminole—were so called because they owned black slaves.) It was cotton that created, between 1830 and the start of the Civil War, the largest economic boom in American history. Cotton was, indeed, king of the American economy, and the foundation of this kingdom rested on the bedrock of slavery. The unpaid labor of black slaves was the single most important element contributing to the industry's staggering profit margins. Following the Civil War, the economic benefits of paying black workers in the cotton industry as little as possible, and much less than their white counterparts, certainly provided a major motivation for the curtailment of social and political rights of the former slaves.
How would the country's history since 1865 have been different had this not been the case? What would the American economic and political landscape look like at the dawn of the twenty-first century? It was an intriguing question that many scholars had pondered, but which no one, to my knowledge, had systematically attempted to answer. Raines himself had written a remarkable essay in which he estimated how much it would cost us to bring the African American community into economic parity with the larger American community:
If America had racial equality in education and jobs, African Americans would have two million more high school degrees …two million more college degrees …nearly two million more professional and managerial jobs …and nearly $200 billion more income.
If America had racial equality in housing, three million more African Americans would own their own homes.
And if America had racial equality in wealth, African Americans would have $760 billion more in home equity value. Two hundred billion dollars more in their retirement funds. And $80 billion more in the bank. That alone would total over $1 trillion more in wealth.1
In fact, I found his arguments so intriguing that I had carried the essay with me to cite in a lecture entitled “The Two Nations of Black America,” which was about the growing divide between the black middle class and the black underclass. I told him that I would consult with my colleagues in the social sciences and get back to him.
Claude Steele, then the chairman of the Psychology Department at Stanford and now the Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, agreed to co-edit a collection of essays on this complex subject. We then asked our colleagues Lawrence D. Bobo, Gerald Jaynes, Michael Dawson, Lisa Crooms-Robinson, and Linda Darling-Hammond to think about this intriguing question from the point of view of their various disciplines—sociology, economics, political science, law, and education, respectively. They, in turn, consulted with other researchers in their fields. The essays collected here are the result of these scholars’ careful deliberations upon the fascinating question that Raines posed.
(p. 5) The African American Social Experience
Lawrence D. Bobo opens by asking a central question of this Handbook—whether African Americans can achieve full, “unmarked” U.S. citizenship—and proceeds to lay out the main points of the debate, from the liberal policies established at the founding of the nation to the recognition of a “huge racial chasm” today. He acknowledges W. E. B. Du Bois (to whom this volume is dedicated) for his recognition of the duality of the African American citizen. Bobo navigates to his own middle ground theory, firmly rejecting the American liberal tradition thesis, with its expansive claim of inclusion, while acknowledging the resistance and contestation African American citizenship has faced. Bobo provides a comprehensive review of the evolution of sociological theories on status, illuminated by empirical examples of black status in America at different points in time. One major focus is the shift in institutional bias from race and ethnicity to class and mobility, drawing on William Julius Wilson's The Declining Significance of Race (1978), as well as his own survey results. Bobo uses this integrative approach to consider the character of the racial divide in relation to the still “incomplete” citizenship of African Americans.
Despite the historical barriers to their participation in civic life, African Americans continued to strive for a full share of the American dream. Frank Samson traces these efforts from the collapse of Reconstruction through the Gilded Age and the Great Migration to the post-WWII era. He first and foremost suggests that African Americans have repeatedly “made a way out of no way” by building key institutions and organizations in both rural and urban communities. He goes on to highlight the inconsistency between the proclaimed ambition of American democracy and the reality of frustrated efforts to bring African Americans into the mainstream—seen most pointedly when they have risked their lives in foreign wars only to return to destructive violence at their doorsteps. Throughout, Samson identifies and challenges white America's social tendency to accept discrimination and inequality as the norm, making the American dream a “dream deferred” for the majority of African Americans.
Underlying the history of racial discrimination are the always evolving cultural and scientific notions about racial categories. In the first of two chapters, Victor Thompson explores the arguments about whether we as a society must continue to recognize race. He proposes to trace how the notion of race developed through four eras: the early years of the nation, the post–Civil War era, WWII, and the multiracial era. Throughout, Thompson follows the “evolution of African American racial categories and their juxtaposition with racial science, sociopolitical agendas, and the shifting definition of black racial identity.” In the first era, Thompson assesses the widespread acceptance of social difference based on skin color, which became woven into “the very fabric of our nation” and solidified the amorphous notions of black identity and common destiny. The post–Civil War era saw African Americans “teetering on the edge of prosperity” until the hypodescent rule (reinforced by the introduction of race in the U.S. Census) came to define social relations in America, (p. 6) thenceforth affecting African Americans’ access to the full benefits of American citizenship. Thompson takes a constructivist position on race, laying it out as a “socially created, historically emergent and contingent notion,” and refers, with Bobo and Samson, to Du Bois's concept of African American “twoness.”
In his second chapter, Thompson examines race-conscious color blindness, especially in relation to WWII, Brown v. Board of Education, and the one-drop rule. World War II was an important catalyst for a shift in American racial ideologies, changing black identity “from that of ex-slave to one of a global subject and producer of culture.” The gains of the civil rights movement, Thompson argues, led directly to the categories used for itemizing race in the modern U.S. Census, relying on “inconsistent” one-drop notions: “It was to become an era of race-conscious color blindness guided by race-based policies.” Not until the 1975 census did the black community begin to see opportunities for racial categorization “not scientific or anthropological in nature.” More recently, social constructionist arguments about race emerged, as put forward by the multiracial movement. Throughout the eras he examines, Thompson explores the “strange ways” in which science and race have interacted with the federal government's ideal of guaranteeing “equality to all” and asks if “we have once again come full circle.”
In the next three chapters, Maria Krysan takes up this history, assessing quantitatively and qualitatively the changing racial attitudes of Americans during three time periods. First, she questions the shift from color caste to color blind since WWII. Then she traces the evolution of racial attitudes from the civil rights era to the Black Power era (1946–1975), followed by an evaluation of contemporary racial attitudes from 1976 to the present. Within these three time frames, Krysan examines racial beliefs, racial principles, racial policies, social distance, and racial conflict.
After WWII, as a new racial ideology emerged “where ‘color blindness’ may be the guiding principle, but racial inequality persists and is explained not by biological differences but by cultural inadequacies,” the racial attitudes of white Americans changed while those of African Americans largely did not. Following Gunnar Myrdal (1944), Krysan concludes from the limited data available that belief in biological differences between the races and thus racial differences in intelligence seemed to decline among white Americans by the close of the WWII era, although any notion of equality “is quite clearly to be ‘separate but equal.’”
Turning to the civil rights era, Krysan portrays both black and white racial attitudes and examines regional differences between the two. She goes on to do the same for the Black Power era. The data from 1946 to 1965 show racial norms changing, although whites and blacks remained skeptical of each other. The biggest divide concerns the pace and tactics of the civil rights movement. The era closes with the Watts riots, “a vivid reminder” that racial conflict is far from disappearing. In the succeeding era, Krysan asks “What does ‘black power’ mean to ordinary people?”. The answers from a 1970 survey reveal “how whites understood the racial status quo but, more importantly, the challenges that blacks were making to it.” Krysan analyzes racial attitudes based on Myrdal's notion of different “rank orders of discrimination” and framed by the historical changes in race attitudes and beliefs she explores.
(p. 7) In her chapter on contemporary racial attitudes, Krysan points to evidence of “color blindness or laissez-faire” racism. Established during the previous era, this subtle discrimination “makes it difficult for its victims to know if it has happened or not.” Krysan's case studies of white racial attitudes suggest that the prevailing ideology denies racism's existence. Looking ahead, Krysan suggests that our biggest obstacles to overcoming racial discrimination lie in three areas: first, the intersection of race and class, in which social class characteristics become inseparable from contemporary racial stereotypes; second, the expansion of intergroup relations far beyond just the black–white duality; and last, the methodological challenges of avoiding ambiguous and “lopsided portraits that characterize eras gone by.”
The African American Economic Experience
A central legacy of the failure of Reconstruction has been persistent lack of economic opportunity for African Americans. Gerald Jaynes opens his discussion with the startling statistic that more than one in four African American households have an income higher than the average white household. Yet another one in four African American households lives below the poverty line, with many more close to it. This coexistence of economic circumstances is a “reminder of America's racist past and its recent successes in overcoming that past.” Jaynes points to one “stand out” reason for the number of poor black Americans: racism in public education. He highlights three determinants of African American economic status: changes in government policies and white attitudes; the positive growth of the overall economy; and African American agency through political and economic struggle. As he examines the historical course of the African American economic experience, Jaynes stresses how tightly woven race relations and economic conditions are, employing the term “endogenous discrimination” to describe economically induced violence toward blacks.
Jaynes begins his historical review with Reconstruction and the foundations of black economic citizenship in the post-slavery era, exploring the difficulties of black communities and white policy makers in determining the new status of black citizens. He outlines the failed democratic aspirations of Reconstruction policy, tracing its history from the Black Codes and Reconstruction Amendments through to the “forty acres and a mule” attempts at reparations for slavery and the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau. African Americans gained agency as political and economic actors: “Their refusal to give up the dream of owning the land made African Americans a natural political force for changing economic relations throughout the South. And so, the Reconstruction period was characterized by an intentional interraction between politics and African American self-help.” Yet blacks seeking economic success faced three major hurdles of illiteracy, fatalism, and the peril of (p. 8) conspicuous consumption: resources in black schools were greatly restricted compared to those in white schools; many relinquished the struggle for success, turning to religion or alcohol; and those that did succeed could not display it for fear of antagonizing whites. Jaynes concludes, “Under these conditions, saving, investing in education, and planning for the future were devalued.”
Jaynes then follows the consequences of these developments through the first half of the twentieth century. During the Great Migration of WWI, high wartime demand for labor caused northern employers to look to the South. The “great dark tide” of migrating workers restructured African American employment patterns by geography, industry, and occupation, opening up jobs previously restricted to whites. These changes made possible the emergence of the black middle class, “despite poverty, energized by black social and cultural institutions,” although its growth and prosperity were “severely handicapped by rabid racial discrimination.” African Americans became professionals and business owners, establishing black-run companies such as real-estate businesses in segregated cities. Yet the Depression found African Americans “stuck at the bottom of the economic system, [becoming] destitute as discrimination intensified,” while their jobs were coveted by white workers who had previously disdained such occupations. Group action through boycotts and unions helped blacks fight back, especially against housing discrimination.
Jaynes then turns to the expansion of economic rights since WWII, beginning with President Truman's order in 1948 to desegregate the armed forces. At that time, only one of the 8,000 Marine Corps officers and five of the 45,000 Navy officers were African American. The previous year, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play for a major league baseball team. Segregation of the quintessentially American institutions of the military and baseball had “stingingly epitomized black's exclusion from American society proclaiming to the world white Americans’ utter disrespect for black citizens’ rights and opportunities.”
Black economic gains remained vulnerable to larger developments: “As it had during the Depression thirties and booming forties, the economy's macroeconomic performance remained crucial to African American status during the half century following WWII.” And the black community became increasingly urban: in 1940, only two in five African Americans lived in cities; by 1980, over four in five did. The indices of social alienation among African Americans rose in the 1970s as racial discrimination continued and as wages fell for less educated workers. When more blue-collar jobs disappeared in the deindustrialization of the 1980s, more black youth were destined for “street-corner society.” As the crack-cocaine epidemic spread, many opted for opportunities in the drug trade or in crime over the meager educational and legitimate employment options available for their demographic.
Yet Jaynes also notes the many economic gains fought for by significant African American institutions of the time, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Early on, “affirmative action from below” in the form of consumer boycotts created openings for black employment in companies that had previously reserved their jobs for whites. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all furthered the federal (p. 9) government's affirmative action policies. And in an economic climate where black-owned businesses were primarily “mom and pop” stores, African American newspaper, magazine, and book publishers established a national presence. The increasing numbers of African Americans who had some discretionary income and wanted to spend it on products that appealed to their own tastes and needs supported this development.
Finally, Jaynes examines government policies designed to address the issues of welfare dependency and the “chronically poor,” who were disproportionately African American. He maps out the government approaches to financial assistance from Johnson's adoption of Kennedy's “war on poverty” in 1964 to Clinton's successful Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) policy of the 1990s. Each administration in recent decades has grappled with how best to support, train, and motivate the perpetually poor without verging on socialism (such as with A. Philip Randolph's 1965 “freedom budget”), or bankrupting the country by attempting to bail out entire communities (as with the National Urban League's call for a domestic Marshall Plan), or insulting the many black single mothers (as conservatives did when criticizing the welfare system). The EITC's purpose of “making low income work pay more” initiated a generally positive welfare reform between 1994 and 1999. Yet Jaynes points out that the same three factors from earlier eras also come into play here in determining the still-low levels of black wealth. These are the performance of the larger economy, the legacy of discrimination, and self-help. During the 2000s, Jaynes observes, “blacks appear to have crossed an income barrier.” However, “in order for the black population to achieve a revolutionary change in attitudes and behaviors toward attaining quality education” and subsequent economic success, it requires “more black self-help, a strong economy, and government policies encouraging both.”
African American Politics
Since the end of slavery, African Americans have struggled for political inclusion, power, and equality. Michael Dawson introduces his historical review with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, which he sees as a fitting place to begin a conversation about the critical features of black politics in the United States. For Dawson, Katrina highlighted both the importance of African Americans in local politics and the fragility of black political power. It also revealed the chasm between white and black public opinion on the state of race relations, as whites expressed their belief that race had nothing to do with the federal response to the Katrina disaster and that the nation was close to achieving total racial equality, while blacks overwhelming rejected both assertions. Dawson proposes that the failure of American politics on matters relating to race, as exemplified by the response to Katrina, underlies blacks’ continued quest for full standing as citizens.
(p. 10) Dawson then takes up the history of African American political activism from slavery to the present, outlining the politics of black civil society and analyzing debates within the black public arena. He argues that despite the effects of class polarization over the last thirty years, African American solidarity and political identification have not been undermined. He begins by defining civil society as the “space between society and the state” and claims that “historically, American civil society has been shaped by racial order, which has distributed life chances disproportionately” but which also gave rise to black political identity. He then examines six black ideologies that have shaped politics and opinion in the public sphere: racial liberalism, black conservatism, black feminism, disillusioned liberalism, black socialism, and black nationalism. Dawson then addresses slavery as a formative part of African American group political identity and looks at how the five decades of Reconstruction were foundational to African Americans’ identifying as a “nation within a nation” (in Martin R. Delany's formulation) and how this solidarity survived pressures from organized white racists and the geographical split during the migration north.
In his discussion of the relationship between African Americans and the state, Dawson opens by explaining the continued historical black support for a stronger central government with more economic power, despite the alignment of representatives of the state with a white supremacist racial order for much of American history. Dawson begins his account of this historical relationship with the lack of financial and policy support that “doomed” the Reconstruction, identifying the political and racial “demonization” of African Americans that persisted through New Deal policy such as in the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. Dawson then focuses on the Federal Housing Authority, claiming that it accelerated racial segregation and inner-city decay by redlining poor and black neighborhoods. His analysis of “the curious case of public housing” frames it as eventually reinforcing black subordination in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. The discriminatory aspects of public policy, beginning with the New Deal, met with resistance from civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. After WWII, black politics moved into the world arena, addressing pan-African movements and the African diaspora, and sometimes losing focus on domestic issues as the Vietnam War and Middle East conflict drew attention.
One avenue to equal citizenship for African Americans that opened shortly after the Civil War was military service. Christopher Parker argues that it was the full subscription to the tenets of citizenship that allowed for change: “[I]f [one enjoys] the protection of the state, [one] must be willing to serve in its common defense. …Without much doubt, military service is the most demanding obligation for which citizens of democracies have been responsible.” Thus, African Americans in the military were seen as full participants in the citizen-soldier tradition. This success was gradually undermined in the decades leading up to WWI as African Americans saw “diminishing returns of military service” and experienced rampant white-on-black violence. Still, on the question of whether to support WWI, African Americans followed Du Bois's admonition that “if this is our country, then this is (p. 11) our war,” and some 370,000 of them enlisted. Even in wartime, few African Americans obtained promotions, and those who did “were instructed not to require their white subordinates to salute them.” Little social change resulted in the military until WWII—when bottom-up black campaigns for equality were undertaken and Roosevelt signed off on an antidiscrimination clause in the Selective Service Act of 1940. It would take the exigencies of the Korean War, however, for real integration to occur.
Michael Dawson then picks up his line of argument to conclude his look at black politics during the civil rights movement and its aftermath. He follows on from Parker by recounting the failed Double V Campaign of WWII—an attempt to fight white supremacy at home as well as fascism abroad—which ultimately led President Truman to speak out against the violence inflicted on black veterans. Significant developments followed: in 1947, Truman became the first president to address the NAACP; lynching, segregation, and discrimination came increasingly under the scrutiny of the rest of the world during the Cold War; in 1954 the State Department interceded on Brown v. Board; increased voting participation by African Americans influenced campaigns; CORE and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were founded; Thurgood Marshall began taking on, and winning, discrimination cases; violent resistance to activism erupted in Mississippi and Alabama, and Malcolm X was shot; and the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. “Throughout the South and beyond, African Americans transformed the quotidian acts of resistance …into more open and militant collective action,” such as bus boycotts. Investigation of the aftermath of urban riots revealed a “clear pattern of severe disadvantagement,” often supported by white police. Yet Dawson notes, “The anger that was displayed was …not yet mobilized around a concrete political program.” The last decades of the twentieth century saw a shift into new political terrain, with the Democratic Party supporting the election of local and national African American candidates. But Dawson warns that “what is missing is an independent black political movement” that can “rebuild both the civic and political capacity of black civil society, and institutionalize …black political capacity at local, regional, and national levels.”
African American women have participated in political life “at the intersection of multiple identities and social locations,” according to Cathy Cohen, Jamila Celestine Michener, and Andrew Dilts. They review the different forms and patterns of political involvement by women, employing analysis of race with other social identities such as sexuality, gender, and class. First, the authors examine black women's involvement in politics between Reconstruction and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, taking us from the creation of the National Association of Colored Women in the late 1890s, through the likes of Rosa Parks and the women of Virginia who insisted on shared vote ownership, to the pervasive sexism of the Black Power movement. After the Voting Rights Act, women's participation took more traditional forms. Black women registered to vote in increasing numbers, so that today they form the majority of black voters. The number of black women holding political office increased 160 percent from 1969 to 1973. In a study quoted by the authors, other forms (p. 12) of political engagement follow the same trend: “Overwhelmingly, black women participate in more types of activities and participate more frequently than their black male counterparts.”
African Americans and the Law
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African Americans could claim “none of the rights and privileges” granted to citizens by the Constitution. Indeed, not only were they not citizens, they were not even persons in the eyes of the law. From this “ground zero” of legal standing for blacks, Lisa Crooms-Robinson traces the development of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, all of which were thought at their inception to “be sufficient to support the chattel-person-citizen transformation necessary to make African American men full citizens.”
Crooms-Robinson goes on to look at African Americans and the law in three periods: 1865–1919; the Harlem Renaissance to WWII; and the civil rights movement to the present. For each period, she assesses the privileges and immunities of the three forms of citizenship to which African Americans are entitled: United States, federal, and state. Revisiting notions touched upon in the preceding political analysis of African American citizenship, Crooms-Robinson finds four essential elements that run through the law's assessment of African American citizenship. The first is the ahistorical nature of constitutional equality: the understanding of constitutional equality that has been settled on over time is contra to the Reconstruction Amendment's “raced history.” Second, constitutional equality is also prescribed, meaning that all races must have the same opportunities. Third, constitutional equality is an individual right debased by individual offenders, a right that is undermined by white supremacy actions against both individuals and groups. Finally, constitutional equality is color blind, thus rendering any race-based corrections to the Constitution unconstitutional.
African Americans and Education
W. E. B. Du Bois identified the central relationship of education to African Americans’ quest for full citizenship: “The right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental… The freedom to learn …has been bought by bitter sacrifice.” Linda Darling-Hammond, Joy Ann Williamson-Lott, and Maria E. Hyler explore at length the losses and gains and “losses of gains” that characterize the struggle to attain full educational equality. The authors divide this history into five eras. During slavery, denial of formal (p. 13) education was a cornerstone of the effort to maintain economic control. After Emancipation and during Reconstruction, 1865–1919, “freedom came in stages, and education with it,” and the principle of “separate but equal” at least disallowed the complete abolishment of black education. During the era from the “New Negro” to civil rights, 1919–1945, students at colleges such as Fisk University took up the reigns of the struggle for equal rights, and the GI Bill of 1944 financed one year of college for every 90 days of service. From civil rights through Black Power, 1945–1975, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was founded, and Black Power buoyed the trend for Black Studies courses and student unions in higher education. And finally, in the period after 1975, which moved from retrenchment to renewal, the lack of progress in student achievement in the 1990s incited federal education initiatives such as No Child Left Behind. The authors point out that this struggle still continues today with resegregation of schools, growing imbalance and disparities of funding (most crucially for good teachers), and attacks on affirmative action.
The Changing Psychologies of African Americans
The persistence of racial inequality—and sometimes the attempt to justify the denial of full citizenship to African Americans—has led social science to examine the psychology of African Americans in ways that rarely take into account the true complexities of their experiences. Claude Steele begins the discussion by revealing the inherent cultural and scientific bias that sees only one variation of the black psyche: “damaged” and “infected with self-destructive values and habits of mind.” Some consequences of this bias are the “potential psychological toll that membership in a socially devalued group may take on black Americans,” as well as the “scientific and scholarly perspective of ignoring and ghettoizing positive characteristics of the black psyche.” Attempts to counter this bias have taken the form of stressing the contributions made by African Americans to mainstream American culture or of asserting the particular strength and resilience of the black psyche, as was done by the first wave of African American psychologists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. None of these approaches provides a real understanding of the complexity of African Americans’ inner lives.
William E. Cross, Jr. examines social and personal identities among African Americans, beginning by noting that “observers in search of a mold within which to encase the psychodynamics of black people are constantly befuddled by evidence that resists singularity, sameness, and one-dimensionality.” As Cross analyzes the scientific literature, he finds along with Rohrer and Edmondson (1961) that being African American “has a variety of psychodynamic consequences.” Cross looks at the myths and realities of the legacy of slavery; the self-esteem of black school (p. 14) dropouts; the effects of drug laws; and the realities of street life, black criminality, and psychopathology, citing studies that report “when such factors as education, employment and family structure are held constant, blacks are no more inclined toward crime than are whites.” As a consequence, psychologists have developed a theory of “inner-city post-traumatic stress disorder,” proposing that psychopathology is not necessarily a legacy of slavery (which is considered “an arcane model”) but instead a response to the urban environment.
Cross goes on to look at contemporary black identities, grouping contemporary African Americans into three categories: low salience, those for whom race is of “minimal importance to their matrix of group identity concerns”; moderate to high salience, “perhaps the majority of black people,” those who identify with the modern Afrocentric version of black nationalism; and negative valence, those who accord importance to race and black culture, but for whom it carries a negative meaning—a category of internalized racism that research has unearthed. Cross points out that “we must be careful to distinguish between predicament and psychological outcomes”—for example, segments of African American youth are not beleaguered, but instead resourcefully express themselves through the arts and social movements.
In an analysis of the rise and fall of race psychology, Daryl Michael Scott states that the representation of African Americans has been “unflattering” throughout the history of contemporary social sciences. The advent of “race psychology” in the late nineteenth century fitted the biological thought of the time. Each race was understood to be governed by its own behavioral patterns; the “behavior of African Americans was understood to tend toward the maladjusted and antisocial.” During the Progressive era social explanations were added to the dominant biological ones, but even so, black personality was still seen as “problematic.” After WWII, race-centered assumptions were replaced by cultural ones, which essentially did not change the belief in the “engendered pathology” of African Americans. Earlier generations of experts “were blinded to the potential for black suffering” because they believed that “short of a brain-altering disease the race's natural traits predisposed its members to contentment.” Du Bois's analysis of the effect of double-consciousness on the personalities of blacks, Scott argues, was dismissed in his time as the special pleading of a “tragic mulatto.” But during the interwar period it was taken up again, as evidence for the general consensus that African Americans suffered psychological damage by virtue of their racial predicament. This “damage imagery” did not inspire calls for social change; instead it formed the basis for advocating racial segregation.
Scott next traces the uses of competing analyses of black psychology in the integrationist era. After WWII, integration became the focus of race relations and the goal of social reform movements. Social scientists, led by Kenneth Clark, asserted that segregation caused psychological damage to blacks—although the evidence was thin, and indeed prewar studies had found that contact between groups, rather than separation, was more likely to increase feelings of inferiority. The belief that segregation damaged African Americans, in particular by denying them educational (p. 15) parity with whites, became crucial to achieving the unanimous decision in Brown v. Board that separate could never be equal. Rather than ushering in an era of color-blind public policy or the abandonment of racial categories, integrationist theory reinforced the idea of black exceptionalism and led to the development of the concept of a pathology of poverty that applied primarily to African Americans. Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Howard University speech, and the subsequent report by the speech's major architect, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, endorsed both the concept of black pathology and the need for preferential treatment with the goal of equality of results rather than equality of opportunity. This race-conscious approach to government assistance, in contrast to class-based remedies that focused on structural issues such as poverty and economic opportunity, played into conservatives’ hands when the Watts riots broke out. Urban unrest was ascribed to a self-perpetuating culture of poverty and personal pathologies among blacks, allowing conservative politicians to “blame the victim” rather than address the underlying social and economic issues. By the mid-1960s, it became clear to black social scientists and activists that the discourse of psychological damage, which had helped achieve the end to legal segregation, was now working against the community's interests. With the rise of the Black Power movement, black leaders retreated from discussions of pathology, and damage theories were purged from social science.
Finally, Jean-Claude Croizet takes up the role of “scientific” intelligence testing in limiting African American’ access to full citizenship. Croizet reveals the inherent flaws of such testing, particularly when African American status is assessed by others. He first outlines the history of intelligence testing, making the argument that uniform testing is institutionalized to be detrimental to dominated groups. Croizet moves on to show how institutionalized concepts of intelligence have played a role in whites’ ideological control of the black community. “People's achievement is supposed to know no barrier other than their individual limitations,” as in Jefferson's ideal of democracy, where “natural” individual merit replaces the old inherited “social” merit. Yet Croizet finds that the current distribution of standardized test scores is far from this ideal: “the best predictor of a person's score (and thus the social rank one will achieve later in life) remains parental race and social class.” Because “what intelligence testing measures is not an innate feature of individuals, it is the product of the social environment and to some extent of the ideology embedded in the testing situation itself,” high-stakes testing serves the more affluent and legitimizes inequality. Only skepticism about the purpose of such testing will end what Croizet terms “the racism of intelligence” and lead to full access to citizenship by African Americans.
There is no simple answer to the question that Franklin Raines posed to us a decade ago. Even then, few if any of us could have imagined that a black person could be elected President of the United States just eight years later. The dynamics of social change is unpredictable, and any assertion of historical “inevitability” relies on twenty-twenty hindsight. One thing we can all, I would hope, agree upon: the failure to treat the newly freed slaves as full and equal citizens of the republic, with equal opportunities for self-expression in the marketplace, has produced a stratified (p. 16) class structure in this country that has already taken an enormous toll and will prove extremely costly to eradicate. The scholars who accepted Raines's challenge to ponder what could have happened—while assessing what did happen—to our country over the past century and a half hope that this exercise in speculation can be drawn upon to address the structural problems that continue to bar equal access by all of our citizens to the American dream.
(1.) The speech was delivered at Howard University for Charter Day 2002, March 8, 2002. Text of speech is available at: http://www.howard.edu/secretary/convocations/charterday/2002/address.htm.