The introduction distinguishes between the different types of theories—dispositional, systemic, and relational—that circulated in mid-twentieth century debate on America’s “race problem.” It goes on to chart racial individualism’s mid-century chronology and surveys the evolving intellectual and political landscape that nurtured individualistic theoretical and reformist approaches to racial questions in the postwar decades. Internalist and externalist factors—most importantly scientism, behavioralism, antiradicalism, shifts in civil rights legal strategy, and faith in education—intersected to favor individualistic approaches to the race issue and discourage alternative approaches. Still, racial individualism’s postwar history was both complicated and contested. Theoretical challenges to individualistic paradigms surfaced, especially in African American-led intellectual spaces, into the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the same time, antiracist scholar-activists faced dilemmas of scale—in which theoretically sound reforms were not politically feasible but realistic reforms proved theoretically insufficient—that complicated efforts to use social science for social action.
Keywords: antiracist, antiradicalism, behavioralism, civil rights, externalist, internalist, race problem, scholar-activist, social theory