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From Power to PrejudiceThe Rise of Racial Individualism in Midcentury America$
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Leah N. Gordon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226238449

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226238586.001.0001

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Attitudes, Structures, and “Levers of Change”

Attitudes, Structures, and “Levers of Change”

The Social Science of Prejudice and Race Relations

(p.26) One Attitudes, Structures, and “Levers of Change”
From Power to Prejudice

Leah N. Gordon

University of Chicago Press

Situated largely in the mid-century history of psychology and sociology, this chapter surveys the intellectual and institutional landscape in which racial individualism developed. In the 1920s and 1930s, social ecological, social anthropological, and political economic theories, which emphasized the causal importance of social systems or structures and had imprecise reformist implications, circulated alongside individualistic research on prejudice that often legitimized anti-prejudice education. Synthesizing much of this interwar work, Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944) sought to bring together systemic and dispositional visions of the race issue. Though the influential volume thoroughly analyzed the political and economic sources of racial oppression, the shifting parameters of American liberalism ensured that Myrdal’s giant synthesis would be remembered for its combination of psychological and rights-based individualism. Turning to the postwar years, the chapter explains how scientism, behavioralism, and antiradicalism contributed to the elaboration of two individualistic frameworks for conceptualizing the race issue: psychological theories of prejudiced personalities popularized by both Gordon Allport and the authors of The Authoritarian Personality and a focus on discrimination among sociologists, especially those, like Robin M. Williams Jr., informed by structural functionalism.

Keywords:   Gordon Allport, An American Dilemma, discrimination, psychology of prejudice, prejudiced personality, Robin M. Williams Jr., social ecology

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