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Article written for the academic journals in 1991 but not accepted for publication


J.J. Ray

School of Sociology, University of N.S.W., Australia


It is pointed out that recent findings showing no relationship between in-group chauvinism and out-group rejection pose a serious problem for most theories of racism. These problems are avoidable with such theories as the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al but such theories fail on other grounds. The deficits of the stereotyping and symbolic racism theories are also summarized. Critiques of the view that categorization is the problem and that racism is a unitary phenomenon are also presented. More attention to the theory that racism is the outcome of various forms of culture clash seems therefore called for. It is shown that this theory does not require opposition between in-group and out-group attitudes. Weak versions of the theory that have so far been tested in the literature have not generally led to good predictions of attitudes but it is pointed out that prediction of behavior is the real issue. Attention is drawn to a major but neglected Australian study in which potential for culture conflict correlated .9 with discriminatory behavior. It is concluded that on at least some occasions almost all discriminatory behavior is the outcome of culture clash or preference for similarity.


Both psychologists and sociologists have long been concerned to find out why people do from time to time behave in racially discriminatory ways. An early explanation was in terms of "ethnocentrism" (Sumner, 1906). It was assumed that some people become excessively attached to the folkways of their own group and that other groups with different folkways are disliked precisely because of those differences.

The theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) elaborated on this by proposing that such "ethnocentrism" was not a universal phenomenon and attempted to specify just who it was that became excessively enamoured of their own group's folkways and thus became racially biased. Both the Sumner theory and the Adorno et al elaboration of it, however, share the assumption that attitude to the outgroup is some sort of mirror of attitude to the ingroup.

This assumption now appears very suspect. For a start, at the conceptual level, it should be clear that there is nothing incoherent about liking more than one group. Might not a British person admire the savoir faire of the French while still being proud of the dour virtues of his own people? Overall, could not one have a generally benevolent man, who found things to admire in all groups? The governments of countries more welcoming to immigrants (such as Australia and Canada) evidently seem to think so as 'multi- culturalism' (seeing virtues in all the cultures within the country) receives strong official encouragement there. Australia even has a whole radio and T.V. network expressly set aside for fostering multiculturalism which provides many hours of quality programming every day.

Furthermore, one must by the same token say that the generally misanthropic man is also a possibility. Might not a man who dislikes his own culture dislike all other cultures too? Clearly, all combinations of in-group and out-group sentiments are reasonably possible. Which is most prevalent only empirical research can settle. Seen in this light, "ethnocentrism" must be seen not as a word with a clear denotation but rather as a theory about attitude organization that stands in need of proof. When we use the word, we are theorizing about the relatedness of in-group and out-group attitudes -- and we could be wrong.

The "mirror-image" reconsidered

What, then, is the evidence for the theory? Is in-group chauvinism (patriotism) highly predictive of out-group hostility ("racism")? It would seem not. A whole range of studies (e.g. Heaven, Rajab & Ray, 1985; Ray & Furnham, 1984; Ray & Lovejoy, 1986; Ray, 1974, Ch. 46; Furnham & Kirris, 1983; Cairns, 1982; Turner, 1978 p. 249; Driedger & Clifton, 1984, Table III) show that the two variables are essentially orthogonal. Some patriots dislike outgroups and some are tolerant.

One can, of course, set up artificial group rivalry situations (e.g. Sherif, 1966) in which there is no choice between disadvantaging the in- or the out-group but such situations do not appear to provide an accurate model of group loyalties in the real world. Although experimental studies of intergroup relations in the Sherif tradition now seem to be the main path psychologists use in their search for explanations of racism (Brewer & Kramer, 1985; Tajfel, 1982; Brown, 1986; Messick & Mackie, 1989) such studies seem generally to assume the truth of the ethnocentrism theory. Given the falsity of the theory, such studies become irrelevant to an understanding of real-world racism.

It might seem facile to dismiss so summarily such a large body of scientific research going back many years but if we are concerned about evidence we must surely do just that. When something that has for so long seemed "obvious" is shown by research not to be true at all we may regret past wasted efforts but we surely cannot cling to that oversimplified past. If people did they would still believe that the earth is flat!

Group identity studies

There are of course some studies in the group dynamics tradition that do allow the connection between ingroup and outgroup attitudes to be studied empirically rather than have it assumed a priori. What do these studies find?
"Not only is ingroup favouritism in the laboratory situation not related to outgroup dislike, it also does not seem causally dependant on denigration of the outgroup"

(Turner, 1978, p. 249). See also Brewer & Collins (1981, p. 350) and Brown, Condor, Mathews, Wade & Williams (1986).

So while much work that has been done with groups must be scrapped because of its inadequate assumptions, the fact that these assumptions have become recognized as false in at least some quarters is surely encouraging.

What is not encouraging is the poor fit between the findings just mentioned and the theory they were supposed to test or support. They were supposed to test Tajfel's (1978) social identity theory. This theory claims that people maintain their social identity and self-esteem by comparing their group with members of other groups. Such comparisons are, of course, supposed to favour the ingroup. Does not this imply that the outgroup is looked down on while the ingroup is boosted up?

Reconciling the theory with the finding of "no relationship" between ingroup and outgroup sentiment does thus call for considerable logical and linguistic acrobatics. For instance, Turner et al (1987 p. 30) now say that the ingroup is required to be "positively distinctive" from the outgroup rather than "better" than the outgroup. This seems suspiciously like mere verbal magic; a distinction without a practical difference. The theory still seems to imply that the ingroup is judged in relation to outgroups. Yet how can it when attitudes to the two are unrelated?

How would the theory cope with the following generalization (which I personally believe to be a true one): "The people of the Torres Strait Islands (one of Australia's two main black minorities) are not generally my sort of people but they are generally good people nonetheless". I say that because I generally find Torres Strait Islanders to be cheerful, friendly and outgoing, whereas I recognize that I am quiet, reserved and critical, like many of my fellow white academic colleagues. I am certainly using a racial stereotype but am I saying that my own group is "positively distinct"? Surely not: just different, or perhaps even "negatively distinct".

As other evidence (e.g. Brown & Williams, 1984) is not very supportive of the Tajfel theory, there may, however, be little point in pursuing the matter any further one way or the other. Messick & Mackie (1989) also seem to see the Tajfel theory as being of seminal rather than current interest. Further, the Tajfel theory pays great attention to whether or not a person identifies with a given group. Following on from this, of course, Tajfel also sees the importance of exploring what it is that causes a person to identify with a group. While such studies are of interest, it will be argued later on in this paper that group identification need not be a precursor of group influence: A group can have non-coercive influence even in the absence of any identification with it. In short, group identity need not be an important issue in any way at all.

If the present paper has expressed some concern about vagueness in the reasoning of the Tajfel/Turner theory, the present critique is greatly outdone by Willer's (1989) critique of Turner et al (1987). Willer says that the Turner theory is vague, self-contradictory and not empirically testable and that Turner et al ignore important related work. He concludes that the Turner et al work should be ignored. Without wishing to defend Turner et al, however, it might perhaps be noted in passing that Willer does seem to be rather extraordinarily critical generally. He also, for instance, criticizes the ancient ceteris paribus stipulation.

Social cognition research generally

In recent years, of course, Tajfel's theory has become only one of many social cognition theories of group behavior that are being actively investigated in the laboratory. As these have recently been quite comprehensively reviewed by Messick & Mackie (1989) any attempt to summarize them here would be superfluous. What stands out from the Messick & Mackie review, however, is that neither Messick & Mackie nor those they review seem to show any awareness of the certainly surprising but by now well-replicated finding that ingroup and outgroup attitudes are orthogonal rather than negatively related (see above). Perhaps a finding which so thoroughly derails existing theories in the area is bound to be hard to acknowledge.


Another explanation for racial discrimination that seems to appear in most social psychology textbooks is in terms of stereotyping. The view is that racially prejudiced people refuse to see detail and individuality in other people and tend instead to see other people in terms of various fixed and oversimplified ethnic categories. Irving Cohen (to take a hypothetical example) will never be seen as Irving Cohen by such people. He will always be seen as "a Jew".

Such an explanation, however, flies in the face of almost everything that has been learnt from research into stereotyping. In such research, stereotypes are often found to be highly plastic and dynamic rather than being fixed (Stein, Hardyck & Smith, 1965; McCauley, Stitt & Segal, 1980; Bayton, McAlister & Hamer, 1956). They are also highly differentiated rather than being simple and monolithic (e.g. Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Gallois, Callan & Parslow, 1982; Houser, 1979; Newman, Liss & Sherman, 1983). They also have considerable truth value (e.g. Triandis & Vassiliou, 1967; Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Bond, 1986; Berry, 1970).

In other words, stereotypes are simply stages in a series of successively more accurate appraisals of people. They are simply instances of that great human skill, categorization and generalization. Human beings will generate hypotheses (stereotypes) on the scantiest of information (Read, 1983; Eisenberg, 1968).

This is so much so that people will generalize from a single instance even when they are specifically told in advance that the instance concerned is an a-typical one (Hamill, Wilson & Nisbett, 1980). At the same time, people will use all successive information inputs to update the hypotheses into more and more accurate ones (e.g. Galper & Weiss, 1975; Braithwaite, Gibson & Holman, 1985-86; Locksley, Hepburn & Ortiz, 1982). If person X has observed that people with a certain group of surnames (including Cohen) have often offended him in some way, then Irving Cohen will be immediately treated warily just on the basis of his name. If, however, person X is thrown into frequent contact with Irving Cohen and finds that he personally does not behave in the way that person X finds offensive, then the perception of Irving Cohen by person X will rapidly become more favorable. Thus stereotypes are temporarily useful tools, not mental straitjackets.

Since so many studies of stereotyping have arrived at conclusions of this sort, it is in fact something of a wonder that the phenomenon is still so inaccurately described when it is used to explain racism in many psychology textbooks. If they were accurate such textbooks would say that stereotyping may be involved in the formation of racist attitudes but stereotyping is a step in the formation of all attitudes. To say that stereotyping causes racism is to confuse the cause with the process. It is not only racists who are stereotypers. We are all stereotypers.

Interesting support for this conclusion is to be found in a recent paper by Devine (1989). Devine showed that "tolerant" people do not differ in their awareness of stereotypes from non-tolerant people but that the tolerant people deliberately suppress their use of stereotypes. Tolerance has to be learned and deliberately practiced. It does not come naturally.

Interestingly, this finding seems to have at least some cross-cultural validity. In a study from India, Singh (1987) has shown that tolerance correlates with culture conformity. Again the inference is that tolerance is learned.

Perhaps a final paper that deserves separate mention in this connection is by Smith, Griffith, Griffith & Steger (1980). These authors studied stereotypes of Germans held by American students who had been living in Germany for some time. They found that the students had stereotypes that were generally realistic and positive and concluded that stereotyping is of little use in explaining racial and ethnic antagonisms.

Perhaps related is a finding by Larimer, Beatty & Broadus (1988) to the effect that ghetto-black accents were rated unfavourably but middle-class black accents and white accents were rated similarly. Given that modern-day German and white American lifestyles are probably fairly similar, from both the Smith et al study and the Larimer et al study, one could draw the inference that there need to be real, non-trivial differences present for real-life intergroup antagonisms to emerge.

Attribution "error" in racial judgments

There are those who argue (e.g. Pettigrew, 1979) that racially prejudiced people are perverse in how they judge outgroups. An admirable act by a black, for instance, will be seen by a white racist as the exception rather than the rule, whereas a similar act by a white will be seen as confirming a rule. Such behavior would certainly seem to suit the old view of stereotypes as being rigid.

A paper by Harvey, Town & Yarkin (1981), however, would tend to suggest that attribution "errors" of this and other kinds may need to be looked at more critically than they have always been in the past. In the present case, a little thought will show that the "error" need be no error at all. What is being done is in fact what we all do in generalizing. No generalization is perfect so instances that do not fit the generalization are simply set aside as the exceptions in need of special explanation.

For instance: Say the stereotype is that blacks are aggressive. If a given white meets one peaceful black, he will, as Allport, Pettigrew and others predict (Pettigrew, 1979) say that the peacefulness is an exception that does not follow the rule. If, however, he meets a large number of peaceful blacks he will then, and only then, begin to doubt the rule. One has to take into account not only the present but also all the past experiences that a person has had.

That, at any event, is the sort of thing that the results of actual research into stereotyping (see above) would lead us to expect. The Allport/Pettigrew theory simply fails to consider adequately how many exceptions will be tolerated.

Adorno et al (1950)

One theory of racism that would not seem to be much hurt by any of the criticisms made so far is that of Adorno et al. The theory does make considerable use of the term "ethnocentrism" but a little reflection will show that the failure of the ethnocentrism theory is much less fatal to the theory of Adorno et al than it is to (for instance) the social psychological explanations advanced by Tajfel (1982) and others. Although Adorno et al used the concept of ethnocentrism quite prominently in their work, it takes little modification of their theory to remove mention of it. One might in fact identify the so-called 'authoritarian' at the center of the Adorno et al theory with the 'misanthropic man' proposed above. He does not like out-groups but he is not very comfortable in his own society either.

Although they gave in-group loyalty a token mention, it was really adverse childhood experiences with authority that Adorno et al saw as the main fount of racism. That adverse experiences with authority might foster less than ecstatic affection for the group wielding that authority surely poses few theoretical problems. The Adorno et al theory must then be examined on its own merits rather than as being a sub-set of ethnocentrism theory.

Regrettably, however, the Adorno et al theory does not stand up well on its own merits. Since its first publication it has attracted what can only be called a torrent of criticism and disconfirmatory evidence. See for example Christie & Jahoda, (1954), Titus & Hollander (1957), Rokeach (1960), Brown (1965), McKinney (1973), Ray (1976), Altemeyer (1981) and Ray & Lovejoy (1983). To continue to accept the theory would show little regard for the importance of evidence.

The view now current among psychologists generally seems to be the one expressed by Brown (1986), who says that ethnocentrism and stereotyping are "universal ineradicable psychological processes" rather than something exhibited by deviants only. Psychologists have, then, come to realize what Von Clausewitz (1972) recognized over 150 years ago: that "Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be fired with passionate hatred for each other" (p. 76).

But is there not some evidence which does support the Adorno theory? There certainly is a lot of evidence which appears to support it but Altemeyer (1981) and others (e.g. Ray, 1973b & 1989; McKinney, 1973) show that such support tends to be fairly artifactual when looked at closely. Apparently supportive findings generally seem to have much simpler explanations than the complex psychodynamic theory advanced by Adorno et al.

One finding that is not so readily explained away, however, is the finding that the Adorno 'F' scale almost always predicts racial attitudes. This is even found to be so when major criticisms of the 'F' scale are allowed for (e.g. balance against acquiescent responding, non-representative sampling etc.). See Ray (1980). Does this not show that there is something in the Adorno et al theory?

This issue has recently been treated at some length elsewhere (Ray, 1988) so will not be treated at length here. Suffice it to say that because the F scale does not predict authoritarianism (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) a correlation between the 'F' scale and racism cannot be taken as supportive of the Adorno theory (which claims authoritarianism as the predictor of racism). Pflaum (1964) showed that a parallel form of the 'F' scale could be constructed by drawing solely on collections of popular myths and superstitions mostly made in or around the 1920's. This suggests that the 'F' scale measures not authoritarianism but rather the tendency towards being old-fashioned or lost in the culture of the past. In this light the correlation between the 'F' scale and racial attitudes simply tell us that it is now old- fashioned to avow racially antagonistic sentiments. Once again an apparently exciting finding turns out to have a much more mundane and unsurprising explanation than at first appeared to be the case.

Perhaps it also should be noted that even the construction of alternative measures more valid than the F scale would still be unlikely to save the theory. This is because the central claim of the theory -- that there is a single "Nazi-type" personality appears to be untrue. Those who have studied modern-day neo-Nazis (Ray, 1972 & 1973a; Billig, 1978) report that several quite different personalities appear to be present in such groups and even retrospective but objectively-scored Rorschach studies of the personalities of actual Nazi German leaders during World War II find the same (Zillmer, Archer & Castino, 1989). Studying the same leaders Ritzler (1978) found their personalities to be essentially normal. The "Nazi personality" concept is, then, a "unicorn" concept. It describes something that does not exist.

How monolithic is racism?

At this point someone might want to say: "But the one Adorno et al finding that has been frequently replicated by others is that attitudes to outgroups are highly monolithic. People who do not like blacks also tend not to like Jews (etc). Surely that calls for at least some sort of psychological explanation in terms of dispositions within the person!"

Such a claim is only half right. It is true that Adorno et al reported high correlations between various sorts of racial antagonism but it is not true that the finding has been frequently replicated. Even attempts to replicate it are rare. The monolithic nature of ethnic sentiment is more often assumed than tested. When a scale of racism or ethnocentrism is being constructed, for instance, the usual procedure seems to be to throw together a grab-bag of statements referring to various ethnic groups, delete those statements that do not much correlate with the rest, and show that the remainder correlate well enough with one another to warrant being described as a scale of "racism" or "ethnocentrism" (e.g. Beswick & Hills, 1969).

Such a procedure, of course, proves nothing. The typical mean inter-item correlation of a good attitude scale will generally be around .20. Such a correlation, however, explains only 4% of the variance. If attitude to Jews and attitude to blacks had only 4% in common, items reflecting attitude to these two groups could still be used to form a good single scale! And do not forget that the mean inter-item correlation of .20 is found only after "discordant" items have been deleted by the scale constructor. If the "discordant" (disconfirmatory) items had not been artificially deleted, the mean inter-item correlation would be much lower than the already low .20.

Adorno et al based their research almost entirely on the responses of college-educated people. A general population survey of the U.S.A. reported by Sniderman, Brody & Kuklinski (1984) is therefore instructive. He found the sort of covariance reported by Adorno et al but only among college educated respondents. The covariance seems more to be a product of higher education rather than something generally found.

Most people find it perfectly easy to (say) dislike blacks but at the same time not be conservative and have nothing against Jews. Other general population surveys have also found low correlations between attitudes to different ethnic groups (Kinloch, 1986; Ray, 1974 Ch. 46; Ray & Lovejoy, 1986). In comparing the Ray (1974, Ch. 46) study with the Ray & Lovejoy (1986) study it may be worth noting that the sampling for the 1974 study was carried out in predominantly working-class suburbs whereas the 1986 study had no such restraints. It is therefore in line with what has been said so far that the correlations between attitudes to different ethnic groups were much lower in the 1974 study.

The stereotyping literature too seems generally to show that racist attitudes are highly differentiated and multidimensional (Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Paulsen & Balch, 1984; Trlin & Johnston, 1973; Houser, 1979; Newman, Liss & Sherman, 1983).

The stereotyping literature (as summarized earlier in this paper) may also give us a clue as to why generalized racism exists mainly among the higher educated. The lesson from that literature is that oversimplification is found where knowledge is deficient. All outgroups should therefore be treated the same where familiarity with all of them is low. Perhaps therefore the higher educated tend to come from strata of society and live in a world where outgroup members are encountered not in their full diversity but rather under fairly "sanitized" conditions. Only outgroup members "like us" are encountered.

Clearly, then, the very term "racism" may be at least in modern Western societies a dangerous oversimplification not worthy of any scholar. It would seem to assume a degree of generality which just cannot be reliably shown. Disliking one ethnic group does not automatically mean you will dislike all others or indeed any others. Only as a loose term referring to any sort of particular racial or ethnic affect, belief, sentiment or behavior might the term's continued use be justified.

Conservatism and racial attitudes

One contention by Adorno et al (1950) that seems to have gained considerable acceptance is that there is a general association between conservatism and racial attitudes. It should, however, be noted again that Adorno et al used as their subjects mainly people who had received or were receiving some form of tertiary education. As already mentioned in a slightly different context above, the paper by Sniderman, Brody & Kuklinski (1984) is therefore interesting in that it relied on U.S. general population sampling and separated people out in terms of educational level. These authors did indeed find the association between racist and conservative attitudes described by Adorno et al but found it only among well-educated respondents. Among those with only a basic education the association was not to be found at all.

This is consistent with the view that the association is produced in the educational system by teachers (both secondary and tertiary) who tend to be both liberal and anti-racist. People who acculturate best to the educational system will therefore show both liberal and anti-racist views and will thus produce an overall association between the variables.

Further evidence that such a social context is crucial for any such an association to emerge is the fact that in Australian and British general population samples conservatism and racial attitudes seem not to be correlated at all (e.g. Ray & Lovejoy, 1986; Ray & Furnham, 1984) and that in Northern Irish samples (Mercer & Cairns, 1981) the association is found for Protestants only (not among Catholics). Conservatism, therefore, may be associated with negative racial attitudes under some particular circumstances and in some particular places but there is no reason to say that it causes racial antagonisms in general. See also Ray (1984) and Gaertner (1973).

Duckitt's theory

Duckitt (1989) has recently proposed a theory that is a rather clever amalgam of Adorno et al and the group identity theorists. He proposes that racism can cause authoritarianism rather than vice versa. Like Tajfel and his school, Duckitt sees loyalty to the group as a fundamental human attribute and shows that variations in evaluation of the ingroup can cause more or less authoritarian and discriminatory behavior. He admits that the "ingroup" concerned can often be the nation but fails to make the connection with conservatism.

Conservatives, of course, have generally opposed extensions of State power and intervention so, since they are wary of the major expression of the nation (the State), conservatives should in Duckitt's schema be less racist and authoritarian. In fact, as we have seen, conservatism seems to be unrelated to racism and authoritarianism in general population samples (Ray, 1983a & 84a).

Duckitt also seems to believe that the attitude to the outgroup generally is the opposite of the ingroup attitude -- something shown above not to be true (Ray & Lovejoy, 1986). Interestingly, he refers to a theory by Berry (1984) which would explain the lack of relationship between ingroup and outgroup sentiment but still seems to take the conventional view that the two should in general be opposed.

Symbolic racism

Perhaps the most current theory of racial sentiment among psychologists in the U.S.A. at the present time is a loose group of ideas that are generally subsumed under the name "Symbolic racism". At its most general the proposition seems to be that racist policy decisions can be at least ostensibly supported by otherwise generally commendable major societal values. At their crudest such theories recognize that opposition to "busing" might be justified not in terms of opposition to racial integration but rather in terms of opposition to coercion over educational choices generally. The idea seems to be that racism can be in some sense "underground", covert or at least unacknowledged. This seems to lead to the conclusion that racism does not have to be overt or easily attackable in order to be effective.

In one sense all this seems hard to disagree with. Nonetheless there remain several conceptual confusions and evidential deficiencies in the theory that are rather well dealt with by authors such as Weigel & Howes (1985). These authors effectively show that this "new" (symbolic) racism is in fact not really different from the "old" (overt) forms of racism. In other words, those who dislike members of other ethnic groups have always been able to offer justifications for their views that accord with then-current cultural values. The theory is, then, interesting only insofar as it is inchoate. See also work by McClendon (1985) and the destructive review by Sniderman & Tetlock (1986).

Sociological theories

Given the weaknesses of the major psychological explanations of racism so far canvassed, can we find anything better in sociology? Apparently not. Studlar (1979) conducted a large study of a sample of the general population of Great Britain in which he claimed to be able to test all the major sociological and psychological theories of racial conflict that were current in British academe at that time. He found that all his predictor variables combined explained only a minute percentage of the variance in racism. He also alluded to other studies with similar results. Despite its plethora of theory, therefore, sociology has little to offer in the way of confirmed predictions.

Theorists such as Banton (1983) or Hechter (1986) who say that racial antagonism can be a realistic response to economic rivalry are almost certainly correct but such sources of racism appear in general to be very minor ones. They leave most of the variance still to be explained.

The "culture clash" theory

There is, however, one theory that seems to have stood the test of time better than most. It has been known in many versions and guises but is perhaps most informatively referred to as the "culture clash" theory or the "preference for similarity" theory. It is both a popular lay theory and one that has had massive academic study. The following press clipping from p. 9 of a British publication, The Times Higher Education Supplement of 4th July, 1986 may serve to introduce it:

An increase in attacks on African and Asian students studying in Chinese universities led more than 500 foreign students to march on government buildings in Peking and Tianjin last week demanding protection. Anger among African and Asian students has been rising since an African liberation day party at Tianjin university turned into a stone and bottle fight in which a number of students were hurt and 16 black students were taken into police custody for their own protection. The foreign affairs department stated that together with university authorities it was trying to persuade African and Asian students to return to their campuses, but so far only ten have done so.

At a press conference, Yu Fuzeng, deputy chief of the foreign affairs department, was anxious to make the distinction between "cultural" and "racial" clashes. He said that on the whole relations between most Chinese and black students had been good, but students with differtent customs and cultural backgrounds were bound to clash, and as a result there had been a number of unhappy incidents.

Perhaps the most obvious reflection the clipping inspires is that it very vividly confirms the universal nature of inter-group antipathies. Contemporary China and the societies of the English- speaking world are very different but it seems that in both of them the lighter-skinned people do not like the darker-skinned people. This might at first seem like a strong indicator of the irrelevance of culture to racial antagonisms. Mr Fuzeng, however, did not think so. Quite the reverse. To him, culture was the whole of the explanation. And the explanation he uses is after all simple and obvious enough. People from different cultures do have characteristically different practices and a practice that is normal and acceptable in one culture may be abnormal and unacceptable in another.

Let us take some obvious and perhaps slightly embarrassing instances of that: For instance, in most Muslim countries polygamy is a mark of distinction. In Britain and the U.S.A. it is a crime. In Britain, drug addiction is mostly treated as an illness. In the U.S.A. it is mostly treated as a crime. Sailors in Britain's Royal Navy are not infrequently ordered to "splice the mainbrace" (drink rum). The same thing in the U.S. navy would be a crime.

More generally, in some cultures industriousness and hard work are much admired. They are seen as badges of responsibility and respect-worthiness. In yet other cultures, however, hard work is seen as something that any sensible person avoids wherever possible. When people from the pro-work culture are mixed in with people from the anti-work culture people from the anti-work culture must be looked down upon by people from the pro-work culture. For people from the pro-work culture to do otherwise would simply be inconsistent and discriminatory. People from the pro-work culture would think ill of themselves for being "lazy" so why should they not think ill of others who are "lazy"? To ask them to approve of laziness would be to ask them to be untrue to their own values and their own culture.

"Getting it right" on culturally valued matters may be particularly important where the value position held is the outcome of some conflict of interest. To stick with one example a little longer, there is an obvious conflict of interest involved in attitudes to work. Work may be necessary but leisure is also obviously attractive. Almost any culture therefore will not choose one alone but will choose some balance between the two. Because the particular balance chosen is the outcome of some heartsearching, therefore, anyone who chooses a different balance must to some degree be seen as threatening to that rough cultural consensus. Thus while people of African ancestry are often seen by whites as "too lazy", the same or other whites may also tend to see Asians and Jews as "money hungry" (i.e. too hard-working).

Nor need this (as some well-motivated propagandists have alleged) be entirely arbitrary, inconsistent or malicious. A welfare system predicated on the assumption that people will want to work may well be exploited by people who do not so wish. Similarly, an economic system that allows workers a day or two of leisure per week may well be undermined by those who do not demand such leisure. The availability of hard-working Asian workers may make it hard for whites to get jobs or attain economic success generally. If the competitors who keep beating you tend to be Asian or Jewish, a dislike of Asians and Jews is surely all but inevitable. As mentioned earlier, that economic rivalry is a "rational" basis for intergroup antipathies is in fact now becoming acceptable to a remarkably broad range of sociologists (Wellman, 1977; Banton, 1983; Brown, 1985; Moreh, 1988; Hechter, 1986).

Economic rivalry, however, is of course only one of many fora in which culture clashes might occur. Just the smell of cooking curry wafting from one abode to another has been known to be very upsetting for some English people. Other mentions of this popular theory can be found in Vinsonneau (1984), Basker (1983) and Eisenstadt (1983).

Some academic treatments of the theory in whole or in part can be found in Manheim (1960); Rokeach (1960); Park (1950); Stein, Hardyck & Smith (1965); Levine & Campbell (1972); Liebowitz & Lombardo (1980); Taylor & Guimond (1978); Byrne, Clore & Smeaton (1986); Marin & Salazar (1985); Ray (1983a); Lydon, Jamieson & Zanna (1988); Mann (1958); Newcomb (1956); Byrne & McGraw (1964); Singh (1973); Suzuki (1976); Lange & Verhallen (1978); Wetzel & Insko (1982); Walker & Campbell (1982) and Bochner & Orr (1979).

A feature common to most of the studies in the literature is that only a sub-set of the theory is studied. One of the best-known treatments of the subject in the literature of psychology exemplifies this. Rokeach (1960) tested the theory that "belief congruence" aided interracial amity. Culture is, however, much more than beliefs. Customs, attitudes, education, dress and cuisine are just some of the other more obvious elements. It should not surprise us therefore if most of the supportive findings in the literature show effects of modest magnitude. If only part of the relevant congruence is studied, only part of the relevant effect will be descried. It is congruence across the board that is relevant -- not congruence in just one or two areas. This is, of course not meant to be any criticism of Rokeach. Science is a step by step process and any attempt to study congruence in all areas would obviously be ambitious.

The Rokeach theory has, of course, had its critics. Many of these were, however, answered in a much-cited paper by Stein, Hardyck & Smith (1965). These authors show that the process of racial stereotyping is much more sophisticated than is commonly imagined. It is in fact a process of moving towards successively more and more accurate generalizations as the information available improves. As contact with and information about the stimulus persons improves, we come more and more to base our evaluations of them on such things as the degree to which they share our values (or attitudes or beliefs or orientations generally). And culture is just one of the major influences on our values.

Interpersonal Contact

How then are we to understand the at best highly equivocal findings about the influence of interracial contact? As various recent surveys of the literature have shown, (Ray, 1983a; Ford, 1986), whites who get to know blacks better do not necessarily get to like blacks better. In fact, quite the reverse is often the case. Only in certain carefully socially-engineered circumstances does increased interracial contact lead to increased interracial amity (See also Vaid-Razada, 1983; Reed, 1980; O'Driscoll, Haque & Ohsako, 1983; Oliver, 1981; Amir & Ben Ari, 1985 and Thomas, Foreman & Remenyi, 1985).

It is no wonder that recent literature surveys of the degree of support for the Rokeach belief-conflict theory (e.g. Insko, Nacoste & Moe, 1983) find that it is supported only in certain contexts. Yet the findings with respect to the "contact hypothesis" do not really contradict the Rokeach theory at all if we look at them without preconception. They only conflict with it if we assume that blacks and whites do not have any real modal differences other than skin color. If two groups of people are not really different (culturally or in other ways) then increased contact should indeed cause increased liking.

The fact that it very often does not suggests to the unprejudiced mind, therefore, that there are real differences between blacks and whites beneath the skin. What these differences are has of course been the subject of much bitter and highly political controversy but let us here at least note that the evidence for modal differences in personality between blacks and whites is now extensive (e.g. Jones, 1978 & 1979; Lineberger & Calhoun, 1983 and Warr, Banks & Ullah, 1985). People of African ancestry seem generally to be found to be more confident and aggressive than whites.

That people should dislike those who are more aggressive than themselves is of course very unsurprising. One certainly does not need to invoke I.Q. differences to explain why whites tend to dislike blacks. Why black and white cultures (or gene pools) produce different degrees of aggressiveness and confidence in their members would, however, seem worthy of research.

Note also that if differences in personality are found to be a major cause of black- white animosity then that would be to disconfirm the Rokeach theory while at the same time supporting culture-conflict theory more generally. Beliefs and personality are not the same but both can surely be influenced by culture.

Some specific support for this view can be found in a study by Moe, Nacoste & Insko (1981). They found that belief congruence was a more powerful influence on liking than was race. In other words, superficial racial characteristics such as skin colour have only a residual importance in liking. Racial dislikes would not tend to persist if the races were generally alike under the skin. Whites would like blacks if blacks were similar in beliefs, attitudes, personality etc. When they are not, more contact between the two cannot be expected to be generally beneficial.

Clearly, therefore, much more work needs to be done concerning interracial contact and its effects. This is particularly so because most extant research on the subject concerns attitudes rather than behavior. When one says that the effects of contact as so far revealed in the literature are unclear, one is saying that the effects of contact on measured attitudes are unclear. Given the long-known lack of connection (La Piere, 1934; Crosby, Bromley & Saxe, 1980; Rule, Haley & McCormack, 1971) between attitudes and actions in this domain, this cannot be taken as any evidence at all about racially discriminatory practices. Since it is surely deeds, not words, that concern us most we need to investigate the evidence for the culture- clash theory of racism by looking at meaningful behavior rather than at attitudinal abstractions.

Mitchell (1968) and Australia's Indigines

Fortunately, there does exist in the literature one little-known study that satisfies most requirements for research into real-life racism. It is even a study which, for once, does not rely on sampling as the source of data. Social science data gathering is normally plagued by problems of sampling. The hope or idea that one could obtain useful data not from a sample but from an entire national population is usually an impossible dream. Yet Mitchel (1968) achieved just that.

The background to Mitchell's study is that in 1967 Australia held a constitutional referendum in conjunction with a Federal election (voting in Australian elections is compulsory so turnout was around 98%) which was designed to extend full Australian citizenship to, and otherwise assist, Australia's native black population (the Aborigines). Rather like native Americans ("Indians"), the Aborigines at the time lived to a considerable extent on reservations and were generally poor, ill-housed, unemployed and prone to serious health problems. The main aim of the referendum was to give the Federal government the power to improve their lot.

Aborigines are, however, unevenly distributed throughout Australia. They are largely unseen in the big cities and those Aborigines who are city-dwellers almost invariably live in just one semi-slum suburb. They mostly come into contact with whites as fringe-dwellers around country towns. Additionally, some Australian States have few blacks at all (e.g. Tasmania, where they were wiped out in the last century) while others (such as Queensland and Western Australia) have a disproportionately high number of blacks.

The outcome of the referendum was 84% of the voters supporting the proposal. Australians overall wanted blacks to be full citizens and for them to be helped by the government. What Mitchell noticed, however, was that most of the "Yes" vote seemed to have come from the big cities where blacks were largely unknown. He therefore correlated the size of the "No" vote in Australia's various electoral districts with the proportion of the population in those districts that was of Aboriginal origin. No matter how he analyzed the data, he found a correlation of .9 between the number of anti-Aborigine votes and the density of the black population. The more white Australians had been in a position to see, get to know and evaluate blacks, the less they wanted them as fellow citizens. They voted that blacks not be allowed to be citizens of the country where they had lived for 40,000 years or more!

The behavior involved (the voting) was undoubtedly of an extremely significant and important kind as far as discriminatory practices are concerned and the correlation with opportunity for contact was of a magnitude seldom seen anywhere in the behavioral sciences. Compare more than 80% of the variance explained with the 8% explained by Studlar's (1979) multiple regressions. When we turn to the strongest body of data we have on discriminatory practices, we find extraordinarily strong evidence that contact with black culture is highly aversive for members of the majority white culture.

There are four reasons why Mitchell's data is particularly strong:

1). He used a full population, not a sample; 2). Behaviour (vote) was studied rather than a (possibly insincere) expression of attitude. 3). The relevant behavior could be emitted privately (in the ballot booth) with little obvious room for peer or social pressure to be exerted. 4). The effect (r = .9) revealed was very strong.

Thus, although the study is the only one of its kind, it is one of a kind largely because of its unusual strengths.

The reasons behind the findings are far from mysterious if one knows a little of the ethnography concerned: Aborigines seem to be almost invariably unemployed and living on welfare. They are generally encountered by whites as vagrant street-dwellers being drunk and quarrelsome. They show quite often signs of fearsome disease (e.g. leprosy) and venereal diseases such as syphilis are endemic among them. They show little or no adherence to white ideals of hygiene.

They are also in fact a generally kind and friendly people who feel that they have been robbed of their country but it would only be with a considerable act of will that most whites could bear to interact with many of them at all. Most whites would avoid a drunk, dirty and white hobo so it is precisely because they do not discriminate racially that they also avoid and tend to be disgusted by drunk, dirty and quarrelsome black hobos. The state of the Aborigines does have to be seen to be believed. See Cowlishaw (1986) for a fuller description.

The point of all this is that neither whites nor blacks are to blame for the obviously strong dislike that many whites feel towards blacks in general. When large numbers of Aborigines behave "badly" by white standards and large numbers of whites dislike them for it, members of both groups are simply acting as normal carriers of their own culture. The problem lies in the fact that the two cultures are juxtaposed and yet are so different. What is normal in the one is reprehensible in the other. If white culture did not embody a respect for hard work, hygiene and control of alcohol intake, it would not be white culture as it is today. It would be something else. But it is not something else. It is a highly successful culture (in at least material and technological ways) that dominates the world. It will not go away overnight. To tell most Australian whites who know Australian blacks not to dislike Australian blacks is to tell them to forget in an instant their own core values.

The statistics -- An ecological fallacy?

Discussion of the assumptions underlying methods of statistical analysis probably makes rather dry reading for most readers but it nonetheless needs to be covered in order to protect one's work from apparently devastating demolition by subsequent, statistically sophisticated writers.

On the present occasion, it must be pointed out that Mitchell's (1968) correlations were "ecological" ones in Robinson's (1950) sense -- i.e. the units for analysis were not indivisible. As Robinson shows, such correlations can easily be beguilingly high, particularly where the units for analysis are few, and such correlations are not estimates of individual correlations. As Menzel (1950) has pointed out, however, ecological correlations do not have to be estimates of individual correlations to be of interest.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Mitchell analyzed his data two ways: once using large (and hence few) units for analysis (the State by State comparison) and secondly using smaller (and hence much more numerous) units for analysis (comparison of electoral districts). Unlike the cases discussed by Robinson, the correlation did not fall markedly on the second occasion. It in fact fell not at all. This suggests that taking the analysis down to the smallest possible unit of analysis (the individual) might not have made a big difference either.

Whether or not that would have been so, however, it does need to be pointed out that ecological correlations tend to tell us more about broad processes than details within such processes. On the present occasion what the correlation tells us precisely is that areas where there are a high proportion of Aborigines are also areas where Aborigines are actively discriminated against. It may tell us nothing about the attitudes that are voiced by whites in such areas and it may tell us nothing about who does the discriminating. It does, however, demonstrate a broad social process. It tells us about societies rather than individuals. In other words, living in an area like Australia's North Queensland causes not just the individual to observe the sad state of Aborigines but causes the whole of white society to observe it.

The attitudes that result may, then be (and surely are) not only the product of individual observation and contact but also the result of comparing notes, hearing anecdotes and discussing the Aboriginal phenomenon generally. Thus it is perfectly possible that the people who have highest contact are not the most discriminatory. Perhaps the people who have highest contact are those who tend to be "down and out" (and who tend therefore to share, for instance, park-bench sleeping accommodation with Aborigines) and such people might have so few options generally that discriminating against blacks is just not realistically possible for them.

None of that takes away, however, from the fact that living alongside a minority that is different in generally decried ways tends to produce discriminatory behaviour in the white community concerned.


One does, of course, sometimes hear the proposal that what is wrong is "categorizing" people. If we did not categorize no discrimination would arise. That is undoubtedly true. All words in our language (with the exception of syncategorematic words) are, however, instances of categories so the proposal amounts to saying that people should not talk. If such a situation actually prevailed, discrimination would be as difficult as social science would be impossible.

Note, however, that categorization (taxonomy) is one of the most basic steps in science so the anti-categorizers are not only anti-language but also anti-science.

Perhaps the opponents of categorization really mean that some particular category or system of categories is inadequate in some way. If so, that is not what they say. At any event, the plain fact is that human beings will categorize "at the drop of a hat" (Read, 1983). It is just a generally useful thing to do in controlling one's future.

Group identification or group culture?

Perhaps at this point we should consider how culture clash theory fares when confronted with the finding mentioned towards the beginning of this paper to the effect that out-group sentiment is not the mirror-image of in-group sentiment. Perhaps the basic point is to note that a culture clash needs no assumption that one thinks well of one's own group. It only requires that one be a product of that group and that one prefer one's own values and one's own practices. It simply asserts that culture is a potent source of values and practices and that one will therefore get on best among those who share such values and practices. (Note that "practices" could include, among other things, a particular language, dialect or argot. Human beings are very language- oriented and ease of communication must be a generally high priority).

Many Americans claim to despise much that their country seems to stand for but few such people actually leave the U.S.A. You may not like or approve of your own group but that still might be where you are most comfortable. Conversely, many British immigrants to Australia are socially inept enough to proclaim loudly that there all sorts of ways in which Britain is better than Australia but it is remarkable to (and remarked among) Australians how many stay on living in Australia. Group loyalty and what one finds most comfortable are simply not all that closely associated. We may or may not be loyal to the group from which we originated even though the influence of that group is still with us in various ways. For many of us our voluntary and involuntary group memberships are legion but only a few of the group memberships mean much. We may think that being Anglo-Celtic is a most ephemeral and meaningless distinction until we encounter various non-Anglo-Celtic groups that are characterized by things that we and other Anglo-Celts tend to dislike. Contrast makes a dormant group identity suddenly become vivid.

Let us take a hypothetical example of how "prejudice" might evolve: Parting hair. How one parts one's hair is surely a trivial matter that is most unlikely to evoke group loyalty but if we dislike people who are brash and aggressive and we find that people who part their hair in the middle tend to be brash and aggressive we will tend to become suspicious of those who part their hair in the middle not because that is contrary to the practice of our group but because parting hair in the middle is a useful sign of something we dislike in the members of any group.

Where culture conflict theory comes in is in explaining why we dislike brashness and aggressiveness (because our culture discourages it). A person who is the product of a Christian culture may still often have largely Christian values even though he is an atheist (Ray, 1970). One does not have to like what one is for a knowledge of what we are to have explanatory value. In understanding real-life racism, group-loyalty is simply a red herring. Espousal of a group's values may go with loyalty to that group or it may not. The matter can only be decided empirically.

Since an anecdote often helps to make a point vivid, perhaps at this stage it might be worthwhile to relate an Irish joke well known in Australia: An Australian of Irish ancestry visited Ireland. Within half an hour of his arrival an Irishman asked him what his religion was. "I am an atheist", he replied. "Aha!", said the Irishman, "But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?" The Irishman is, of course, not being nearly as perverse as he at first seems. Culture can be more influential than belief or group loyalty.

A matter of degree?

While it now seems to be widely accepted that preference for the ways of one's own group is more or less universal, does this mean that ethnic antagonisms are ineluctable and ineradicable? Surely the sort of mild narrow-mindedness that most of us seem to suffer from is quite different in kind from the excesses of (say) Hitler?

Such a proposition does pose something of a conundrum. The proposal initially seems reasonable yet there is no doubt that Hitler had wide support among ordinary Germans. Pre-war writers (e.g. Roberts, 1938) described him as quite simply the most popular man in Germany. So it could be argued that the main difference between Hitler and the ordinary German was simply one of power. Hitler was in a position to put his preferences into action whereas others might not be. The work of Zimbardo (1972) and Milgram (1974) certainly shows that it needs very little to make quite ordinary people destructive and oppressive towards others so this is plausible. Small motives can lead to great evils (Cf Arendt, 1982, on the "banality" of Nazism). With just a little bit of (for instance) de-individuation quite ordinary people become capable of great horrors.

Perhaps the major difference between Hitler and most modern-day Westerners is that Hitler came from a culture (Austria) that had (and still appears to have, given the recent electoral success of their ex-S.S. President Waldheim) strong anti-Semitic traditions. Combine this with a large and visible (even famous) Jewish community in Vienna that was "different" from other Austrians in many ways (not the least of these being their prominence and success generally. As Schoeck, 1969, has shown, envy is a powerful motivator) and the potential for mischief becomes fairly evident. The culture sanctioned dislike of Jews, Jews gave "cause" for resentment and the rest is history.

Is Australia typical?

At this point, some readers may be reminded of Rieder's (1985) study as extracting from American data conclusions that are similar to those here drawn from Mitchell's Australian data. Rieder did an ethnography of the Italian/Jewish suburb of New York City known as Canarsie and found that the ethnic whites he studied there had objections to black incursion into their neighborhood that were ultimately founded in the real potential for harm or loss that such incursions posed. In other words, knowing what blacks generally were really like at the present time had an adverse impact on white perceptions of blacks. Blacks were found to be different in ways that could reasonably be objected to.

There have been objections to Rieder's account but they do not seem to take the form of questioning the accuracy of his observations. Steinberg (1988), for instance, traces the aspects of black life that are disliked to the poor economic position of blacks and says that we should as a consequence implement programs to improve black economic achievement. How this is to be done, however, he does not really say.

At any event, it seems clear that the Mitchell (1968) results are not alone in the inferences they suggest. An exact re-run of Mitchell's (1968) study in countries outside Australia does, however, seem highly unlikely (though the work by Giles & Evans, 1986; Davis, 1984; Brown, Condor, Matthews, Wade & Williams, 1986 and Dijker, 1987, might perhaps be mentioned as some other studies that do show some parallels), so any exact conclusion to how typical his results were may never be obtained.

Nonetheless some data reported by Husbands (1988 p. 716) is suggestive. He reports that in the Swiss city of Zurich the correlation between the proportion of foreigners in particular areas and the vote for explicitly racist political parties was .73 in 1975 and .54 in 1979. These figures are not as high as those reported by Mitchell but they are nonetheless undeniably substantial.

Even apart from such findings, however, there are some considerations that lead one to believe that the Australian situation might generalize internationally -- even leaving aside the very obvious cultural, genetic, linguistic and historical similarities between Australia and such important countries such as the U.S.A. and Great Britain. One fact that should be considered is that the greatest offence that blacks give to whites in Australia is little more than aesthetic. Whites do not like what they see of blacks, even in the absence of interactions with them. Unlike blacks of African ancestry, Aborigines very seldom do anything to whites or have much in the way of interactions with them. Very few Australian whites even know what the term "mugging" means, let alone ever having experienced it.

In the U.S.A. the more violence-prone culture of African-origin blacks leads to high levels of homicide and other violent crimes in black-dominated areas (Ray, 1985). This is very much worse than the Australian situation. One must surely take it as a working hypothesis that if the essentially aesthetic offence that blacks give to whites in Australia leads to such a pronounced discriminatory reactions, then the more serious problems that blacks pose for whites in countries such as the United States and Britain should have the potential to produce an even more pronounced adverse reaction against blacks.

Such a prediction is, however, only one example of the heuristic power of the theory being advocated here. Another fairly obvious prediction concerns what should happen as international and intranational travel and tourism increases over the years. Should this not cause people to come into more and more contact with others who are different from them? And should that not cause a general upsurge of racial and ethnic antagonisms? Obviously so, particularly if we look at behaviors rather than expressed attitudes. So what has happened in recent years as tourism and travel have boomed?

On the evidence so far, the predicted upsurge of racial antagonism has indeed resulted (Patterson, 1977). Various attempts to educate people into being racially-tolerant may have caused people generally to avow less racial antagonism now than they once did but there is evidence that this tolerance is quite superficial and evanescent (e.g. Rogers & Prentice- Dunn, 1981; Howitt & Owusu-Bempah, 1990; Allen & Macey, 1990).


So is there any ray of hope in what the culture-clash theory tells us? Perhaps a little. There are perhaps some signs that the Australian government is right in believing that people can be educated into being more "multi-cultural". Perhaps it might be possible to make an awareness of cultural relativity the mark of any educated mind and not merely something of which anthropologists alone are aware. Perhaps people in general can come to accept that members of other groups must not be judged by the standards applicable to Anglo-Celtic or Northern European civilization. Perhaps we can generally come to see that there are many paths to happiness and a worthy life.

Only a concerted effort that recognizes the true and profound nature of the problem could however have any chance of achieving such ambitious aims. Having a national T.V. network devoted to the task may -- as large a goal as that may seem to most -- be only the start of what is needed for the task.


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Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1980) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1983a) Racial attitudes and the contact hypothesis. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 3-10.

Ray, J.J. (1983b). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Blacks and the crime rate: Some observations from Australia.Sociology & Social Research 69, 590-591.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

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