Make your own free website on

Patterns of Prejudice, 1978, 12 (5), 27-32.


John J. Ray

Not only has Britain now virtually closed its doors against coloured immigration; it also seems committed to a further tightening up on the remaining loopholes. This is a bipartisan trend but one in which the Conservatives seem a little more enthusiastic. It is also clear that such measures do enjoy considerable popular support. Britain is the only predominantly Anglo-Saxon country to have a purely racist political party (the National Front) which managed to get a significant share of the vote. At the time of the expulsion of the Asians from Uganda, the Harris Opinion Poll conducted by the Daily Express (August, 1972) showed only six percent of Britons willing to see these people given immediate entry to Britain.

There is still no solid consensus among social scientists about the causes of the racial prejudice which demands such restrictive policies. The traditional explanation that racism is some brand of irrationality or psychological maladjustment (see Adorno et al., 1950) now seems a little suspect in view of the wide support that is enjoyed by policies designed to exclude coloured immigration. If psychological abnormality underlies racial prejudice, it must be abnormality sufficiently paradoxical for it to be shared by most of the population. Recent American work has also not been kind to the Adorno thesis. Their identification of the political Right as the prime source of maladjustment and racism has been called into question by findings such as those by Elms who shows that Right-wing extremists are not in general mentally disturbed. Daniels & Kitano also stress that attitudes of racial superiority are held by many "`normal' decent and honourable men" (p.7). They quote a study by Kitano to show that normal persons may in fact discriminate more than marginal persons. (See also Van Den Berghe).

Nonetheless, because of its still-widespread acceptance, it is the Adorno thesis that will he primarily focused on in the present paper. A particularly careful examination will be given to their central explanatory construct -- authoritarianism. It is authoritarianism which is on the one hand is held to explain racism and conservatism while on the other hand being itself explained by maladaptive experiences in childhood. Adorno ascribes one's level of personal ethnic prejudice to distressing experiences with authority figures in childhood. He claims in consequence that racial prejudice is just another instance of behaving in a domineering way towards others. Those who have been harshly dominated in childhood wish to be themselves harshly dominating in later life.

It may of course seem a little controversial to use this theory to explain Britain's policies toward coloured immigration. To do so implies that such policies are racist. To most outsiders, such an identification would seem true by definition but the official British account is of course to the contrary. It is claimed that the policies are motivated solely by Britain's overcrowding and that they are aimed against all immigrants, not just coloured ones.

This line, however, does not impress black British writers such as Hiro. Hiro (1971) shows that the population of Britain is in fact declining, that housing availability per head is rising and that immigrants make more intensive use of housing and hence require less of it per head. He also points out that immigrants have a higher proportion of their numbers in the economically productive age-range and are hence in a better position to contribute to their own housing provision than are the native-born British. He also shows that, contrary to racist allegations, immigrants make less -- not more -- demands on the welfare services per head than do the native-born.

Furthermore it is historically quite clear that Britain had for centuries an open door policy to immigration. It was only the large post-war influx of blacks that caused this proud policy to be abandoned. Centuries of European immigration had not been seen as a problem, The "patrial" clause that allows a majority of Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians still to settle in Britain also belies the official account that it is immigration per se which is opposed.

To explain the British attitude to coloured immigration in terms of the Adorno thesis, then, is to claim that characteristic British child-rearing practices are excessively authoritarian. This does not of course mean that Britain is in any way unique. What it does mean is that there should be a gradation of prejudice among Britons and that this gradation corresponds to a gradation of authoritarianism in personality.

There are, of course, other possible explanations available for the attitude of the British towards coloured immigration. If we were to draw on history, the obvious lesson that one could learn from Britain's post-war experience is that one's prejudice against blacks is proportionate to one's experience of them. When the blacks were few they caused no jar to Britain's open-door policy. When they became many, the door slammed shut.

Such a conclusion, however, does seem to run counter to the stereotyping theory. If racial prejudice is even in part caused by stereotyping, then better information and more contact should reduce prejudice. The study by Stouffer et al. (1949) of black and white American soldiers in World War II is often called on to support the stereotyping theory. It was there shown that being in the same Army unit with blacks caused white soldiers to be less prejudiced. Even elementary psychology textbooks now, however, offer refutations of this crude theory (e.g. Suedfeld, 1966, p.22). They show that the Stouffer findings were the product of a very special set of circumstances not at all generalizable to everyday life. Hiro (part III chap. 12) has also summarized a wide variety of contemporary British studies using both synchronic and diachronic evidence to show that contact increases prejudice. Authoritarianism, then, must here be viewed as only one of several possible contributory factors.

One other possible contributory factor to increased prejudice that will be given some specific examination in the present study is the variable of economic competition. This theory holds that prejudice against other groups arises as a result of their competing with us economically in some way. As Despres (1975) shows, this may take the form in the underdeveloped world of competition for scarce natural resources. In the developed world the most likely form it would take is competition for scarce jobs. To a considerable extent, however, this explanation does beg the question. One must ask why resentment is caused by a black man competing with one for work but not by a left-handed or a red-haired man or by a man who parts his hair down the middle. Why is race the critical variable? The economic competition explanation must appear only to postpone or push back the question. It is certainly not in itself a sufficient answer.

Nonetheless, regardless of its explanatory status, economic competition has been widely implicated in the explanation of race prejudice (see Blalock, 1967, ch. 3) in the U.S.A. and it seems desirable to give some consideration to its role amid the high unemployment of contemporary Britain.

Taking authoritarianism as a psychological variable and unemployment as a social variable, it is thus proposed to examine the influence of psychological and social variables jointly. Studies in the past have too often treated the two sorts of variable separately - leaving possibilities of interaction between the two unexamined. It is at least possible that authoritarianism works its influence only among high unemployment conditions where economic competition is high. Conversely, economic competition might have no effect except among high authoritarians. Examining either variable singly would at the least be a distortion of how life is actually lived by those under consideration. In the complex world we live in, very little happens in isolation.

One previous study that does already seem to have done something along the proposed lines was that by Abrams (1969). Extensive as the study was, however, its author seems to have managed to avoid giving any conclusions concerning the overall effect of either contact (in the sense of living among large numbers of blacks) or unemployment. A study done at much the same time in Australia may suggest why: Mitchell (1968) analysed voting figures in a nationwide constitutional referendum designed to extend the rights of Australia's indigenous blacks. He found a correlation of .9 between the density of the black population and the number of anti-black votes cast. If the effect of contact was even half as strong in Britain, one might understand the temptation to maintain a discreet silence on such an unwelcome finding.

Abrams did however find that authoritarianism increased prejudice among his respondents. The scale of authoritarianism he used was an ad hoc one of no known validity or reliability. Additionally, it did, appear to be at least partly based on the now rather discredited California "F" scale.

Because of the extensive methodological criticism that has been levelled at the measure of authoritarianism developed by Adorno, it was felt that this measure -- the "F" scale -- could not be used in the present study (see Christie & Jahoda, 1954). Criticisms by writers such as Titus (1968) to the effect that the "F" scale shows no relationship with authoritarian behaviour were felt to be particularly damaging. In any case, as an attitude scale, the "F" scale is not a particularly direct test of the Adorno thesis that authoritarian personality causes racism. The most direct test of a hypothesis involving a personality variable is of course to use a personality scale. Personality and attitude scales differ in that the former asks the person directly about himself and his own behaviour whereas the latter asks the person about his view of things outside himself. The former is typically answered "Yes" or "No" while the latter is typically answered "Agree" or "Disagree". A well-validated personality scale -- the Ray (1976) "Directiveness" scale -- was used in the present study. Unlike the "F" scale, it has no inbuilt bias towards acquiescent response set. It was used in the present study in its short form of 14 items.

To examine the differential effect of unemployment it was felt that two different samples were called for -- one from a high unemployment area and one from a low unemployment area. An area much singled out for attention in the public press as characterised by high unemployment was Glasgow, and the Strathclyde region was hence selected as the representative of a high-unemployment area. London was of course the only possible candidate for a large low unemployment area. Estimates differ from time to time but it seems that an unemployment figure of 14% for Glasgow and 11% % for London would not have been too wide of the mark in late 1977 when the samples were taken.

In each city, the sampling frame included surrounding "dormitory" suburbs for the city proper. The criterion for inclusion was whether an area was served by the city's commuter transport. Thus Surbiton and Croydon were included in London and Easterhouse and Motherwell in Glasgow. The sampling method was cluster sampling. This is the method used by all British public opinion polls where it does generally give very accurate results. The number of people sampled in each city was 100. The gains in statistical significance are very slight for numbers beyond 100 and it is of course axiomatic that representativeness rather than sample size is what matters.

The questionnaire was doorstep-administered and included the ten Conservatism items of Wilson (1973), the Ray (1976) Directiveness scale (short form) and a short form of the Ray-Lynn "AO" scale (Ray, 1970 and 1975): This latter scale is a measure of achievement motivation in behaviour inventory format. It was felt that if competition for jobs has an adverse effect on racial tolerance, then particularly competitive people ought to be less tolerant. Both of the short form scales had seven positive and seven negative items each. The Wilson item dealing with coloured immigration was the criterion for racial attitudes used here. It would of course have been preferable to use a multi-item scale to get a fully-rounded picture of each person's attitudes but, given the political and social sensitivity of race as an issue in Britain, this was regretfully felt not to be safe in a door-to-door survey. As it was, the coloured immigration item was "sneaked in" as just one of a range of items on many subjects. There is in any case an increasing literature (see Ray, 1974) devoted to the view that single items are every bit as good as multi-item scales and are reliable measuring instruments.

The two samples showed no significant differences on the basic demographic variables of age, sex, education and occupation: This indicates that they were similarly drawn. Reliabilities for the authoritarianism and achievement motivation scales were .66 and .73 respectively in London and .71 and .72 in Glasgow. For short forms, these figures are satisfactory. The ten Wilson items were not treated as a scale but as single items of interest in their own right.

On the question of whether Britain should allow coloured immigration, the two samples differed a great deal. The Scots tended to be in favour of it; the English did not. In the Glasgow sample 50% said "yes", 34% said "No" and 16% were not sure. In the English sample only 28% said "Yes", 45% "No" and 27% were not sure. The high. number of "Not Sures" in the English sample was evidently due to a reluctance to appear racist to an unknown interviewer. Consciousness of coloured immigration as a "problem" did however appear to be present in almost all cases.

Correlations observed at a significant level with attitude to coloured immigration were as follows: In London .175 with achievement motivation, .250 with attitude to the death penalty, .199 with attitude to socialism, .265 with occupation and .335 with sex. In Glasgow the significant correlations were .172 with attitude to Sunday observance, .208 with attitude to socialism, .230 with age and .219 with education. Attitudes on the race question are obviously very differently determined in the two cities. The meanings of the correlations are that in England a person opposed to coloured immigration tends to be low on achievement motivation, in favour of bringing back hanging, opposed to socialism, to work in a manual occupation and to be a male. In Scotland such a person would tend to be in favour of keeping the Sabbath, to be opposed to socialism, to be older and to be less well educated. The correlation with authoritarianism was .043 in London and .027 in Glasgow. Neither is anywhere near significance. The correlation with achievement motivation in Glasgow -- .163 -- was on the very borderline of significance but in the opposite direction to that observed in London. The Glasgow direction was then the one predicted.

In neither city was there any connection between political party preference and attitude to coloured immigration.

Once again the California account of racism is found to fail when subjected to an independent test. The brand of tough-minded conservatism measured by the "F" scale may relate to racial prejudice but validly measured authoritarianism does not. We cannot even say that conservatism generally relates to racism, only conservatism of the sort measured by the "F" scale. As has been shown, elsewhere (Ray, 1973), "F" scale scores are little related to party preference. There are many ways in which Labour voters can be conservative too. What this survey has shown is that Conservatism as a party political preference and authoritarianism as a personality trait are not related to racism as it is expressed in preferences concerning Britain's immigration policy.

Nonetheless the racism of the sort studied here is the most important form in Britain today. It is in fact the only form of racism officially practiced and officially permitted. The vigour of Britain's attempts to keep blacks out is matched only by the vigour with which it attempts to prevent them being discriminated against when they do manage to arrive.

At its most general what the present work has shown is that it is foolish to look for villains in the race relations picture. It may be satisfying to place the blame for poor race relations on our ideological opponents but such satisfaction is the satisfaction of self-delusion. In the England of today, low-grade colour prejudice is the norm. It is normality we have to explain, not deviance.

The other correlations with racist attitude offer little of help. That working class males are more racist is well-known. Why it should be that sex and occupation are critical in London but age and education are the significant variables in Glasgow does however require further explanation. If a theory to encompass these findings could be developed, it might also be able to explain why achievement motivation has such opposite roles in the two cities. An ad hoc explanation might be that the stern Presbyterians of Glasgow are intrinsically more prejudiced than the English and only young Scots and those better educated escape this traditional religio-cultural influence. The English on the other hand, although intrinsically more tolerant by virtue of their almost vacantly tolerant national religion, can become intolerant by virtue of bad actual experiences with blacks. It would of course be males who, would be most exposed to this by virtue of their being more commonly out at work and it would be manual workers who would encounter blacks most because blacks do in fact mostly work in manual jobs. Likewise the person with low achievement motivation would be more likely to be found in less prestigious and thus manual jobs. In Scotland, high achievement motivation might also have a role in exposing one to influences outside of and contrary to the traditional culture, but it would more importantly also make one seek the approbation and social acceptance that religious observation can still confer in Scotland. Thus the net effect would be that a more achievement-motivated person would be more exposed to the stern traditional culture. This may be an ad hoc explanation but is supported by the correlation in Scotland between attitude to Sabbath observance and attitude to coloured immigration. Religious observers are more prejudiced.

As well as ascribing considerable cultural significance to religion, the above explanation also assumes that experience with blacks will be deterring and that Glasgow offers fewer opportunities for such experience. This is in accord with previous research and with the lesser attractiveness of Glasgow for immigrants of any sort.

The more favourable attitudes in Glasgow than in London are all the more powerful testimony to the importance of familiarity when we consider the number of influences that should have made Glasgow more prejudiced. Not only is unemployment with its traditional accompanying sense of grievance higher there but the Glasgow sample in fact also contained more manual workers and, as we have seen, the traditional religious influences in Glasgow tend more in the direction of intolerance than they do in England. One only has to hear a Glasgow Presbyterian talking about Catholics to know how deeply rooted intolerance can be in Scotland. In Glasgow the Rev, Ian Paisley may be seen as extreme but it is doubtful if the majority see him as fundamentally misguided. Like Belfast, Glasgow has its annual "Orange marches". There is independent evidence that religious and racial prejudice have a highly significant relationship (see Ray & Doratis, 1972).

Although the hypothesis concerning the effect of unemployment was not confirmed, it could be claimed that it was in fact not properly tested. As well as differing in levels of unemployment, Glasgow and London also differed in level of contact with blacks. Although blacks are commonly to be seen in Glasgow, all estimates agree in putting their numbers at a very low level in relation to the population of the region overall. One estimate in the popular press (Eagles, 1977) put the number of Asians only in Glasgow as low as 6,000. This is in a region of around two million people. Thus it might be argued that the negative effects of unemployment were more than cancelled out by the positive effects of unfamiliarity. On such an account, it would at least be shown that even if unemployment does have a negative effect on race relations, it is a very small effect when put alongside the effect of contact. A slightly more adventurous explanation equally compatible with the present results would be to say that unemployment does not have a negative effect on race relations if it is sufficiently high. If unemployment is very high, the probability of getting a job is in any case so low that competition from blacks is not seen as a significant factor in whether one gets it or not. This would be another example of the "inverted 'U' function" so familiar in psychology (see e.g. Hebb, 1949). On the whole, however, the present results do clearly call into question the importance of unemployment as an influence on current British race relations.

In both its negative and its positive findings, the results of the present study tend towards the iconoclastic. It has been found that neither authoritarianism nor unemployment damage racial attitudes but that contact with blacks does. Although all three are probably opposed to the current consensus among social scientists, they are not as unprecedented as might be imagined. As mentioned earlier, Hiro has gathered together a variety of evidence on the negative effect of contact and both Ray (1976) and Heaven (1977) have shown that authoritarian personality does not affect racial attitudes. As the Ray (1976) and Heaven (1977) findings were in Australia and South Africa respectively, the addition of the findings in the present paper has given the Adorno thesis a quite extensive cross-cultural test.

The reasons why experience with blacks is deterring are probably little different to the reasons why we find strangers and foreigners generally less congenial. As an extension of this, we would also expect that the more different a people is, the less it will be liked. Even people as culturally, racially, and historically similar to the English as the Australians do occasionally get a frosty reception in England by reason of their national attitudes and customs. How much more so might more different people be received.


Abrams, M., "The incidence of race prejudice in Britain." Ch. 28 in E. J. B. Rose, Colour and citizenship. London: Oxford U.P. 1969.

Adorno, T. W.; Frenkel-Brunswik, Else; Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R.N. The authoritarian personality N.Y.: Harper. 1950.

Blalock, H. M., Toward a theory of minority-group relations. N.Y.: Wiley. 1967.

Christie, R. & Jahoda, M., Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, III.: Free press. 1954.

Daniels, R. & Kitano, H. H. L., American racism: Exploration of the nature of prejudice. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 1970.

Despres, L. A., Ethnicity and resource competition in plural societies. The Hague: Mouton. 1975.

Eagles, H. "Immigrants put plan to Tories." The Scotsman, 19 September, 1977, p. 5.

Elms, A. C., "Those little old ladies in tennis shoes are no nuttier than anyone else: It turns out." Psychology Today, 1970, 27ff.

Heaven, P. C. L., (1977) "Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? The case of South Africa." Journal of Psychology, 95 1977, 169-171.

Hebb, D. O., The organization of behavior N.Y.: Wiley. 1949.

Hiro, D., Black British, white British. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. 1971.

Kitano, H. H. L., "Passive discrimination: The normal person." Journal of Social Psychology, 70, 1966, 23-31.

Mitchell, I. S., "Epilogue to a referendum." Australian Journal of Social Issues, 3 (4), 1968, 9-12.

Ray, J.J. (1970) Christianism.... The Protestant ethic among unbelievers. J. Christian Education, 13, 169-176.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Dogmatism in relation to sub-types of conservatism: Some Australian data. European J. Social Psychology 3, 221-232.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Are trait self-ratings as valid as multi-item scales? A study of achievement motivation. Australian Psychologist 9, 44-49.

Ray, J.J. (1975) A behavior inventory to measure achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology 95, 135-136.

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

Ray, J.J. & Doratis, D. (1972) Religiocentrism and ethnocentrism: Catholic and Protestant in Australian schools. Sociological Analysis 32, 170-179.

Stouffer, S. A.; Suchman, E. A.; DeVinney, L. C.; Star, S. A., & Williams, R. M., The American soldier: studies in social psychology in World War II. Vol. 1. Princeton: Princeton Univ. 1949.

Suedfeld, P., Social processes. Dubuque, Iowa: W. C. Brown Co. 1966

Titus, H. E., "F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria."Psychological Record, 18, 1968, 395-403.

Van den Berghe, P. L., Race and racism. N.Y.: Wiley, 1967.

Wilson, G. D., "Liberal extremists." New Society 26, 1973, 263-264.

Go to Index page for this site

Go to John Ray's "Tongue Tied" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Dissecting Leftism" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Australian Politics" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Gun Watch" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Education Watch" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Socialized Medicine" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Political Correctness Watch" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Greenie Watch" blog (Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Leftists as Elitists" blog (Not now regularly updated)
Go to John Ray's "Marx & Engels in their own words" blog (Not now regularly updated)
Go to John Ray's "A scripture blog" (Not now regularly updated)
Go to John Ray's recipe blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here)

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of recent writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page (Backup here)
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs (Backup here)
Go to Another picture page (Best with broadband)