Ethnic & Racial Studies, 1981, 4, 368-369.


Christopher Bagley and Gajendra K. Verma
Saxon House, 1979, 235 pp., 8.50.

This volume is the second part of a two-part study of factors influencing race relations in Britain today. Together, the two volumes must represent one of the most well-balanced and comprehensive coverages of the field available anywhere in the world. The authors evidently have an exhaustive familiarity with the available sources on the topic and have in addition a vast amount of their own data to call on. The book does appear to report a great deal of data not available elsewhere -- at least in such detail -- and is hence not only an invaluable review of the existing literature but also an important supplement to it.

In a field so prone to hysterias of various sorts -- both racist and anti-racist -- a most refreshing feature of the book is the moderation and sanity of its conclusions. Their conclusion that "The prejudice manifested by the majority of the population is an essentially normal process" might seem obvious to many (particularly non social scientists) but there is such a strong (and well-meaning) tradition to the contrary, particularly among psychologists, that it is always a relief to see it so baldly stated in an academic source.

This balance is perhaps best shown in the treatment given to the vexed question of the effect of interracial contact. American research seems to be almost totally blind to the possibility that such contact could have anything but the most beneficial effects. Bagley and Verma, by contrast, are very much aware of the fact that it is the situation in which one encounters members of minorities which dictates the effect that the contact concerned will have on attitudes. They acknowledge that sometimes the more you get to know blacks, the less you will like them. It is perhaps a pity that they failed to integrate into their discussion what is probably the most striking demonstration so far of such an effect (Mitchell, 1968). A perhaps more important lacuna, however, is the way in which the authors skirt what is really the underlying issue in the contact hypothesis -- whether some racial dislikes may not be simply 'reasonable' responses to value conflicts. Underlying the American optimism about the effects of contact is an implicit assumption that Negroes are not in any important sense characteristically different from white Americans. If, however, there are characteristic differences in behaviour or attitude and those differences are in a direction devalued in a particular white person's scale of values, it will be in some sense 'reasonable' for that particular white person to avoid or dislike Negroes. If a particular white by reason of his socialization dislikes anybody who is emotionally expressive, and Negroes do in fact tend to be particularly emotionally expressive, then it might be argued that for him to dislike Negroes is not particularly racist -- or at least it is a form of racism with more 'reasonableness' than some others. Although Bagley and Verma do appear to accept that some negative racial attitudes may be sometimes 'reasonable' in this limited sense (characteristic cultural differences between British-born UK citizens and foreign-born black UK citizens are after all rather hard to deny) they make no real attempt to quantify the extent to which British prejudice is so caused (cf. Oeser and Hammond, 1954).

Another omission that does seem strange to this reviewer is the way in which attitudes to all black British residents often seem to be lumped together. To be fair, Bagley and Verma do not always do this, but one must ask whether it should ever be assumed that a given individual will see (say) both Pakistanis and West Indians as 'the same' in any important respect. My own research tends to suggest that attitudes to different ethnic groups in Australia are highly differentiated (Ray, 1974). Is it not so in Britain? Bagley and Verma do not really tell us. In my own fieldwork in Britain (Ray, 1978) I did in fact note that some Englishmen distinguished between even Indians and Pakistanis -- more than I could do. More careful treatment of such differentiations is perhaps something that we can look forward to in the continuing development of these authors' work.

John J. Ray
University of New South Wales


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

OESER, O. A., and HAMMOND, S. B. 1954 Social Structure and Personality in a City. London: Routledge.

RAY, J.J. (1974) Are racists ethnocentric? Ch. 46 in Ray, J.J. Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

RAY, J.J. (1978) Determinants of racial attitudes. Patterns of Prejudice 12(5), 27-32.

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