The Psychologist 1991, 4(1), 18-19.


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia

As one of the small number of psychologists who are cited by Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1990) in their paper "Racism in a British Journal", I feel that I should have some opportunity to comment on what they say.

For a start, let us be clear that the paper is a political rather than a scientific one. The authors make this clear when they summarize their complaint at the outset as being: "In short, psychology has not adopted a truly anti-racist stance." The complaint of the paper is, then, more about lack of committment to a particular political policy than about bad science. Nonetheless, there is no reason why psychologists cannot take an interest in politics so the paper could still be important. It does however follow that any comment on the paper must be at least partly political too.

Where Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1990) and I strongly agree is that we both reject the attempt to "marginalize" racism -- to portray it as an attribute of some group to which we as psychologists are unlikely to belong. Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1990) quote one of my papers (Ray, 1971) in support of the view that racism is not an attribute of conservatives only. This is, however, a little puzzling. The paper concerned can at a pinch bear that construction (its main message was the poor internal consistency of the Wilson & Patterson [1970] Conservatism scale) but the same message is spelled out much more explicitly and at much greater length in Ray (1983 & 1984). One wonders why the more relevant publications were not cited.

Another way in which Howitt & Owusu-Bempah do less than justice to their argument is that they fail to notice that it is now a textbook view that racism and its associated phenomena are "universal, ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986). See also Tajfel & Fraser (1978), Charny (1982), Levi-Strauss (1983), Volkan (1985 & 1988), Moreh (1988), Van Den Berghe (1981), Hechter (1986) and Hechter, Friedman & Appelbaum (1982). It is true that the dreamy radicalism of the sixties did appear to cause some psychologists to toy with the Adorno et al (1950) nostrums to the effect that racism is an attribute of Rightists and authoritarians only but the sheer omnipresence of ingroup favouritism and inter-group rivalry ensured that such a view could not long survive. Hewitt & Owusu-Bempah have, then, shown that contributors to The British Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology (1962-1980) were affected to some degree by the times in which they lived but why that should be a surprise to any psychologist eludes me.

Where Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1990) seem particularly confused is in recognizing the universality of inter-group antagonism and yet demanding that psychologists be unaffected by it. Are psychologists not people? They have also rightly shown that psychologists can be induced into doing bad science by Leftist politics (i.e. be induced into portraying racism as a purely Rightist phenomenon) and yet they demand still more political committment from psychologists. A more logical conclusion from their premises would surely be that psychologists are bound to have their prejudices but they should do their best to prevent those prejudices affecting their work. Howitt & Owusu-Bempah, however, seem to draw conclusions that are just the opposite of this. I can only assume that their own political committment is so strong that it has obscured their logical ability. One would think that such an approach is unlikely to prove persuasive to scientists.


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.

Brown, R.(1986) Social psychology (2nd. Ed.) N.Y.: Free Press.

Charny, I.W. (1982) How can we commit the unthinkable? Genocoide: The human cancer Boulder, CO: Westview

Hechter, M. (1986) Rational choice theory and the study of race and ethnic relations. Ch. 12 in J. Rex & D. Mason (Eds.) Theories of race and ethnic relations Cambridge: U.P.

Hechter, M., Friedman, D. & Appelbaum, M. (1982) A theory of ethnic collective action. International Migration Review 16, 412-434.

Howitt, D. & Owusu-Bempah, J. (1990) Racism in a British Journal? The Psychologist 3, 396-400

Levi-Strauss, C. (1983) Le Regard Eloigne Paris: Plon.

Moreh, J. (1988) Group behaviour and rationality. Social Science Information 27, 99-118.

Ray, J.J. (1971) "A new measure of conservatism" -- Its limitations. British Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 10, 79-80.

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

Ray, J.J. (1984). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.

Tajfel, H. & Fraser, C. (1978) Introducing social psychology Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin.

Van den Berghe, P.L. (1981) The ethnic phenomenon N.Y.: Elsevier

Volkan, V.D. (1985) The need to have enemies and allies: A developmental approach. Political Psychology 6, 219-247.

Volkan, V. (1988) The need to have enemies and allies: From clinical practice to international relationships Dunmore, Pa.: Jason Aronson.

Wilson, G.D. & Patterson, J.R. (1970) The conservatism scale Windsor, U.K.: N.F.E.R.

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