Cover image for Race in the mind of America : breaking the vicious circle between Blacks and whites
Race in the mind of America : breaking the vicious circle between Blacks and whites
Wachtel, Paul L., 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Routledge, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 329 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Introduction: the ironic dynamics of race -- Talking about racism: how our dialogue gets short-circuited -- Blaming the victim? -- The debate over culture -- Ideology and IQ: moving beyond the Bell curve -- Is racism inevitable? Motivational foundations of white racial attitudes -- Prejudice without intention? "Cognitive" foundations of white racial attitudes -- The complexities of the black response to oppression: strengths and vulnerabilities, pride and self-doubt -- Integration, assimilation, and separatism: the ambiguities of identity -- Crime and the multiple causes and effects of inequality -- Separate neighborhoods, separate destinies -- Beyond affirmative action: toward a resolution of our divisions -- Breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage: head starts, handicaps, and the importance of ongoing life circumstances -- Beyond black and white.

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E185.615 .W25 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Internationally recognized psychologist Paul L. Wachtel sheds new light on the psychological foundations of our nation's racial impasse and applies his pathbreaking "vicious circle" approach to help resolve it. This timely and fascinating analysis shows how the ways we attempt to cope with racial tensions and inequalities often lead to the perpetuation of our difficulties rather than their resolution. Understanding the ironies that characterize contemporary race relations is the first step toward extricating our nation from the vicious circle.

Both controversial and healing, Race in the Mind of America challenges the orthodoxies that shape black and white opinion and liberal and conservative policies while sensitively exploring the way the world looks to both sides and why it looks that way. Wachtel probes the daily experiences of blacks and whites, shedding new light on how individual experiences and larger social, historical and economic forces continually re-create each other. In illustrating how blacks and whites get caught in vicious circles that sustain the very behaviors and attitudes they wish would change, Wachtel also points toward the concrete solutions to our seemingly enduring dilemmas and shows how to move beyond the adversarial rhetoric that divides us.

Author Notes

Paul L. Wachtel is CUNY Distinguished Professor and Acting Director of the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at the City College of New York. He is author of several books including The Poverty of Affluence (1983) and Psychoanalysis, Behavior Therapy, and the Relational World (1997). He lives in New York City, where he is also a practicing psychotherapist.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wachtel focuses on the impasse in race relations in America. Many Americans fail to recognize that reactions to discrimination often support the initial stereotype that was the basis for the discrimination. Wachtel notes a vicious cycle of racism, provoking negative responses that tend to feed the original biases. For example, black youth (and others) responding to, and in anticipation of, discrimination often display behavior reasonably perceived as antisocial. Whites often anticipate certain negative stereotypical behavior and project that anticipation in the way they treat minorities, eliciting responses that seem to justify such racist behavior. Although the vicious cycle would seem to suggest little hope for change, Wachtel says the actions and reactions are learned, not inherent. The enormous cost of social problems that result from racism and the opportunity cost of ignoring such problems should prompt recognition of the need to change those learned behaviors. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Just when you think everything has been said about race in America, here is another book to say it again, this time from a psychological point of view. Psychotherapist Wachtel uses his "minority" City College students in lab experiments that are the basis for his theory that our present racial impasse is perpetuated by vicious circles. For instance, he writes that "stereotypes about black intellectual inferiority can lead to black withdrawal from intellectual pursuits which in turn leads to failure to develop skills to contradict the stereotype." Wachtel argues that much of what we describe as racism may more accurately be understood as "indifference" or "symbolic racism," whereby whites' principles of individuality, work ethic and discipline together with unconscious "antiblack feeling" shape race-based attitudes toward busing or affirmative action. Citing sources as disparate as the Moynihan Report and The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wachtel says that if blacks "understood" these "impersonal" factors, they would gain a new way of seeing "the troubling behavior they encounter from whites." He urges setting up "magnet neighborhoods" and voluntary enclaves "designed to assure a genuine racial mix" to end entrenched residential segregation. At times, Wachtel's argument depends on a language of obfuscation in its sly projection of black inferiority, as when he explains that "middle-class blacks often work or go to school with whites whose grades are significantly higher and worry they are only in a certain position because of affirmative action." In the end, his contention that "understanding how stereotyping derives from our common human heritage will modify how stereotyping feels and is responded to" seems overly optimistic. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Wachtel, a distinguished psychologist, argues that blacks and whites have been engaged in a complex and fatal dance for a very long time, performed over and over again in a vicious circle and not recognized as a circle. Gunnar Myrdal's classic An American Dilemma (1944) was also informed by a theory of vicious circles. Most social science research on race relations has emphasized groups and social forces rather than individuals. Wachtel's analysis is psychological and focuses on other aspects. Although psychological studies of social issues can be reductionist, Wachtel's explanations are grounded in their social and historical context and, in turn, contribute to the understanding of that context. The author discusses the role of vicious circles in the present racial impasse, the impact on the circles of years of injustice to African Americans, and the problems both sides have in dealing with that impact. The need of both sides to avoid guilt and shame make it difficult to recognize the role each plays in maintaining the circles. Throughout, Wachtel's primary concern is to bring to the fore the thoughts and feelings that have unknowingly shaped society's approach to racial divisions. All levels. A. A. Sio; Colgate University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Ironic Dynamics of Race
Part 1 Impediments to Dialogue: Why We Talk Past Each Other
2 Talking About Racism: How Our Dialogue Gets Short-Circuited
3 Blaming the Victim?
4 The Debate Over Culture
5 Ideology and IQ: Moving Beyond the Bell Curve
Part 2 Prejudice Vulnerability, and Identity: Psychological Foundations of Our Racial Impasse
6 Is Racism Inevitable? Motivational Foundations of White Racial Attitudes
7 Prejudice Without Intention? "Cognitive" Foundations of White Racial Attitudes
8 The Complexities of the Black Response to Oppression: Strengths and Vulnerabilities, Pride and Self-Doubt
9 Integration, Assimilation, and Separatism: The Ambiguities of Identity
Part 3 The Seamless Web of Problems and Solutions
10 Crime and the Multiple Causes and Effects of Inequality
11 Separate Neighborhoods, Separate Destinies
12 Beyond Affirmative Action: Toward a Resolution of Our Divisions
13 Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Disadvantage: Head Starts, Handicaps, and the Importance of Ongoing Life Circumstances
14 Beyond Black and White