The Rise and Fall of Race Psychology in the Study of African Americans

Daryl Michael Scott

in The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195188059
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

The Rise and Fall of Race Psychology in the Study of African Americans


From the 1880s to the late 1960s, a period that ranges from the ascendancy of white supremacy to the Black Power movement, the psychology and culture of people of African descent in America has been viewed primarily through the prisms of deviance or deficits. Within the biological paradigm in the late nineteenth century, “race psychology,” as it was sometimes referred to, was said to govern the behavior of all races. A product of biology, the behavior of African Americans was understood to tend toward the maladjusted and antisocial. During the Progressive era, social, as well as biological, explanations began to appear, challenging those who would reduce black behavior to innate traits. The cultural paradigm reached ascendancy in the 1930s, but with it came no decisive relief from the notion that black personality was problematic—it remained the interpretation stalking the research of yet another generation. In the post-World War II era, the racial paradigm had been abandoned, but the view of black as pathological only increased—indeed, culture proved more deleterious than biology in engendering pathology.

Keywords: African Americans; race psychology; white supremacy; Black Power movement; biological paradigm; Progressive era

Article.  11962 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Political Behaviour

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »