Science in Christian Perspective


Sociology and Race*
Instructor in Sociology, 
Wheaton College

From: JASA 4 (March 1952): 8-10.
*A Paper Presented at the Sixth Annual Convention of the American 'Scientific Affiliation in New York, N. Y. August 29-31, 1951.

Two news items in recent issues of TIME Magazine point up one of America's most persistent problems. One item related a vicious outburst of violence in Cicero, Illinois. A Negro had been rented an apartment in a white section. The other item stated that 96% of American Negroes and whites worship in separate churches due to segregation policies. I suppose most Americans deplore the ugly violence in the Cicero incident. Yet, how many deplore the more subtle manifestations of discrimination enacted in the religious realm? The zealots who repaired the breach in the color barrier in Cicero are hardly to be more condemned than those who build it day by day in business, in education, and in the church.

What is the nature of a society in which such widespread group antagonism exists? Since sociologists study such questions, we shall discuss in this paper (1) the general orientation of sociologists, (2) the concepts which appear to be of major significance for the analysis of race relations ' and (3) some implications for those interested in reducing racial tension.

The general orientation of contemporary sociologists is that which considers the nature of society as different from the mere sum of individuals who compose that society. Not that a group is something other than the individuals in it, but that the separate individual looked at without the context of family, friends, club, church, school, professional group or labor union, and community is an abstraction unknown to reality. As Charles Cooley has observed, the individual and the group are but two sides of the same coin.

The sociologist elects to study this group aspect. Some typical areas of study are (1) the relationship of the individual to the group (for example, the socialization of the child), (2) the patterns of action of people in groups (for example, the way the usually reserved professor feels led to act at parties and, how he kicks himself all the way home for having indulged in that lowest form of humor: punning), (3) the pattern of group structure (for example, such community constellations as the country club set and the people from the other side of the tracks), and (4) relations between groups (for example, the strange honor among thieves when face to face with the minions of the law). This list of typical sociological interests is, of course, not exhaustive.

The interest in recent years in the study of race relations as a problem of intergroup relations is an indication of the growing consciousness of the need to study such relations within a sociological reference. For illustrative purposes we cite the subject of intermarriage of negroes and whites. This has been approached in the past by sociologists and psychologists who make attitude studies. They attempt to probe the behavior and mental processes of individuals isolated from a group reference. E. Franklin Frazier, outstanding negro sociologist, has criticized such an approach as being related only inferentially to the social and economic structure of the white community and almost completely ignoring the social reality called the Negro community and its institutions. He says, "Not only have both whites and negroes been treated as atomized individuals without family relations and social status, but such sociologically relevant factors as the effects of urbanization and mobility upon the character of racial contacts and social status have been left out of account."+

In this discussion of the general orientation of contemporary sociologists, we have mentioned how race relations are viewed as intergroup relations. But, what is the nature of this relationship?

The relationship between negroes and whites is obviously different from, let us say, Baptists and Presbyterians-unless the Baptists are Two Seed in the Spirit Baptists from Chicago's Black Belt and the Presbyterians are First Presbyterians from Chicago's Gold Coast. It is a quasi-caste relationship that characterizes Negro-white relationships. The color line is a barrier of varying heights in the United States. At some places, in some ways, it is insurmountable. In other places, in other ways there is interaction between unequals, even conflict as the negroes strive for equality. Such a relationship is not typical of caste -for there is not the continual striving for equality of castes. Thus the concept of caste does not encompass all negro-white relationships. Yet it serves our initial purpose of indicating the hierarchical arrangement with facets of segregation and superiority. And, the concept of caste serves a second purpose in providing

+E. F. Frazier, "Race Contacts and the Social structure." American Sociological Review, XIV, Feb. 1949, D. 4.

us with a point of departure from which we may develop concepts which will apply to the various facets of race relations. By developing precise concepts we may devise analytical tools which will apply not only to negro-white relations, but all ethnic relations.

A definition of ethnic group is in order here. An ethnic group is any group real or imagined which is responded to as a racial group. This definition allows us to examine beliefs which the anthropologist tells us have no foundation. Whatever men regard as real in their relations with others-regardless of its scientific accuracy-is fair game for the student of human behavior.

We have noted that ethnic relations often have a caste character, but that caste as a concept is inapplicable to many aspects of ethnic relations. So, we turn to other aspects of hierarchical relations in the community at large as they are delineated by sociologists. Here we find barriers not only between black and white, but between high income and low income whites-a class barrier, between high income Gentiles and high income Jews-a status barrier, between high income controllers of the credit system and high income non-controllers-a power barrier. In other words we find ranking along class lines, status lines, and power lines. The ranking places a few people at the top and increases the number of people as the ranking decreases. The three pyramids often coalesce. Just as often they do not-to the Marxists' confusion.

It is the central thesis of this paper that modern sociology, by viewing ethnic relations in the light of the stratification of the community at large, will open a fruitful research area. I should like to express my indebtedness to Professor Seymour Lipset of the Department of Sociology at Columbia University for the following analysis. Prof. Lipset, of course, should not be held responsible for my version of his lectures.

The three variables of class, status, and power were suggested by Max Weber, the late German sociologist. They are now in process of being refined, but for our purposes their gross form will suffice.

Class for Weber is defined as a collectivity possessing similar life chances determined by the operation of the market in the differential distribution of material property. There is no commitment to a certain number of classes. Nor is there a commitment to class consciousness. Class is an objective fact-income or occupation being the two favorite indices.

Status, according to Weber, is social honor or esteem characterized by a style of life. This is a subjective factor. It is easily seen that one may have high class position but lack the parallel high status. Examples would be Negro professionals, the nouveaux riche, and Jewish bankers. Status is used to describe ethnic relations more often than the older term, caste.

Power is our third variable. It is the ability to control the behavior of others. It is usually a derivative of class and status. One, however, does not automatically have power because he has high class and stiatus positions. Control of credit, appointing to public office, decisions by bureaucracies in government administration, labor union leader's strike threats are some of the areas where power operates. We might observe parenthetically that there is no one power control in the United States, but rather a continual battle between labor, business, government, and lesser power groups-including crime syndicates. The coalescence of any of these would pose tremendous problems.

Ethnic differences usually become acute in urbanindustrial centers. We shall note three situations in which the class, status, power analysis may be applied. Little research has been done. The following analysis is tentative.

Situation 1. In 1933 in the city of Newburyport, Mass-the famed "Yankee City" studied so assiduously by Lloyd Warner andcohorts-there was a strike of shoe factory workers. The remarkable thing about this strike was that the strikers' demands had the public support of the Mayor and many upper income people. Such upper class radicalism is unexplained by by the Marxist straight class analysis. What does explain the upper class radicalism is the fact that the shoe factories were largely owned by Jews whose high income put them in a position to seek concomitant status-or social honor. Because the Gentile upper class felt their status in jeopardy they resented the Jews. The Jews had undermined the Gentile status by equaling and even surpassing their class position. Usually the high status groups in the community who cannot prevent the nouveau riche from attaining high class, will form exclusive country clubs, develop Gentile lineage requirements for entrance, and so on, which protects their own power position.

Situation 2. In San Francisco the stereotype of the wealthy powerful Jew has a fair basis if anywhere. Yet anti-Semitism is at a minimum there compared ta other cities in the U.S.A. And, the Jews in San Francisco are fairly small in number. The small amount of discrimination is explained by the fact that the Jews hold the same high position in class, status, and power. What restrains anti-Semitism is that the Jews have power and status. Others accept them. They were in San Francisco from its earliest times. Thus their power has not forged ahead of their status. It is noteworthy that Jewish conservatism, that is, Anti-Zionism, is entrenched here. This is in keeping with their position.

Situation 3. It is a recorded fact that segregated housing areas for Negroes is a characteristic of Northern cities, not cities of the deep South. In New Orleans the typical pattern is dispersion. The southern whites can afford to jeopardize their economic holdings because the Negro has such a clear and rigidly low status, The contiguity is defined differently in the South. Even wet nursing by Negroes for white babies was and is common in the South. In the North the verbal assumption of equality exists and, here, admitting the Negro to proximity involves opening a wedge in the status area. In the South no assumption of equality exists-so no status position is jeopardized.

The growth of restrictive covenants in the North grew with the rise of the Negro middle class. Economic mobility upward allowed Negroes to enter into status -which was resisted. Thus in an open class system the problem arises frequently. Here is the ambivalence from values of equality of opportunity to status hierarchy of color. The status structure is under threat in an open class system. It is little wonder that economic color lines are drawn often. The capitalistic system is probably the greatest force for destroying closed status hierarchy; but it also leads to great tension between those with status to protect and those with status to gain.

In conclusion I should like to note two problems for those interested in reducing racial tension. You may wish to discuss these.

1. Gunnar Myrdal claims that the race problem is a moral problem. What makes a man avoid the clear constitutional provision freedom and equality for all is the fear of what it may cost him in status, in economic holdings, and in power. But these are legitimate needs. It is only in excess-when they hurt others that we criticize them. It is not strange that what keeps man from his fellow men is also what keeps him from God. That the remedy is available in redemption through faith in Christ, I believe. What troubles me is why the obstacles which are removed from the relationship of men to God are apparently still operating on the part of many Christians toward their fellow men. The remedy has been applied spottily. I would suggest a stronger emphasis on the absolute necessity of God's supremacy in every area of Christian life.

2. The second problem is a counterpart to individual redemption. It is social in nature. Individuals may come and go, but the system of class and status arrangements go on. In a social system where upward class mobility occurs frequently enough to threaten the status of entrenched groups tension seems inevitable. Yet this cannot excuse us from present excesses of status protection-that is, when ethnics are deprived of rights guaranteed in the constitution. Of course, one cannot justify a law which forbids a Gentile country club to restrict its membership strategic as the club is in power decisions. But, in areas clearly in the public welfare, one can ask for legal countermeasures which break the following vicious circle: Discrimination against ethnic groups is justified because they are inferior. A barrier is erected which prevents improvement. The inferiority thus induced supports discrimination.

One may not legislate morals-but one can prevent the implementation of immorality.