Destroying Racial Stereotypes

A PROFILE OF THE NEGRO AMERICAN by Thomas F. Pettigrew. Van Nostrand, 250 pp. $5.95.

The Negro Revolution and civil rights in general have been so exhaustively discussed and analyzed during the past year that many people will greet yet another book on the Negro with little interest. But Thomas Pettigrew's short work is quite different from most of the recent civil-rights literature.

Its "profile" of the Negro American is primarily a sociological and psychological one, with little historical or narrative material. The book is, in fact, sandwich-like in its content, consisting of two slices of Pettigrew's social-psychological analysis of the Negro and his environment, wrapped around a completely separate discussion of racial differences.

In the book's middle section, Pettigrew has included in one coherent and scholarly survey all the studies of the past two decades on the existence of racial differences. Presented as a refutation to the "scientific racists" who have recently tried to revive many of the old fears and tales of the Negro's genetic inferiority, this compilation was long overdue, and Pettigrew does an excellent job of organizing the mass of material which has accumulated. Many of the studies, however, have similar findings, and Pettigrew's detailed documentation soon becomes somewhat tiresome.

Perhaps more open to question, but by the same token more interesting, are the book's opening and closing chapters, where Pettigrew presents his view of the Negro American's personality. He contends that "being a Negro in America is less of a racial identity than a necessity to adopt a subordinate social role. The effects of playing this 'Negro' role are profound and lasting." Pettigrew also maintains that the harsh economic and social environment of the Negro has created severe family disorganization.

Another prime factor affecting the Negro American's personality is his reaction to oppression, to the prejudice of the majority. Pettigrew sees the origin of many of the standard Negro stereotypes in four different reactions, which he analyzes with great care.


One can argue with Pettigrew's theories, and many of his conclusions in this section are not adequately documented. But much of his analysis is extremely perceptive. A discussion of the sexual confusion that a hostile environment can cause in the Negro male offers many new insights, as does a summary of the different behavior patterns within the various economic strata of the Negro community.

Unfortunately, the book contains far too much social relations jargon and too many statistics to make pleasant light reading. In fact, if Casey Stengel's memoirs were to appear written in the plodding, colorless prose of an introductory mathematics textbook, it would still be difficult to find a book as unrevealing of the author's character as A Profile. Virtually all of Pettigrew's exuberance, humor, and fondness for improbable metaphor has been carefully excluded. Yet if scholarship has supplanted lively writing, the scholarship is always topnotch and usually provocative.