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.
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.