American Dilemma: The Negro problem and Modern Democracy

American Dilemma: The Negro problem and Modern Democracy

Harper and Brothers Publishing
822 pages

Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987)

With the Assistance of

Richard Sterner and Arnold Rose

This landmark effort to understand African-American people in the New World provides deep insight into the contradictions of American democracy as well as a study of a people within a people. The touchstone of this classic is the jarring discrepancy between the American creed of respect for the inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and opportunity for all and the pervasive violations of the dignity of blacks.


  • Foreword, by Frederick P. Keppel
  • Author’s Preface
  • Introduction
    1. The Negro Problem as a Moral Issue
    2. Valuations and Beliefs
    3. A White Man’s Problem
    4. Not an Isolated Problem
    5. Some Further Notes on the Scope and Direction of This Study
    6. A Warning to the Reader
    • Chapter 1. American Ideals and the American Conscience
      1. Unity of Ideals and Diversity of Culture
      2. American Nationalism
      3. Some Historical Reflections
      4. The Roots of the American Creed in the Philosophy of Enlightenment
      5. The Roots in Christianity
      6. The Roots in English Law
      7. American Conservatism
      8. The American Conception of Law and Order
      9. Natural Law and American Puritanism
      10. The Faltering Judicial Order
      11. Intellectual Defeatism
      12. “Lip-Service”
      13. Value Premises in This Study
    • Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem
      1. On the Minds of the Whites
      2. To the Negroes Themselves
      3. Explaining the Problem Away
      4. Explorations in Escape
      5. The Etiquette of Discussion
      6. The Convenience of Ignorance
      7. Negro and White Voices
      8. The North and the South
    • Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem
      1. American Minority Problems
      2. The Anti-Amalgamation Doctrine
      3. The White Man’s Theory of Color Caste
      4. The “Rank Order of Discriminations”
      5. Relationships between Lower Class Groups
      6. The Manifoldness and the Unity of the Negro Problem
      7. The Theory of the Vicious Circle
      8. A Theory of Democracy
    • Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs
      1. Biology and Moral Equalitarianism
      2. The Ideological Clash in America
      3. The Ideological Compromise
      4. Reflections in Science
      5. The Position of the Negro Writers
      6. The Racial Beliefs of the Unsophisticated
      7. Beliefs with a Purpose
      8. Specific Rationalization Needs
      9. Rectifying Beliefs
      10. The Study of Beliefs
    • Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry
      1. The American Definition of “Negro”
      2. African Ancestry
      3. Changes in Physical Appearance
      4. Early Miscegenation
      5. Ante-Bellum Miscegenation
      6. Miscegenation in Recent Times
      7. Passing
      8. Social and Biological Selection
      9. Present and Future Genetic Composition Trends
    • Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics
      1. Physical Traits
      2. Biological Susceptibility to Disease
      3. Psychic Traits
      4. Frontiers of Constructive Research
    • Chapter 7. Population
      1. The Growth of the Negro Population
      2. Births and Deaths
      3. Summary
      4. Ends and Means of Population Policy
      5. Controlling the Death Rate
      6. The Case for Controlling the Negro Birth Rate
      7. Birth Control Facilities Tor Negroes
    • Chapter 8. Migration
      1. Overview
      2. A Closer View
      3. The Great Migration to the Urban North
      4. Continued Northward Migration
      5. The Future of Negro Migration
    • Chapter 9. Economic Inequality
      1. Negro Poverty
      2. Our Main Hypothesis: The Vicious Circle
      3. The Value Premises
      4. The Conflict of Valuations
    • Chapter 10. The Tradition of Slavery
      1. Economic Exploitation
      2. Slavery and Caste
      3. The Land Problem
      4. The Tenancy Problem
    • Chapter 11. The Southern Plantation Economy and the Negro Farmer
      1. Southern Agriculture as a Problem
      2. Overpopulation and Soil Erosion
      3. Tenancy, Credit and Cotton
      4. The Boll Weevil
      5. Main Agricultural Classes
      6. The Negro Landowner
      7. Historical Reasons for the Relative Lack of Negro Farm Owners
      8. Tenants and Wage Laborers
      9. The Plantation Tenant
    • Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture During the Thirties: Trends and Policies
      1. Agricultural Trends during the ‘Thirties
      2. The Disappearing Sharecropper
      3. The Role of the A.A.A. in Regard to Cotton
      4. A.A.A. and the Negro
      5. The Local Administration of the A.A.A.
      6. Mechanization
      7. Labor Organizations
      8. The Dilemma of Agricultural Policy
      9. Economic Evaluation of the A.A.A.
      10. Social Evaluation of the A.A.A.
      11. Constructive Measures
      12. Farm Security Programs
    • Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture
      1. Perspective on the Urbanization of the Negro People
      2. In the South
      3. A Closer View
      4. Southern Trends during the Thirties
      5. In the North
      6. A Closer View on Northern Trends
      7. The Employment Hazards of Unskilled Work
      8. The Size of the Negro Labor Force and Negro Employment
      9. Negro and White Unemployment
    • Chapter 14. The Negro in Business, the Professions, Public Service and Other White Collar Occupations
      1. Overview
      2. The Negro in Business
      3. Negro Finance
      4. The Negro Teacher
      5. The Negro Minister
      6. The Negro in Medical Professions
      7. Other Negro Professionals
      8. Negro Officials and White Collar Workers in Public Service
      9. Negro Professionals on the Stage, Screen and Orchestra
      10. Note on Shady Occupations
    • Chapter 15. The Negro in the Public Economy
      1. The Public Budget
      2. Discrimination in Public Service
      3. Education
      4. Public Health
      5. Recreational Facilities
      6. Public Housing Policies
      7. Social Security and Public Assistance
      8. Specialized Social Welfare Programs during the Period After
      9. The Social Security Program
      10. Assistance to Special Groups
      11. Work Relief
      12. Assistance to Youth
      13. General Relief and Assistance in Kind
    • Chapter 16. Income, Consumption and Housing
      1. Family Income
      2. Income and Family Size
      3. The Family Budget
      4. Budget Items
      5. Food Consumption
      6. Housing Conditions
    • Chapter 17. The Mechanics of Economic Discrimination as a Practical Problem
      1. The Practical Problem
      2. The Ignorance and Lack of Concern of Northern Whites
      3. Migration Policy
      4. The Regular Industrial Labor Market in the North
      5. The Problem of Vocational Training
      6. The Self-Perpetuating Color Bar
      7. A Position or “Indifferent Equilibrium”
      8. In the South
    • Chapter 18. Pre-War Labor Market Controls and Their Consequences for the Negro
      1. The Wages and Hours Law and the Dilemma of the Marginal Worker
      2. Other Economic Policies
      3. Labor Unions and the Negro
      4. A Weak Movement Getting Strong Powers
    • Chapter 19. The War Boom—and Thereafter
      1. The Negro Wage Earner and the War Boom
      2. A Closer View
      3. Government Policy in Regard to the Negro in War Production
      4. The Negro in the Armed Forces
      5. …And Afterwards?
    • Chapter 20. Underlying Factors
      1. The Negro in American Politics and as a Political Issue
      2. The Wave of Democracy and the Need for Bureaucracy
      3. The North and the South
      4. The Southern Defense Ideology
      5. The Reconstruction Amendments
      6. Memories of Reconstruction
      7. The Tradition of Illegality
    • Chapter 21. Southern Conservatism and Liberalism
      1. The “Solid South”
      2. Southern Conservatism
      3. Is the South Fascist?
      4. The Changing South
      5. Southern Liberalism
    • Chapter 22. Political Practices Today
      1. The Southern Political Scene
      2. Southern Techniques for Disfranchising the Negroes
      3. The Negro Vote m the South
      4. The Negro in Northern Politics
      5. What the Negro Gets Out of Politics
    • Chapter 23. Trends and Possibilities
      1. The Negro’s Political Bargaining Power
      2. The Negro’s Party Allegiance
      3. Negro Suffrage in the South as an Issue
      4. An Unstable Situation
      5. The Stake of the North
      6. Practical Conclusions
    • Chapter 24. Inequality of Justice
      1. Democracy and Justice
      2. Relative Equality in the North
      3. The Southern Heritage
    • Chapter 25. The Police and Other Public Contacts
      1. Local Petty Officials
      2. The Southern Policeman
      3. The Policeman in the Negro Neighborhood
      4. Trends and Outlook
      5. Another Type of Public Contact
    • Chapter 26. Courts, Sentences and Prisons
      1. The Southern Courts
      2. Discrimination in Court
      3. Sentences and Prisons
      4. Trends and Outlook
    • Chapter 27. Violence and Intimidation
      1. The Pattern of Violence
      2. Lynching
      3. The Psychopathology of Lynching
      4. Trends and Outlook
      5. Riots
    • Chapter 28. The Basis of Social Inequality
      1. The Value Premise
      2. a. The One-Sidedness of the System of Segregation
      3. The Beginning in Slavery
      4. The Jim Crow Laws
      5. Beliefs Supporting Social Inequality
      6. The Popular Theory of “No Social Equality”
      7. Critical Evaluation of the “No Social Equality” Theory
      8. Attitudes among Different Classes of Whites in the South
      9. Social Segregation and Discrimination in the North
    • Chapter 29. Patterns of Social Segregation and Discrimination
      1. Facts and Beliefs Regarding Segregation and Discrimination
      2. Segregation and Discrimination in interpersonal Relations
      3. Housing Segregation
      4. Sanctions for Residential Segregation
      5. The General Character of Institutional Segregation
      6. Segregation in Specific Types of Institutions
    • Chapter 30. Effects of Social Inequality
      1. The Incidence of Social Inequality
      2. Increasing Isolation
      3. Interracial Contacts
      4. The Factor of Ignorance
      5. Present Dynamics
    • Chapter 31. Caste and Class
      1. The Concepts “Caste” and “Class”
      2. The “Meaning” of the Concepts “Caste” and “Class”
      3. The Caste Struggle
      4. Crossing the Caste Line
    • Chapter 32. The Negro Class Structure
      1. The Negro Class Order in the American Caste System
      2. Caste Determines Class
      3. Color and Class
      4. The Classes in the Negro Community
    • Chapter 33. The American Pattern of Individual Leadership and Mass Passivity
      1. “Intelligent Leadership”
      2. “Community Leaders”
      3. Mass Passivity
      4. The Patterns Exemplified in Politics and throughout the American Social Structure
    • Chapter 34. Accommodating Leadership
      1. Leadership and Caste
      2. The Interests of Whites and Negroes with Respect to Negro leadership
      3. In the North and on the National Scene
      4. The “Glass Plate”
      5. Accommodating Leadership and Class
      6. Several Qualifications
      7. Accommodating Leaders in the North
      8. The Glamour Personalities
    • Chapter 35. The Negro Protest
      1. The Slave Revolts
      2. The Negro Abolitionists and Reconstruction Politicians
      3. The Tuskegee Compromise
      4. The Spirit of Niagara and Harper’s Ferry
      5. The Protest Is Still Rising
      6. The Shock of the First World War and the Post-War Crisis
      7. The Garvey Movement
      8. Post-War Radicalism among Negro Intellectuals
      9. Negro History and Culture
      10. The Great Depression and the Second World War
    • Chapter 36. The Protest Motive and Negro Personality
      1. A Mental Reservation
      2. The Struggle Against Defeatism
      3. The Struggle for Balance
      4. Negro Sensitiveness
      5. Negro Aggression
      6. Upper Class Reactions
      7. The “Function” of Racial Solidarity
    • Chapter 37. Compromise Leadership
      1. The Daily Compromise
      2. The Vulnerability of the Negro Leader
      3. Impersonal Motives
      4. The Protest Motive
      5. The Double Role
      6. Negro Leadership Techniques
      7. Moral Consequences
      8. Leadership Rivalry
      9. Qualifications
      10. In Southern Cities
      11. In the North
      12. On the National Scene
    • Chapter 38. Negro Popular Theories
      1. Instability
      2. Negro Provincialism
      3. The Thinking on the Negro Problem
      4. Courting the “Best People Among the Whites”
      5. The Doctrine of Labor Solidarity
      6. Some Critical Observations
      7. The Pragmatic “Truth” of the Labor Solidarity Doctrine
      8. “The Advantages of the Disadvantages”
      9. Condoning Segregation
      10. Boosting Negro Business
      11. Criticism of Negro Business Chauvinism
      12. “Back to Africa”
      13. Miscellaneous Ideologies
    • Chapter 39. Negro Improvement and Protest Organizations
      1. A General American Pattern
      2. Nationalist Movements
      3. Business and Professional Organizations
      4. The National Negro Congress Movement
      5. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
      6. The N.A.A.C.P. Branches
      7. The N.A.A.C.P. National Office
      8. The Strategy of the N.A.A.C.P.
      9. Critique of the N.A.A.C.P.
      10. The Urban League
      11. The Commission on Interracial Cooperation
      12. The Negro Organizations during the War
      13. Negro Strategy
    • Chapter 40. The Negro Church
      1. Non-Political Agencies for Negro Concerted Action
      2. Some Historical Notes
      3. The Negro Church and the General American Pattern of
      4. Religious Activity
      5. A Segregated Church
      6. Its Weakness
      7. Trends and Outlook
    • Chapter 41. The Negro School
      1. Negro Education as Concerted Action
      2. Education in American Thought and Life
      3. The Development of Negro Education in the South
      4. The Whites’ Attitudes toward Negro Education
      5. “Industrial” versus “Classical” Education of Negroes
      6. Negro Attitudes
      7. Trends and Problems
    • Chapter 42. The Negro Press
      1. An Organ for the Negro Protest
      2. The Growth of the Negro Press
      3. Characteristics of the Negro Press
      4. The Controls of the Negro Press
      5. Outlook
    • Chapter 43. Institutions
      1. The Negro Community as a Pathological Form of an American Community
      2. The Negro Family
      3. The Negro Church in the Negro Community
      4. The Negro School and Negro Education
      5. Voluntary Associations
    • Chapter 44. Non-Institutional Aspects of the Negro Community
      1. “Peculiarities” of Negro Culture and Personality
      2. Crime
      3. Mental Disorders and Suicide
      4. Recreation
      5. Negro Achievements
    • Chapter 45. America Again at the Crossroads in the Negro Problem
      1. The Negro Problem and the War
      2. Social Trends
      3. The Decay of the Caste Theory
      4. Negroes in the War Crisis
      5. The War and the Whites
      6. The North Moves Toward Equality
      7. Tension in the South
      8. International Aspects
      9. Making the Peace
      10. America’s Opportunity
  • Appendix 1. A Methodological Note on Valuations and Beliefs
    1. The Mechanism of Rationalization
    2. Theoretical Critique of the Concept “Mores”
    3. Valuation Dynamics
  • Appendix 2. A Methodological Note on Facts and Valuations in Social Science
    1. Biases in the Research on the American Negro Problem
    2. Methods of Mitigating Biases in Social Science
    3. The History and Logic of the Hidden Valuations in Social Science
    4. The Points of View Adopted in This Book
  • Appendix 3. A Methodological Note on the Principle of Accumulation
  • Appendix 4. Note on the Meaning of Regional Terms as Used in This Book
  • Appendix 5. A Parallel to the Negro Problem
  • Appendix 6. Pre-War Conditions of the Negro Wage Earner in Selected Industries and Occupations
    1. General Characteristics of Negro Jobs
    2. Domestic Service
    3. Other Service Occupations
    4. Turpentine Farms
    5. Lumber
    6. The Fertilizer Industry
    7. Longshore Work.
    8. Building Workers
    9. Railroad Workers
    10. Tobacco Workers
    11. Textile Workers
    12. Coal Miners
    13. Iron and Steel Workers
    14. Automobile Workers
    15. The Slaughtering and Meat Packing Industry
  • Appendix 7. Distribution of Negro Residences in Selected Cities
  • Appendix 8. Research on Caste and Class in a Negro Community
  • Appendix 9. Research on Negro Leadership
  • Appendix 10. Quantitative Studies of Race Attitudes
    1. Existing Studies of Race Attitudes
    2. The Empirical Study of Valuations and Beliefs
    3. “Personal” and “Political” Opinions
    4. The Practical Study of Race Prejudice
  • List of Books, Pamphlets, Periodicals, and Other Material Referred to in This Book
  • Numbered Footnotes
  • Index

From pages 102-106

If white Americans can believe that Negro Americans belong to a lower biological species than they themselves, this provides a motivation for their doctrine that the white race should be kept pure and that amalgamation should, by all means, be prevented. The theory of the inborn inferiority of the Negro people is, accordingly, used as an argument for the antiamalgamation doctrine. This doctrine, in its turn, has, as we have seen, a central position in the American system of color caste. The belief in biological inferiority is thus another basic support, in addition to the no-social-equality, anti-amalgamation doctrine, of the system of segregation and discrimination. Whereas the anti-amalgamation doctrine has its main importance in the “social” field, the belief in the Negro’s biological inferiority is basic to discrimination in all fields. White Americans have an interest in deprecating the Negro race in so far as they identify themselves with the prevailing system of color caste. They have such an interest, though in a lower degree, even if their only attachment to the caste order is that they do not stand up energetically as individuals and citizens to eradicate it…

…In adhering to this biological rationalization, specified in the six points stated above, the white man meets certain difficulties. A factual difficulty to begin with is that individual Negroes and even larger groups of Negroes often, in spite of the handicaps they encounter, show themselves to be better than they ought to be according to the popular theory. A whole defense system serves to minimize this disturbance of the racial dogma, which insists that all Negroes are inferior. From one point of view, segregation of the Negro people fulfills a function in this defense system. It is, of course, not consciously devised for this purpose, and it serves other purposes as well, but this does not make its defense function less important. Segregation isolates in particular the middle and upper class Negroes,” and thus permits the ordinary white man in America to avoid meeting an educated Negro. The systematic tendency to leave the Negro out when discussing public affairs and to avoid mentioning anything about Negroes in the press except their crimes also serves this purpose. The aggressive and derogatory altitude toward “uppity” Negroes and, in particular, the tendency to relegate all educated Negroes to this group also belongs to the defense system.

Since he has a psychological need to believe the popular theory of Negro racial inferiority, it is understandable why the ordinary white man is disincline to hear about good qualities or achievements of Negroes. ‘The merits of Negro soldiers should not be too warmly praised, especially in the presence of Americans,” reads one of the advices which the French Military Mission, stationed with the American Expeditionary Army during the First World War, circulated but later withdrew. It should be added that white people who work to help the Negro people and to improve race relations see the strategic importance of this factor and direct their work toward spreading information about Negroes of quality among the whites.

Another difficulty has always been the mulatto. White Americans want to keep biological distance from the out-race and will, therefore, be tempted to discount the proportion of mulattoes and believe that a greater part of the Negro people is pure bred than is warranted by the facts. A sort of collective guilt on the part of white people for the large-scale miscegenation, which has so apparently changed the racial character of the Negro people enforces this interest.

The literature on the Negro problem strengthens this hypothesis. Only some exceptional authors, usually Negroes, gave more adequate estimates of the proportion of mixed breeds, and it was left to Hrdlicka and Herskovits in the late ‘twenties to set this whole problem on a more scientific basis. The under-enumeration of mulattoes by the census takers decade after decade and also, until recently, the rather uncritical utilization of this material, indicate a tendency toward bias. The observations of the present author have, practically without exception, indicated that the nonexpert white population shows a systematic tendency grossly to underestimate the number of mulattoes in the Negro population.

It may, of course, be said against this assumption of a hidden purpose that one should not assume the ability of uninformed and untrained persons to distinguish a mulatto from a pure bred Negro. But the facts of historical and actual miscegenation are fairly well known, at least in the South, and are discussed with interest everywhere. And if a wrong estimate systematical goes in the same direction, there is reason to ask for a cause. It has also been observed that the ordinary white American gets disturbed when encountering the new scientific estimates that the great majority of American Negroes are not of pure African descent. Similarly, the ordinary white American is disturbed when he hears that Negroes sometimes pass for white. He wants, and he must want, to keep biological distance.

But the mulatto is a disturbance to the popular race theory not only because of his numbers. The question is also raised: Is the mulatto a deteriorated or an improved Negro? In fact, there seems never to have been popular agreement among white Americans whether the mulatto is worse than the pure bred Negro, or whether he is better because of his partially white ancestry. The former belief should per se strengthen the anti-amalgamation doctrine, in fact, make adherence to it to the interest of the entire society. The second belief can serve a purpose of explaining away Negro accomplishments which are, with few exceptions, made by mulattoes and which then could be ascribed to the white blood. Actually, I have often heard the same man use both arguments…

Read the entire book here.