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17.4: Connections Across Cultures- Personality within Society

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    John Dollard was one of three theorists whom we will cover in this book who made significant contributions to studying racial issues and minority groups. However, unlike Erik Erikson (see Chapter 7) and Gordon Allport (see Chapter 13), both of whom addressed these issues later in their careers, Dollard (trained in sociology and anthropology) began these studies before he made his significant contributions to psychology. This fact had an important influence on his later approach to how personality is learned, and the use he and Miller made of cross-cultural examples in the books they published together. Indeed, as something of a prelude to his work with Miller, Dollard ends the book Caste and Class in a Southern Town (Dollard, 1937) with the following passage:

    …It is one of the urgent needs of social psychology to see the life-history problem against the background of class structure and to get life records from persons who are also described from the sociological standpoint. (pg. 459; Dollard, 1937)

    Dollard made an important distinction between class and caste, as it applies to Blacks and Whites living in the Southern United States in the 1930s. Class generally refers to a group of people of similar economic and political status, such as lower (or working) class, middle class or upper class. A caste is a group defined by some social and/or hereditary factor, such as being ethnically Black or White. There are lower class Blacks and Whites, and there are middle class Blacks and Whites. However, in our society it has been the Blacks who were most dramatically oppressed, through the institution of slavery. Thus, Blacks have been relegated to a lower caste, regardless of whether their economic success qualifies them for middle class status, or even whether they are wealthy. This has had a detrimental influence on family structure in the Black community, and with it an important influence of personality development:

    Personality formation must be intelligible in terms of patterns in the family. The study of the family as a formal unit has been slighted in this research, but some things are known. One is that the lower-class Negro family differs from the middle-class white family and seems by comparison to be “disorganized.” This is undoubtedly a result of the fact that during slavery days it was impossible for Negroes to approximate white family structure. (pp. 413-414; Dollard, 1937)

    Dollard discusses a variety of ways in which White plantation owners worked to eliminate all trace of the African family structure and culture among their slaves, not the least of which was the dramatic removal of them from Africa to America. In many ways the slave owners encouraged pleasure-seeking, lack of discipline, and independence from family. These values helped to keep male slaves somewhat satisfied in spite of their conditions, and they encouraged the independence of children so that they might begin working at a young age (Dollard, 1937). These values slowly established a new culture for Blacks in America, often with negative consequences. After the Civil War, some Blacks also began to adopt the values of the White culture, but they were not accepted by many people in America. This conflict is what ultimately led the Supreme Court of the United States, in the 1954 ruling Brown v. Board Education, to declare that separate is not equal.

    Dollard also co-authored Children of Bondage, with a social anthropologist named Allison Davis (Davis & Dollard, 1940). Davis was one of the first Black professors to receive tenure at a university that was not an historically Black institution (the University of Chicago). He successfully challenged the racial bias in IQ tests of the past, helping to eliminate their use in the school systems of many cities, and he was recognized by the U. S. government with a postage stamp in a series that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson. In their work together, Davis and Dollard focus on describing the personalities and socialization of eight adolescent Blacks in the deep south. They emphasize the demands placed on these youth by both their particular caste position and the social class into which they were born. Individuals may attempt to rebel against their feelings of inferiority with regard to class, and class mobility is possible, but not so with one’s racial identity:

    In studying the status controls operating upon an individual one finds that most persons in our society are disposed to conceal, even from themselves, any inferiority in their social rank…Refusal to acknowledge one’s inferior status, and the building of defenses to decrease anxiety on this score are especially complex with regard to class status…Color caste, however, is so clearly and so rigidly defined that persons in the lower-caste society (as well as the general American reader of this book) will exhibit much less psychological resistance to the fact of caste status than to that of class position. (pg. 17; Davis & Dollard, 1940)

    It was within this context, recognizing caste and class as socializing factors influencing personality development, that Dollard went on to study learning theories related to personality development:

    “But what,” one may ask, “is the practical use of studying these class patterns of behavior?”…what good is such knowledge to the student of human nature, and to our society?…is it a valuable tool which will help us to predict behavior in any given situation and in the end to change it?

    The writers’ studies of the class conditioning of Negro children have convinced them…that when properly understood the sanctions of the class position, as enforced by the family, the clique, and the larger class environment, are among the most important controls in the formation of human habits. In order to understand the powerful grip of this class behavior, we must first examine the social environment in which Negro children learn their habits and the specific methods by which this learning is reinforced. (pg. 259; Davis & Dollard, 1940)

    This page titled 17.4: Connections Across Cultures- Personality within Society is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mark D. Kelland (OpenStax CNX) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.