Changing Hearts and Minds Won’t Stop Police Violence

tags: racism, Police

Matthew F. Delmont is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished professor of history at Dartmouth College and author of the upcoming book Half American: African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad.

While African Americans waged a Double Victory campaign against racism at home and fascism abroad, white politicians and social scientists turned their attention to what they came to call “race relations.” Gunnar Myrdal’s “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” (1944) received extensive national attention, and more than 100 local, state and national interracial commissions, human relations committees and fellowship groups formed to promote better race relations.

These committees debated race and published bookcases full of well-intentioned studies and educational materials. They emphasized a “hearts and minds” approach to the “race problem,” one that prioritized education and moral persuasion rather than specific policies or legislation to challenge racial structures. This way of discussing race was attractive to many white Americans because it allowed them to condemn individual prejudice without giving up their privileged access to better jobs, housing and schools.

But there was a fundamental flaw with this strategy and the studies and reports that underpinned it. Despite all of the words spilled, they had little to say about white supremacy. The race relations model obscured potential frameworks for understanding that it was pervasive structural racism — legal barriers that doomed African Americans to inferior housing and schools, less accumulated wealth, lower-paying jobs and more — and not individual prejudiced attitudes that “curdled the morale” of black Americans, as philosopher Alain Locke put it.

A more productive language for understanding racism also emerged during the World War II era. Unlike Myrdal’s “hearts and minds” approach to racial discrimination, historian and activist Rayford Logan framed racism in terms of power and the unequal allocation of resources and life chances. In 1944, he published an edited collection, titled “What the Negro Wants,” with other prominent African American writers.

Logan’s contribution, “The Negro Wants First-Class Citizenship,” outlined six fundamental civil rights demands: “Equality of opportunity; Equal pay for equal work; Equal protection of the laws; Equality of suffrage; Equal recognition of the dignity of the human being; and Abolition of public segregation.” The activists identified structural racism, before it was called by that name, and outlined specific actions needed to address the problem.

Read entire article at Washington Post

comments powered by Disqus