cover image Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle Between Blacks and Whites

Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle Between Blacks and Whites

Paul L. Wachtel, L. Wachtel Paul. Routledge, $39.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-415-92000-1

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. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (Mar.)