Commentary Magazine

The Negro's Morale: Group Identification and Protest, by Arnold M. Rose

The Problems of Morale
The Negro’s Morale: Group Identification and Protest.
by Arnold M. Rose.
The University of Minnesota Press. 152 pp. $2.50.


The Commission on Community Interrelations of the American Jewish Congress, which has been studying Jewish group morale, decided that studies in the group morale of other minority groups would be helpful, and asked Professor Rose to consider the group morale of the American Negro. This book is the outcome of his study. Professor Rose uses the terms “group morale” and “group identification” more or less synonymously, and considers group morale to be compounded of group pride and group protest—pride in tradition and in individual and group successes, and protest against suppression, discrimination, and prejudice.

The Negro’s Morale takes up the growth of group identification among American Negroes from before the Civil War, the obstacles in its way, the instruments for its promotion (the press, for example), relations with other subordinate groups (especially the Jews), and the future effects of Negro group identification on intergroup relations. As the author points out, group morale is a phase of the Negro problem almost entirely ignored up to now.

Professor Rose’s major premise is that group morale is both a determinant and a by-product of group status. While under the most extreme conditions of suppression—slavery—no coherent group pride and no effective group protest were possible, the reduction of suppression and discrimination has strengthened Negro group morale. And with additional successes of the movement to remove Negro disabilities, we can expect heightened group morale in the future: “. . . discrimination will decrease slowly and prejudice even more slowly. In that case . . . the trend toward an increasing group indentification would persist. Negroes would become welded in a much more group-conscious and effectively organized group. Although the discrimination which promotes the protest would decrease, the protest itself would increase as Negroes achieved a better position from which to protest. This might almost be said to be one of the unhappy laws of social relations. . . .”



Professor Rose, by articulating this “unhappy law,” raises a number of serious questions concerning the future of American minorities. Professor Rose explains, for example, that Negroes demand of individual Negroes, and especially of Negro leaders, that they never place full confidence in a white man or a white organization; that they do not pass as whites even when that is physically possible; that, in short, their pride in their own group be in some way demonstrated by rejecting the other. Such demands evidence, in Professor Rose’s terms, high group morale; they were not made as strongly as they are today, says Professor Rose, in the decades 1880 to 1910, when morale was very low. As the group status is improved, we thus find the “minority” excluding and rejecting the “majority” (including other “minorities”) with a vigor equaled only by its demand for full acceptance.

Increasing majority acceptance and increasing minority group morale, Professor Rose’s two goals, would thus seem to be compatible trends only within limits. Even today, when Negroes are far short of full equality, what are considered to be necessary accompaniments of high group morale—extreme group pride, sensitivity, defense against assimilation, political coherence—may well serve to block rather than advance group status. And the same is true for other American “minorities.”



There have always been minority leaders who would not agree with Professor Rose that the position of the minority is to any great degree determined by Negro assertiveness, and who consequently could consistently play down the importance of the Negro psychologically arming himself by heightened group morale. In the Booker T. Washington “surrender” period, the Negroes, abandoning group protest, relied upon the good will and the less frequent good efforts of their white friends. Washington and most other Negro leaders of the time underplayed the importance, of a group morale that expressed itself in protest; while minority leaders at the present time, quite on the other side, fail to recognize the subtle but serious difficulties that an extreme group morale imposes upon full group acceptance.

Negroes—in contradistinction, say, to Jews—neither are nor wish to be in any way different from other Americans, culturally, nationally, or religiously, and only possess a racial difference. For this reason, many have argued that full equality must for Negroes imply a total loss of group identity, eventually—for the only meaning of that identity is to fight inequality. As Professor Rose suggests, this would involve loss of personal status for many individual Negro leaders, Negroes who have succeeded in a small way by white standards as professionals and businessmen. Such individuals probably tend to defend the coherence of the group more than those who are less successful, and they tend to neglect the difficulties imposed upon the group by extreme group pride.

Group pride is thus ambiguous in its social role. Even its psychological meaning is not clear-cut and unequivocal. For I do not think, as Professor Rose argues, that group self-hatred is the simple opposite of group pride: it is rather a very important part of it. Among Negro—and Jewish—school children, it has been found, those who recognize their minority status most clearly are also those who feel most ashamed of the low status of their group: in them “group pride” and “self-hatred” seem inextricably mixed.

‘“Group pride” or “group morale” is therefore a more complicated matter than one might imagine from Professor Rose’s schematizations. The book, however, is a good opening for a discussion of some crucial questions.



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