Benjamin Epstein, Marie Jahoda, Elmo Roper

Unlearning Prejudice

VTR Date: August 18, 1957


VTR: 8/18/1957
GUESTS: Benjamin Epstein, Elmo Roper, Dr. Marie Jahoda

APNOUPICER: The Open Mild, free to examine, to question, to disagree. Our subject today, “Unlearning Prejudice.” Your Host on The Open Mind is Richard D. Heffner.

HEFFLER: Here on The Open Mind we have over the course of the past year and some months talked quite frequently about prejudice of one kind or another. We did a program on the nature of anti-Semitism. We did another program on the nature of prejudice itself, et cetera,

Some people have said that we are getting a little like those people who Mark Twain described as always talking about the weather and never doing anything about it.

Actually, there are a good many groups in this country that are trying to do something about prejudice, that are trying to help men and women, and children, unlearn prejudice, and our project today is to discuss with three very distinguished experts how one can help people to unlearn prejudice.

One group, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, has done so, has made many valiant attempts to do so; quite successful attempts too, by the use of certain techniques such as this car-card. This particular car-card says: “All God’s children should have an equal right to a good education, a good job, good housing. Help end discrimination based on religion, race, or national origin.”

Another car-card that the Anti-Defamation League uses is this very attractive one. It shows a little girl holding four little dolls of different nationalities: “Keep her free from racial and religious prejudice; she has not been taught to hate yet.”

And as another instance of course there comes this very very wonderful cartoon, “Mammy Yokum, and the great Dogpatch Mystery.” Al Capp, who is known by all of us as a great cartoonist, wrote this very wonderful cartoon strip about Mammy Yokum and her neighbors being quite prejudiced against those people whom they did not understand, who were new to them, people with square eyes.

Now these people were new and the old people were prejudiced towards them.

The Anti-Defamation League feels that with use of such materials you can help individuals unlearn prejudice.
Another technique that they have used is the technique of filming,. In a second we will show you two little film strips that they have used in this regard.

[The following verse was sung.)
“I have a little friend whose name ends with a Skee, And yet my little friend looks just like you and me. Last night I asked my father why a name like that should be
And this is what my father said as I sat on his knee:
A Skee, a Witt, or Ov, or Fu when added to a name
Just teaches us the family or town from which it came. A name like Thomas Jefferson in some lands o’er the sea
Would not be Thomas Jefferson but Thomas Jefferskee, Or Jefferwitz, or Jefferov, or maybe Jefferfu,
So do not let a Skee or Ov or Witz seem strange to you
I feel the same towards every name no matter how it ends,
For people with the strangest name can be the best of friends.”

[The following verse was sung):
“You can get good milk from a brown-skinned cow,
The color of the skin doesn’t matter no-how.
Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha, you can learn commonsense at the grocery store,
Heard a choo-choo say to a railroad track, ‘Don’t care if passengers are white or black,’ Ho, ho, ho, use your brain,

You can learn commonsense from a railroad train. Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo.
As the peach pit said to the apple core,
‘The color of our skin doesn’t matter any more.’ Ho, ho, ho, can’t you see,
The color of your skin doesn’t matter to me.”

MR. HEFFNER: The question before us today is to what extent these techniques — car-cards, cartoons, films — will help us unlearn prejudice.. Let us now turn to our very distinguished guests to discuss this question,

My first guest today is Mr. Benjamin Epstein, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

My second guest is Dr. Marie Jahoda, Professor of Psychology at the Research Center for Human Relations of New York University.

And my third guest is Mr. Elmo Roper, market analyst, President of Elmo Roper Associates, and Chairman of the Board of the Fund For The Republic..

Suppose I begin by referring this basic question to you Mr. Epstein. You people have put out the car-cards and have reprinted Al Capp ‘s cartoon, and I gather this cartoon strip is available to people who just write to you.


MR, HEFFNER: Do you think that it is possible to help individuals unlearn prejudice?

MP. EPSTEIN: Well, we certainly do. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith as well as other organizations in this field 1 think operate on the basic assumption that it is possible and certainly probable that education can change the attitudes of people, attitudes and eventually their behavior, but 1 think it would be a mistake if we were to get the impression that car-cards, comic books, or films, as wonderful as they are, alone can do the job. We are convinced that this is a tremendous educational task. The whole job of trying to mold public opinion, trying to get youngsters to appreiate the value of their fellow young compatriots, regardless of their race, their color, their creed, or their sex, and we believe that it is possible to have a tremendous effect on people through education. Now education may he through the mass media -¬television, radio, the press, magazines, or any of these forms that reach millions of people. But this is just one part of the program. There are two other parts that are so essential. think if we can get people to understand the relative merits of their neighbor this is good and wonderful, but unless we can get them to act on the basis of these new attitudes

it would certainly not be enough, and when we talk about the changing of people’s attitudes, when we talk about their change in behavior, what we must try to do we believe is to get them to work together in the community for some common project, If we can get people of various groupings to come together as a committee, as an organized group, and try to change the complexion of their community by working together, by living together, by getting to know one another they can change a community’s pattern. This is putting education into action.

And then of course there is the great value of law, a law which outlaws discrimination, which says to people, “This you cannot do because it is against the law; you may not discriminate in your employment policies because this person is of one color or religion or some other factor.”

Now law in and of itself has a great educational valuei but I think we need all three of these things, We need education, we need community cooperative action, and law. The combination of these three makes for an impact on the total com¬munity.

MR. HEFFNER: Well, let’s ask Dr. Jahoda and Mr. Roper how they react to this. Doctor Jahoda?

DOCTOR JAHODA: Well, so far I agree entirely. Of course prejudice can be unlearned, It is a learned attitude to begin with; it is not something with which you are born, and fortunately all our attitudes change in the course of living and experience. The real difficulty is to find out what the best methods are to unlearn it, but I am sure Mr. Roper knows a lot about this just as Mr. Epstein, and this is what we are going to discuss.

MR. HEFFNER: Mr. Roper?

MR. ROPER: I don’t know whether an expert in semantics would agree that the phrase “unlearn prejudice” was a totally accurate phrase, but nevertheless we all know what it means, and in answer to your question I do think it is possible to change people in their prejudices. I think the first, the most important thing is the extension of more and better general education. Time after time we ask people questions to find out the existence of prejudice and we discover that the more general education they have had the less prejudice.

In other words, college people are less prejudiced than high school graduates, who in turn are less prejudiced than those who quit in the eight grade, so I think a better general education is an important must.

In addition to that I think there is quite specific information that needs to be gotten over. I think a part of this prejudice springs from misinformation. People think other people are different inside because they seem different outside. And I think the more information we can get over of the basic similarities of everyone regardless of their color or their religion or their place of origin I know the less reason there will seem to be for people to be prejudiced.

And finally, just one other point, Doctor Jahoda,

finally it seems to me that we ought to do all that we can to dispel that part of prejudice which is based on fear, which again is fear of the unknown, fear of what the Negroes might do if they had the full vote in the South, fear of the Jewish international bankers, fear of the ties between an American President who is a Catholic and the Vatican, fears that have sprung up that keeps people from seeing the thing in its true perspective; so I think that there are very direct educational things that can be done along the two latter lines as well as general education.

DOCTOR JAHODA: Do you know, I am sure this is completely correct for a great number of the prejudiced people, that information is really what they are missing and they are acting in terms of misinformation, but this attitude of prejudice is so complicated and for so many people has really a psychological meaning to themselves, so much so that they want to preserve it and do not respond to any information. They much prefer an information that supports their own need for taking it out on somebody else. That is after all what it is, and therefore the rational approach alone to people seems to me to work only with those who are really only by mistake prejudiced against others, but then we know unfortunately there are so many for whom it is not just a mistake in psychological terms, for whom it really means that all they think about themselves they get by sort of a false and spurious self-esteem that comes from saying to themselves, “Well, at least I am better because I am not a Jew or I am not a Negro.”

Now my feeling is that wonderful as these cards are which we have seen and wonderful as the informational campaigns are, that they won’t do the trick for a lot of people who have this real psychological mood for prejudice; there we have to use a little bit more complex methods which go closer to the emotional meaning.

MR. EPSTEIN; I would like to agree with one thing that Dr. Jahoda just said, that a great deal of prejudice is emotional and is based as Elmo Roper said, on fear. I have had this shown to me very clearly not too long ago. I was at a meeting down in New Orleans, and present in this little informal, off-the-record session was a man who very clearly and frankly said that he believed in segregation. And one of our men on the panel turned to him and said, “Would you do me the favor of answering this simple, maybe naive question; why do you believe in segregation?” And the Southerner responded with a red face, very excited, and said, “It isn’t a simple question, it isn’t a naive question that you are asking; you are asking a very complex question.” He said, “It is just like asking a man why he believes in God. This is an emotional thing.” And he got very excited, which carries out what you say. But then you raised a very very serious question, Doctor Jahoda, and it is a tough one I think; you put your finger on a very tough one. How do you reach the emotions of fear-ridden people? How do you reach the complex personality causes of pre judice, the expression of frustration, the taking out on the other person, the authoritarian kind of personality? How do we reach this kind of person?

DOCTOR JAHODA: It is a tough question, but I think it can be done, and I think the best strategy in that respect is to catch people when they are relatively young. I believe that a lot of the older generation who are deeply prejudiced are probably beyond a state in their life where they can be changed and where energies should be invested in that direction.

I am sure I am right, Mr. Roper, that your polls also show that younger people are by and large less often pre¬judiced–

MR. ROPER: Uh huh, that’s right.

DOCTOR JAHODA: –than the older. But with the younger people, where the picture hasn’t yet jelled, where they haven’t built their entire life on the prejudice against another group, I think it is possible even to reach those who for purely emotional reasons are prejudiced. Now I am not suggesting that everybody ought to be psychoanalyzed, although for all I know it would do them a lot of good.

MR. EPSTEIN: It would be a big job.

DOCTOR JAHODA: And an expensive one. But this isn’t really the way in which you can tackle a social problem. This is today a way in which you tackle the prejudice of one individual who is sick and consults a psychiatrist.

In my experience you can approach these people who have the emotional need for prejudice best if you provide them with experiences that help them to reorganize their own emotional problems and lives. That is to say talking to them, exhortations, admonitions, telling them that it is bad or telling them even that they are doing it for their own psychological problems won’t do the trick. But if you can put these people, and the young ones in particular, in a situation where they learn to feel secure, where they feel understood, where their fears are recognized and they are helped, in that situation when prejudice comes up you will find that to the extent that there are adult people or other friends around who can really deal with the basic fear these people have about themselves, that they begin to be open to experience; and summer camps, all sorts of workshops, and a lot of the desegregated schools of which we have now hundreds and hundreds since the Supreme Court decision, have actually proved the point that it can be done.

MR. HEFFKER: Well, I wanted to ask that question of Mr. Roper. What about the question of using desegregation, using integration, using a good life experience for changing attitudes? Do you in your polling find that such experiences change attitudes?

MR. ROPER: Oh definitely. You will find a wholly different attitude towards Negroes generally, socially, economic¬ally, politically, and every other way on the part of youngsters who have gone to high schools where Negroes freely went to high schools as compared to those who went to segregated high schools. It seems to me that this is a part of this education, this is a part of this general education that I had reference to. I think education as you think of it in books and in schools, is very important. But I think the actual education that people get from bumping up against all kinds of people and discovering as I said before that the differences are really external rather than differences in the man himself, I think all of that is a terribly important thing and I am sure that Dr. Jahoda would agree that any part of this prejudiced group, even those who do it not for fears that arise within themselves about themselves — which is another group you are talking about — but those which arise from fears of what the other “group” might do, any part of this group that we can reach is worth reaching because there is enough people in each of those two or several kinds of groupb.

MR. HEFFNER: I wonder about this. I started off by talking about the comic strip and the car-cards and the film, and I wonder whether they don’t serve the purpose to some extent of recreating an atmosphere in which a different national conscience can work? Don’t these car-cards and the Mammy Yokum thing, don’t they remind us of a tradition that should play a large role? Now this may be in the realm of the admonition, but in a sense it is one thing to say you shouldn’t do a certain thing, and isn’t it something else to say it is within our tradition, the true tradition of Jefferson and Lincoln that we don’t maintain these prejudices? Can you create a national conscience and bring people up to it?

MR. EPSTEIN: I think the best answer to that is the tremendous strides that have been made in the last twenty years in this whole field. Twenty years ago there wasn’t a single Fair Employment Practice Law in any state. Today we have some twelve states with such laws, which are a definite expression of the desires of the people to relegate discrimination into the area of becoming a crime.

Now this is only one part of it. Think back ten and twenty years ago and try to remember whether you would have television or radio or movies devoted to subjects such as racial tensions, such as let us say the Rialto Rican problem, or the question of Anti-Semitism. Within the past twenty years you have had the whole problem of prejudice placed on the table before the American people to examine and talk about. This to me is the airing of a problem*

This to me is making the problem something that Americans must face up to and because we have faced up to it I think we have done something about it. I think we have made a great deal of progress. That is what I am trying to say.

MR. HEFFNER: Well, I know when I look at this car-card and this little girl holding the dolls I think of my little son, and I think I am moved emotionally, and you people have agreed that there needs to be some emotional involvement to change the situation. But I wonder whether the needs that Dr. Jahoda talked about can really be reached, moved, and changed to the extent that T would like to think possible by these?

DOCTOR JAHODA: Do you know, I would like to re¬emphasize in answer to this something that Mr. Epstein has said and perhaps emphasize it more than he likes.
I think that is wonderful work that he is doing, but I really do think that the creation of a public climate of opinion in itself will not do the trick. I believe that when you look at this and you think of your own child, that it has an impact on you. But if you weren’t you, and you would ride the subway and look at that type of picture you wouldn’t even take it tn, and if you took it in you might even misunderstand it or push it aside, or it might have no impact what so ever on your life; so while I. agree that this is good for creating a climate of opinion, I am quite convinced it would be a mistake if we would expect that type of education to do the tremendous job that still has to be done in the country.

MR. EPSTEIN: Well, I would certainly agree with that. I think this is just one small part of a tremendous need for a total educational program. I liked what you said before about the need to get the young people early when their minds are still impressionable, where you can really make an impact before attitudes are formed.

MR. HEFFNER: Excuse me, but isn’t it true, what about all the talk about motivational research and what about all the talk about moving people in a direction by appealing to their emotions?

We laugh whenever anyone on a program or in a book starts talking about mother, home, country, patriotism. We say he is bringing in everything; he brings in things that have common responses I would assume to just about all people. And don’t car-cards such as these, don’t appeals to national conscience reach a common feeling, a common emotion?

MR. ROPER: I think Dr. Jahoda is talking about a group that certainly exists, and it is a very real group, it is a very troublesome group, and it is a very large group.

MR. HEFFNLR: Very sick group.

MR. ROPER: Well perhaps yes. But I think that if we were to wait to find the answer for those people and not try to do something for what I would regard as a considerably larger group, that are prejudiced because of misinformation, because of fear, and because of not having facts, then I think it would be making a bad mistake.

I mean let us just take a look at some research figures. Sometime ago we asked a cross section of the entire United States if they would be willing to work with anyone of the following groups$ and we named Mexicans, Negroes, Chinese, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, lots of people. Or if they would prefer not to. We didn’t say would they refuse, but just prefer. Forty-eight per cent of the entire United States said it would make no difference, anyone of them. But eighty-one per cent of the kids in college said it would make no difference. When we asked if they would mind having them as a guest in their home, any one of those, thirty per cent said that they wouldn’t mind having any of them, of the entire population; but sixty-eight per cent of the college kids said they wouldn’t mind having any of them.

Now there is just the advantages of general education.

DOCTOR JAHODA: These are wonderful figures, Mr. Roper, but I really shouldn’t do this, I am encroaching on the area where you are the great expert-

MR. ROPER: Well, y’u are somewhat of an expert in this field too, Doctor Jahoda.

DOCTOR JAHODA: No, not to compare with you. But in any case, 1 know of one of these studies that showed quite clearly something that helps us define the means about how to make people unlearn it. This was a public opinion poll finding out that something like eighty per cent of the population said they wanted to have residential segregation.

Now if you then broke these figures down and asked only the people who had had once before direct working experience with Negroes in this country almost half of these people said we are in favor of residential integration and we don’t want Negroes to live in the ghettos to which we have condemned them so long. And that to me is perhaps the most interesting thing. You know, as one asks how do people unlearn prejudices it seems to me that the one thing that social psychological studies have demonstrated is that people learn best by experiences that to the extent that they have a chance of checking in daily contact with others what these other people really are like, to the extent that they can feel secure with others, to that extent will they reorganize not only their misinformation but even their emotional quirks and difficulties. And it will become possible for them to accept the other group on a human basis. For me actually the ideal situation which the country undoubtedly will reach sooner or later is not that anybody should go around and say, “I love all the Jews,” or, “1 love all the Negroes”; but to the extent that you can say, “This is a Negro like, and this is a Negro I dislike,” to that extent you are really free from prejudice, and that comes from experience only.

MR. HEFFNER: To be sure we have received a good many letters and a good many phone calls after each of our programs on prejudice saying why can’t you leave us alone, why can’t we have our prejudices, why can’t we like, as you say, like or dislike a person whether he is a Negro or whether he is not? We have sort of gotten to the point in a sense this is a do-good program.. We are talking about unlearning prejudice. In a sense one of the troubles maybe as I see it from reading our mail that there has been so much talk about unlearning prejudice and how bad prejudices are, often a number of people say let us keep a few of them. I think maybe a little bit of this has backfired. Do you find this to be true, Mr. Epstein?

MR, EPSTEIN: Well, I think this is just a little bit of sensitivity on some guilty consciences, and I personally feel that the most difficult kind of prejudice to deal with are these which people say they want-

MR. HEFFNER: Leave us a few.

MR. EPSTLIN: –leave us a few, or they say, well, this isn’t something I would express publicly, this is something I Peel, and will only share with their very close friends and business associates, and this really affects their motivation and their actions more deeply than some of the things that they might not say publicly.

DOCTOR JAHODA: And in any case I leave them all the prejudices which don’t do any harm to anybody else. Don’t let’s forget that we are talking here not only because we are sorry for the psychology of the prejudiced person but the others who suffer from it, and these prejudices I am not in favor of leaving anybody.

MR. HEFFNER: Do I get the sense of the meeting correctly when I assume that you people feel that great progress has been made and that you think prejudice can be unlearned and that we are in the process of doing so?

MR. ROPER: Both by education and experience I think.

MR. EPSTEIN: And by people working together and by continuing to get more laws like our Civil Rights Laws and Fair Employment Practice Laws adopted.

MR. HEFFNER: The problem remains how to deal with them emotionally. I gather you would feel that Doctor Jahoda?

DOCTOR JAHODA: Yes, it is still a problem, But I do think that taking experience as the major basis for unlearning can simultaneously deal with what they think about other people and with the real psychological causes of prejudice. There have been some very dramatic experiences and studies showing that this is actually true in housing projects, for instance.

MR, HEF_NLR: That is a good note to end on, an optimistic note, and thank you so much for joining me today on our discussion of Unlearning Prejudice.