The differences between one’s attitudes and behaviors have traditionally been thought to reflect similar trends in one particular pattern or another; however, the study done by Richard T. LaPierre proves otherwise. In his fascinating article Attitude Versus Actions, LaPierre discusses the experiment he conducted with the Asian couples, and in short how the reactions of various establishments when confronted in person contrasted the reactions via a questionnaire. The study seems solid itself, and of course, there are a few methodological concerns which I will outline later; but overall the piece demonstrates a solid point that demonstrates some key aspects in understanding the attitudes and behaviors of the public.
First and foremost, in explaining why reactions towards the Chinese couple contrasted to reactions during the questionnaire. In thinking in great detail about the environmental factors that help create certain hostilities, but certain material conditions can ameliorate those hostilities for a number of reasons. For instance, as we look at the LaPierre case, it’s intriguing to consider as to why reactions towards the Chinese varied from the attitudes conveyed during the questionnaire. In my reflections, I consider this to be the contradiction between the ideal and the material. In the realm of ideals, people may foster prejudice for a number of peoples, but in a material sense this acts as a deterrent to capital growth for the average capitalist.
Before we go any further we have to examine the material conditions present in the time of the LaPierre study. It took place in the 1930’s-significant because this was during the Great Depression. This alone is an integral factor into understanding what has been revealed by the study-as it gives us a material condition for interpreting the behaviors of the various establishments whom LaPierre and his Chinese friends visited. What I’m attempting to convey, is the notion that in a capitalist society, fostering hostilities towards certain demographics represents a threat to economic viability and furthermore alienates consumers.
The trends of racism and ethnocentrism in American society run deep as can be; all the way back to the country’s founding. However, is it possible for these trends run conducive with liberal democratic capitalism? It is my conclusion, that although attitudinal racism most certainly exists, institutional racism runs counter-posed to capitalist growth. For instance, we can understand the necessity for the motels, restaurants, etc. to accept both LaPierre and his Chinese friends because they operate within a slim margin of profit. During a severe depression, businesses surely cannot afford to turn away customers willing to pay for their goods and services; this would be counter productive to the capitalist model. Thus, capitalism (as despicable as it may be) is not in fact inherently racist (in the institutional sense).
I’m neither defending capitalism nor suggesting that capitalism should be institutionally racist. I am, however, trying to convey that institutional racism is negated by capitalist trends simply because it doesn’t fit into the scheme of capital growth due to alienation of an entire demographic. This is due to the “commodification” of social relationships in a capitalist society. When a capitalist looks at potential patrons not as human beings but as a commodity in which an exchange of capital is possible. This doesn’t fit into an ideal of racist prejudice and bigotry, and is why capitalism cannot exist without liberalism. Historical evidence of this can be seen in the American Civil War (1861-1865).
So what does this mean in comparison to the results of the questionnaire? Were the individuals polled in fact attitudinally racist? This is where the conflict arises. If we base our assessment on the actions vs. attitudes, then we have to make a judgments as to whether or not establishments are hostile (in this case towards Chinese people) based on either the former (actions) or latter (attitudes). As LaPierre states in his article, the political attitudes depicted by the questionnaires are still valuable. Perhaps the results of the questionnaire show us that racist attitudes (with the exception of the one instance of rejection of the couple) become subservient to profit-thus concluding that verbal responses to symbolic situations transform into something different altogether when they materialize into an actual event.
The study does indicate a number of interesting points, but serious methodological questions and concerns may be brought up (although LaPierre addresses a number of these as well). Frankly, in order to make a 100% accurate assessment, we almost have to assume that those responding to the questionnaire were the same individuals who greeted the Chinese couple in order to witness a true contradiction in attitudes versus behavior. The attitudes of the individual who completed the questionnaire might in fact reflect how he would respond to a real life situation; the problem lies in the simple truth that we simply do not know. This seems to present the only potential for crucial flaws in the study, as we would lose the control factor by initiating an entirely new group whom exist outside the experiment.
It’s critical to understand the basic foundation for social relationships in a capitalist society-in regards to the material world, rather than the ideal. The relationship between the lodges and their prospective customers isn’t all that different than any other social relationship in which an exchange of capital is undertaken. We can conclude that the results of the questionnaire when compared to the results of LaPierre’s trip demonstrate a definite bias against Asian peoples in symbolic confrontations; however, actual data taken represents a different finding. It may not be entirely conclusive that this is because social relationships are “commodified” under capitalism, and that even the most blatant racist will act rationally (in a capitalist system that is) and subordinate himself to profit.
In conclusion, I’ve hypothesized that the results LaPierre discovered were in fact demonstrable evidence that social relationships in capitalist society are rendered in terms of social commodities and bear no real value outside that of the market. The attitudes of those who clearly stated they would not serve an Asian patron at their establishment conveys a sense of distrust, hostility towards, and biased predispositions towards people of Oriental descent. The evidence that contradicts these opinions as outlined by LaPierre’s study, opens up the question as to whether or not human responses to symbolic situations are valid, and to what extent these run counter-posed to our actual behaviors. In a society where relationships are based upon the accumulation of capital and wealth, it only makes sense that such ideals as prejudice and bigotry may be ignored, when they might impose a financial burden or impede growth.
LaPierre makes an excellent point, in stating that if a Chinese man or woman were to study the results of the questionnaire, they would be foolish in thinking they might receive hospitable service or reception. However, when observing the results of Table-2 (actual experiences) one would expel such apprehensions. Why is this? All evidence points in the direction of the thesis in which I have imparted throughout this paper. The mere fact that within capitalist society social relations are dictated by capital rather than personal means, makes one aware of a sense of dehumanization and mechanization amidst something that should be perceived as unique and special. I have no necessary means of questioning the results of the questionnaire, as attitudes towards peoples of Oriental descent have often times been hostile here in America. I do, however, understand the love for, and necessity, of accumulating wealth as a social trend/norm in America. It may sound cynical to look at a study and determine that the acceptance of the Chinese couple was not out of sympathy, compassion, or even indifference-but on the basis that such individuals (as capitalism cares not about one’s ethnicity) are an economic commodity-not human beings in the eyes of an established business. Cynicism aside, the results indicate a peculiar difference between social attitudes and social behaviors, and it is my assertion that economic factors and rational-decision making in regards to the accumulation of wealth take precedence (and conflict) with social attitudes.