Social Distance and its Origin

Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California

SOCIAL distance refers to "the grades and degrees of understanding and intimacy which characterize pre-social and social relations generally."[1] The following experiments [2] were conducted to find out just how and why these grades of understanding and intimacy vary. Two hundred and forty-eight persons, chiefly members of two graduate and upper division classes in social psychology, were asked to classify the following list of racial and language groups in three columns, putting in the first column those races toward which as races and not as individuals a friendly feeling was felt; in column two, the races toward which a

Table I, Racial Groups
1. Armenian 13. German 25. Norwegian
2. Bulgarian 14. Greek 26. Portuguese
3. Bohemian 15. Hindu 27. Filipino
4. Canadian 16. Hungarian 28. Polish
5. Chinese 17. Irish 29. Roumanian
6. Czecho-Slovak 18. Italian 30. Russian
7. Dane 19. Japanese 31. Servian
8. Dutch 20. Jew-German 32. Scotch
9. English 21. Jew-Russian 33. Spanish
10. French 22. Mexican 34. Syrian
11. French-Canadian 23. Mulatto 35. Swedish
12. Finn 24. Negro 36. Turk

(217) feeling of neutrality was experienced; and in column three, the races whose mention aroused feelings of antipathy and dislike.

Each person was then asked to re--copy the three columns: to rearrange column one, putting first those races toward which the greatest degree of friendliness was felt, and the others in order; to start off column two with the . races toward which the nearest perfect degree of neutrality was experienced, and so on; and to rearrange column three, putting first those races toward which the greatest antipathy was experienced and then the others in order of decreasing antipathy. Each person was also asked to give the races from which both his father and mother were descended. Twenty-four races were represented, as follows:

Table II. Race of the 248 Participants
English 174   Jew-Russian 3
Scotch 120   Japanese 3
Irish 109   Hungarian 2
German 86   Mulatto 2
French 65   Negro 2
Dutch 50   Norwegian 2
Canadian 8   Russian 2
Spanish 8   Armenian 1
Swedish 8   Bulgarian 1
Dane 4   French Canadian 1
Chinese 6      
Italian 4   Filippino 1
Jew-German 4  

Many persons were not sure of their racial descent, saying that they would have to consult their parents or other relatives before they could be certain. The extensive degree of this low, ebb in racial consciousness was surprising;

(218) it was offset, however, in most cases by pronounced race antipathies.

The discussion of the races toward which friendly feeling was expressed and of those to which a neutral reaction was made will be omitted here in order that full space may be given to the "antipathy column." Suffice it to say that friendly feeling was expressed in general toward the races to which the 248 judges themselves belonged, and that the "neutral feeling" column was composed of races concerning which ignorance was expressed. "I don't know anything about them" was a common answer.

The races toward which the greatest or prime antipathy was felt were tabulated and are given in Table III.

Table III Races Against Which the Greatest Antipathy was Expressed
Turk 119   Servian 3   French 2
Negro 79   Russian 8   Roumanian 2
Mulatto 75   Czecho-Slovak 8   Spanish 2
Japanese 61   Syrian 6   Swedish 2
Hindu 44   Bulgarian 6   Canadian 0
Jew-German 42   Filipino 5   Dane 0
Mexican 41   Italian 5   Dutch 0
Jew-Russian 41   Bohemian 4   French 0
German 38   Finn 4   Canadian 0
Chinese 30   Polish 3   Norwegian 0
Greek 19   Irish 3   Scotch 0
Armenian 17   Portuguese 3      
Hungarian 11   English        

Table III gives interesting results, but it does not explain the reasons for any of the antipathetic attitudes that were expressed. In order to penetrate explanations and causes each of the 248 persons was asked to select the race for which he felt the greatest antipathy and describe in detail the circumstances as nearly as he could recall them

(219) under which this dislike originated and developed. Not his opinions but his experiences direct and indirect were requested. It was asked that these be written out as fully and freely as possible and with special attention to all important details that occurred.

This personal experience data proved to be as enlivening and interesting as the more formal data were colorless except as one was tempted to "read into" them reactions of his own. The personal experience description of the origins and development of racial antipathy fell into certain classifications.

1. The first and largest grouping of materials was composed of traditions and accepted opinion. It is clear after reading the data that hearsay evidence coining from both one's personal friends and from relative strangers in one's own "universe of discourse" who possess prestige. in one's own eyes are widely influential in creating social distance. In the case of nearly every one of the 119 persons who placed the Turks at the head of their antipathy columns tradition and accepted opinion were the main, if not the only, factor operating. This second--hand evidence came chiefly from one's elders, parents, preachers, returned missionaries telling of massacres of Armenians by the Turks, newspaper articles of a similar character, motion pictures showing Turks as "villains," and from. Armenian eye-witnesses of Turkish' cruelties. Many of the 119 persons said that they had never seen a Turk, much less did they know even one.

The person who relies heavily on second-hand and hearsay racial reports usually gives evidence of having entered imaginatively into them so often and so thoroughly that they seem to have become his own personal experiences. Three large chances for error enter into these handed-down traditions and opinions, namely: (1) the possibility of erroneous observations in, the first place; (2) the likelihood

( 220) of errors creeping into the repeating of these statements ; and (3) the probability of entering into them imaginatively from the standpoint of one's own peculiar biases and experiences rather than from the viewpoint of the persons about whom they center. It is factors such as these which rule hearsay evidence out of civil and criminal courts; and yet, in studying the origins of race antipathy it appears that handed-down traditions and opinions greatly predominate.

1. All my store of unpleasant reactions against the Turks is not based on any personal knowledge of them. I do not even know a representative of this people; never glimpsed a Turk in gentle or in savage mood, never, except in imagination. But I have much second-hand knowledge. I have derived it from the lurid headlines of newspapers, from magazine articles on revelations of pseudo-political intrigue, from the stories dealing with the exotic life behind the mysterious veil and barred window. In church I have heard of Turkish atrocities to helpless missionaries. I have heard of the Turkish aversion to our culture and ideal; talked of at dinner, at club meetings, and on the street. Nowadays I hear of the young Turk, with his intellectual veneer but who is the same unspeakable old Turk underneath.

2. When I was a young child my father one night at the dinner table spoke of some of the cruel practices of the Turks, which made a deep impression on me and perhaps started my aversion to the race. Another thing is a picture in a book of my father's, in which a Turk is selecting a woman for his harem. Father's prejudiced attitude of explanation together with the picture made a lasting impression on me. In studying geography in school I learned of the Turks' attitudes toward woman and this caused me to hate the race. In history classes in high school I studied the Crusades and the Turks' cruelty impressed me. Later I have read of the terrible massacres the Turks have committed. Parent, teacher, and reading are the main sources of my hatred of the Turk.

3. I have never before really stopped and thought out the reasons why I dislike the Turks and when I do I really don't know any logical reasons why I should dislike them. When I was a child I always heard so much about the cruelty of the Turks and the hor-

( 221) -rible tortures and persecutions they inflicted upon the Christians. Hence, I have always pictured a Turk as a vile, greasy-looking individual with a long curved knife in his mouth.

4. The dislike that creeps over me when I think of the Turks is not the product of any intimate association with any of them, but is rather the result of propaganda sponsored by the various molders of public opinion, such as the press and the church. This propaganda has been directed against the extreme cruelty, the debased morality, and the religion in whose name the acts of cruelty and immorality have been perpetrated. I cannot divorce the Turk from the slaughter of Armenians, neither from the despoiling of innocent girls and women. When I was about seven years old I saw some moving pictures of the Turks. The Turks seemed to have no morals or anything that I could admire; they were uncouth and murderous animals instead of mend I believe that there is some good, however, in the Turk. But I am so immersed in the pictures of his cruelty that I feel unpleasant when I think of him.

II. Unpleasant racial sense impressions personally experienced in the early years of life are many. Sometimes fear is aroused; again, disgust. In either case there is a sensory image that is often described as "horrifying." The fact that these images were experienced in childhood gives them a more or less permanent character. Illustrations of the experiences arousing fear are given in Cases 5-10.

5. We lived in a town in the middle west. My father was having some improvements made about our residence and hired a negro to do the work. This negro was an old darky of perhaps fifty odd years. He lived alone, in a little shack; on the outskirts of the town. We children always called him "nigger Martin" and our older brothers and sisters used to use this name when they wanted anything done. "Nigger Martin will get you if you aren't good" meant more than the words to us. The negro Martin was digging a large ditch near our house. Of course child fashion we were there and observed everything that went on. After awhile it became tiresome to us so we thought we'd have some fun. As he threw up shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt we picked up pieces of dirt and threw at him. He became angry (I don't blame him) and told us that if ever lie caught us we'd "catch it." We ran and did not bother

(222) him again. The next clay he carne and continued the work. We came to watch, and without the slightest warning he grabbed me into the ditch. I was so frightened and I cried and screamed while the others went to tell father. When he came and "saved" me I was a most happy but frightened girl. The name "nigger" of any sort always frightened me from that day on. That incident and all our training about the negro has naturally made me dislike and fear them.

6. My father used to rent land to the Japanese to raise strawberries on. One evening long past bed time we heard loud cries issuing from the quarters where the Japanese were living. Father rushed over and found that a Japanese from a neighboring farm had tried to kill one of the Japanese at our place with a hoe. The latter seized an iron rod and had laid out the former. My father was never able to find out the real cause. As I was very young I was much frightened at the noise. I was also afraid that my Daddy might be killed in the mix-up. Many nights after that I would jump from my sleep believing that the Japanese were attacking me. My prejudice against them dated from that night and I have never been able to overcome that distrust.

7. One afternoon I started from our hotel for a walk and I became lost. Until then the white robes and wrapped heads of the Turkish shop keepers had thrilled me. But when I discovered that I was "cut off" from the rest of the world -my world at least - I saw only very black eyes and sneering smiles. I asked my way and was greeted with a stream of broken English and wild gestures. As I hurried up the little street I seemed to be followed and surrounded by Turks. Even the recent Sheik vogue has not reconciled me to Turkish people.

8. My first encounter with the Negro was in Louisville, Kentucky, where I went to dinner at a hotel and happened to look into the kitchen where a colored man was preparing the food. At the sight of this black face, offset with those terrible white whites of the eye, I was unable to eat my dinner, and so I left the table and went to my room.

9. When I was small we lived next to a farm cultivated by a Turk, and as we rode past his house he would throw rocks at us and make lots of noise. His face had a look of cruelty, and as I remember it now I can imagine his doing some of the things I read that they do in Turkey.

10. When I was about eight years old I went for a hike in the hills and on returning I had to pass through' some Chinese vege-

( 223) -table gardens where a Chinese was seemingly picking strawberries. When I came along he jumped out and grabbed at me, but I started running with him running close after me. He yelled something at me in Chinese. Finally I reached home, but ever after that I have been much afraid of Chinamen.

III. The illustrations of disgust as a type of sensory impressions leading to race antipathy are numerous. Frequently disgust and fear, as in Case 15, are aroused together. In Case 14 the emotion of disgust has been thought about until it has become almost a definitely organized sentiment.

11. I don't like them (Germans) because two-thirds of them are square-headed, pig-headed - and fat too. They try to domineer and cow their wives. I don't like their voices-thick and gutteral - nor their avoirdupois.

12. I spent several weeks at a summer resort in Michigan where there were many wealthy Jews, who made a great display of their wealth, wore a great amount of flashy jewelry and expensive clothes and yet they were most penurious when paying for board, lodging, or souvenirs. These experiences gave me the impression that Jews are greedy, miserly, selfish, egotistical, fond of display, because the individuals I came in contact with had these characteristics.

13. When I was five my parents brought me to California and I entered a school where I was forced to meet Armenians continually. In high school one-fourth to one-third, were Armenians. No one desired to sit in class beside a repulsive-looking, vile-smelling, and yet insolent Armenian. Continual feuds kept the school in a seething tumult. To one who liked good old Anglo-Saxon names, the varous of the Armenian ian was repulsive. It is almost tragic to see a beautiful old home, now ill-kept and swarming with a truly Rooseveltian family of Armenians. During the time I lived in Fresno I saw nothing in the Armenian to make him endurable. Industry and the ability to out-Jew a Greek are his only useful characteristics. As I saw him, he is filthy, stingy, insolent, forward, and unattractive physically, mentally, and morally. Oppressed in Eurasia, the Armenian swells with unnatural expansion when, here in America, the oppression is no longer felt.

( 224)

14. "Let the Chinese be damned of body and soul" has been the by-word of the English toward my innocent people for more than half a century. Although one of the oldest and outstanding Christian nations of the world, she has poisoned the body and mind of a generation of Chinese through the opium traffic. She is continuing this treachery with greater effort. This is unthinkable; that a God-fearing, out-and-out Christian nation is peddling a drug of that nature in this day and age. I cannot tolerate hypocrisy in any individual; then should I tolerate a nation as such? Decent society outlaws dope peddlers; therefore decent civilization in like manner should outlaw nations as such.

15. When I was about twelve years old I went to Mexico with my father. It was about the time the United States was having trouble with Mexico (1916). Some Mexican soldiers were passing by; my father was looking in another direction; one of the Mexican men standing near tried to grab me. Probably he wanted ransom. He was so disgusting. He was such a coward and sneak and ever afterward I disliked all Mexicans. It seems to me that they will do almost anything when your back is turned.

IV. Unpleasant race impressions experienced in adulthood are also common. As a, rule these anti-racial attitudes represent a generalization of experiences with one or a few individuals of the given race. Although there may be a recognition that the given experiences have been related to the less socially developed members of, the race in question or from non-typical individuals the aversion is likely to spread to the whole race. Again, fear and disgust prevail.

16. I have spent about all my life along the Mexican, border; in Mexico, Arizona and Sonora, and also California and Baja California. While working with a Mexican you have to watch him, that is, if you have anything he is liable to want. At one time a Mexican worked for us several months. He was friendly and a conscientious worker. When the work was over the Mexican left with no feeling on either side. The next night he came back and stole my best saddle. I got the saddle back but it did not increase my love for a Mexican. Five Mexicans came into a border store

(225) and shot three of my schoolmates. One of my near relatives spent six months in a Mexican prison. He was never given a trial and was finally released without one. Three Mexicans murdered one of our neighbors and beat up his wife and children so badly that it was three days before any of them could tell the story. These Mexicans were never caught but two others were hanged for the crime. Three of my father's cousins were killed by Mexicans; one of my uncles was killed and another maimed for life by Mexicans. One of my schoolmates helped tear down a Mexican flag; he was caught at four o'clock in the afternoon and by seven o'clock had been sentenced to face the firing squad the next morning at five. His father went alone and unarmed and by swearing lot took his son from the Mexican j ail.

17. I once had a job where I was asked to work beside a Negro at the same bench. His attitude of arrogance and superiority soon turned me against him. His low morality was evidenced by the stories and experiences he told. This gave me the impression that all Negroes are bad.

18. When I first carne to college I met a number of Filippino men students. I was as cordial to them as I was to any of the other foreign students, but the Filippino men made advances and assumed a certain familiarity which I resented. and. disliked. They, more than any other foreign group, seemed to be so ambitious of becoming intimate friends with American girls. Several of my friends have had similar experiences with this group.

19. I took a check from a well-known Hindu, while working in a department store, and upon calling the bank found that there were no funds to meet it. When the manager investigated lie found that the Hindu had five accounts, and that he would transfer his money from one to another every two months arid write checks on the account just closed. I have found that many Hindus have instructed the banks not to cash any checks drawn on them that are not signed in both' Latin script and in their own hieroglyphics, and sometimes require that a check bear the thumb-print of its writer.

CASE 20. My boss is a Russian Jew, arid not a bad mail to work for at times, except that he always expects too much of a person. Outside of being my boss he is a good fellow and I hold nothing against him. But there are hundreds of Jews in the neighborhood, and lie is one of the few I can say this about. I actually hate to see the majority of them come into the store. They expect you to wait on them first and let the others wait. No matter what you do for

( 226) them they are never satisfied. They enter the store with a sarcastic expression on their faces that makes you want to throw them out. They usually get excited and become very insulting. I have actually known American ladies to walk out of the store when the boss gets excited, and needless to say, men walk out in order to prevent a fight.

In asking for data the writer specifically requested that "experiences" only be described and generalization and denunciation be avoided; the latter procedure, however, crept into nearly all the papers ; it averaged half the space in nearly fifty per cent of all the papers and was the only characteristic of a few, especially of those whose antipathetic feeling was pronounced. Later personal interviews with representative individuals showed that this practice was due not to a desire to dodge the issue, but to a widespread habit of generalizing first and then belatedly of examining actual experiences and of analyzing these.

Moreover, this generalization habit was usually on the basis, first of tradition and opinion, and second, of experiences with a few individuals from the lower levels of a "despised race," or with a few better class individuals showing their worst natures to their "enemies" -- something not necessarily peculiar to any race. Sometimes a. single sensory image engendering fear or disgust or both, and experienced in childhood, is the basis of a generalization against a whole race. While there are definite feeling bases of an inherited nature that lead naturally to race antipathies, unscientific generalizations upon a few personal outstanding adverse experiences or upon many adverse traditions is an outstanding datum.


  1. Cf. R. E. Park, "The Concept of Social Distance," Jour. of Applied Sociology, VIII: 339-44.
  2. Suggested by Dr. Park.

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