Kochman’s Black and White Styles in Conflict

Kochman’s Black and White Styles in Conflict

In his 1983 book, Black and White Styles in Conflict, Thomas Kochman argued that, under conditions of conflict, blacks and whites display characteristically different styles of response that point to cultural differences.

The notes below consist of quotes and summaries from the book intended to encourage discussion between black and white students.

Kochman and his graduate students appear to have studied inner city black students who were in classes with middle class white students. These generalizations will not, of course, apply to all black or all white students, but they point to perceived differences that are still not often discussed openly.

I do not claim that Kockman’s conclusions are accurate. I offer this sampling of those conclusions to stimulate discussion and observation.

Page numbers refer to the 1983 paperback edition published by the University of Chicago Press.

“There still exists a social etiquette that considers it impolite to discuss minority-group differences in public. This rule emerged over a period when such differences were regularly used as evidence of minority-group inferiority.” 11

“By and large, members of minority groups today must still confront a public view that sees their distinctive racial, cultural, and linguistic features as a source of public embarassment.” 11

In Classrooms“When blacks and whites engage each other in public debate about an issue, they are divided not only over content–the issue itself–but, more fundamentally, over process: how disagreement on an issues is to be appropriately handled.” 17 “The black mode–that of black community [inner city] people–is high-keyed: animated, interpersonal, and confrontational. The white mode–that of the middle class–is relatively low-keyed: dispassionate, impersonal, and non-challenging.” 18

Black White
Argument can have two functions: to ventilate anger, or to debate a difference of opinion. Argument functions to ventilate anger and hostility
In an argument for persuasion, Blacks are more likely to assume a challenging stance. They are contenders, testing one another dynamically. An aggrieved party is naturally expected to express anger and hostility. 38 If someone expresses strong feelings and dynamic opposition, whites take it as a prelude to the venting of anger and hostility.
They take “the orator’s stance” of passionate involvement and argument with an adversary. 21 “Sometimes being neutral is looked upon with disdain.” 21 “Blacks do not believe that emotions interfere with their capacity to reason.” 38

It’s OK for emotions to be powerful, as long as they are real. 111

Consider that reason and emotion work against one another. Take an impersonal, objective approach to ideas. Detached.
“Regard white efforts to get them to set aside feelings as unrealistic, illogical, and politically devious.” 38 Try to get blacks to set aside feelings and talk “rationally” about differences.
Consider confrontation a way to work out differences. Expect one view to be modified as a result of a successful challenge. Equate confrontation with conflict and hardening of opposition, and avoid it.
Confrontation signifies caring about something. “When blacks are working hard to keep cool, it signals that the chasm between them is getting wider, not smaller.” 20 “Whites invariably interpret black anger and verbal aggressiveness as more provocative and threatening than do blacks.” 44
“Often accuse whites of being insincere” or “fronting.” 22 Accuse blacks of being hostile and confrontational.
Probe to find out where a person is coming from in a discussion. 23 Value their privacy; consider probing an intrusion. Express ideas separate from their own personal involvement.
The object is to outthink, outtalk, and outstyle your opponent. The object is to have all sides heard fairly.
boast understate
infuse with sexuality defuse sexuality
loud, animated, vital talk polite conversation
doing your thing within the group 112 isolated individuality
playing off one another; call and response. Responses are obligatory, feedback required. 111 Speak in order, listen in silence.
Whites don’t respond, so blacks assume they are not listening. Blacks respond, and whites feel blacks are constantly interrupting. 112
“Free to abandon themselves to the force of their feelings.” 115 May agitate to increase level of emotional intensity and response. 116 Feelings seen as “primary and independent forces.” 119 “Individuals should moderate the forcefulness of their behavior to the level that others can tolerate.” 113 Don’t hurt others’ feelings.
Practice high levels of emotion often. Have controls to restrain emotions, but none to manage them at a high level of expression. 114
Give priority to expression of feelings. Whites seen as controlling. Blacks do not consider their own sensibilities fragile. 124 Give priority to protection of sensibilities. Blacks seen as insensitive, inconsiderate.
Need to understand the effect loud expressions of emotion may have on whites. Need to appreciate the effort blacks must make day to day in containing their emotions when working in a hostile environment, and understand how black culture facilitates the verbal release of this frustration. 125
If not asserting feelings: not yet comfortable in the situation. If not asserting feelings: a normal cultural mode. 126
See whites as “forever demanding an apology over nothing.” 126 Others’ sensibilities should withstand another’s forceful feelings. “Whites consider an assault on the sensibilities of others a social offense.”

–Notes by Gerald Grow

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