Cobbs, Price M. 1928–

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Price M. Cobbs 1928

Psychiatrist, author, management consultant

At a Glance

Black Anger and Civil Rights

An Unprecedented Encounter

Capitalizing on Diversity

Selected writings


In 1968 San Francisco-based psychiatrists Price M. Cobbs and William H. Grier shook white America with their book Black Rage, a grim and painful portrayal of the anger and frustration plaguing black people in the United States. Based on case histories of African American men and women who underwent psychotherapy during the early 1960s, it was one of the first books to examine the mental health of black Americans. It quickly became a classic in the field of African American studies. Cobbs and Grier went on to produce a second book, The Jesus Bag, which focused on the importance of religion in black life.

After Black Rage appeared, Grier continued to counsel patients, while Cobbs focused his energies on the problems of racism and cultural stress in the American workplace. In 1967 he founded Pacific Management Systems, an executive development and consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations manage the racial, cultural, and gender differences of their employees. Among the many services offered by Cobbs and his associates are workshops in multicultural awareness, career development programs for minority managers, and seminars in effective communication and networking.

Cobbss clients range from multinational corporations, such as AT&T, Procter & Gamble, and Hewlett Packard, to inner-city businesses, government agencies, and community organizations. By the year 2000, over half of the population in California will be minorities and early in the 21st century the rest of the country will follow, Cobbs wrote in a column published in the San Francisco Chronicle. The question arises: How can American business most effectively respond to the needs of this rapidly changing workforce and marketplace?

Answering, Cobbs continued: To survive this great demographic upheaval, they will have to adopt the core value of embracing diversity or differences. Without executives, managers and employees who can cope with the critical new demands of a diverse workforce, productivity is reduced by tension, polarization, high turnover, litigation and untapped potential. Productivity is increased in an environment where each employees skills and potential are being fully utilized.

A pioneer in the discipline of ethnotherapy, a clinical model that uses the techniques of group therapy to challenge and change attitudes and assumptions arising from racial, ethnic, and value differences, Cobbs has lectured and written extensively on the psychodynamics and effects of racism. In 1988

At a Glance

Born Price Mashaw Cobbs, November 2,1928, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Peter Price (a physician) and Rose Mashaw Cobbs; married Evadne Priester, 1957 (died), second wife named Frederica; children: Price Priester, Marion Renata, Education: University of California, Berkeley, BA, 1954; Meharry Medical College, M.D., 1958.

Intern, San Francisco General Hospital, 1958-59; psychiatric resident, Mendocino State Hospital, 1959-61; psychiatric resident, Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, 1961-62; psychiatrist in private practice, 1962; assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, 1963; president and chief executive officer, Pacific Management Systems, 1976.

Member: National Medical Association, American Medical Association, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, National Urban League, NAACP, Black Behavioral Scientists, University of California Black Caucus, The Black Scholar (advisory board), Renaissance Books, Inc. (chairman), Foundation for National Progress (board of directors), American Psychiatric Association (life fellow).

Awards: Named outstanding psychiatrist by Black Enterprise magazine, 1988; Pathfinder Award, Association for Humanistic Psychology, 1993.

Addresses: Office Pacific Management Systems, 3528 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94118.

Black Enterprise magazine named him one of the countrys leading physicians for his outstanding contributions to the field of psychiatry. Five years later he received the prestigious Pathfinder Award from the Association for Humanistic Psychology. According to an article in AHP Perspective, a publication issued by that organization, Cobbs was honored for his exemplary contributions to the development of healthy self-identity and self-determination among African Americans and others who have been excluded from the idealized American image.

Price Mashaw Cobbs, the son of a physician, was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1928. After completing high school, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles. Two years later he transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, from which he obtained his B.A. in 1954. He then went on to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After receiving his M.D. in 1958, he completed his internship at San Francisco General Hospital, then went on to psychiatric residencies at Mendocino State Hospital and the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of California, San Francisco. In 1962 he established a private practice in psychiatry in San Francisco, and the following year he became an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Californias San Francisco Medical Center.

It was during his early years as a psychiatrist that Cobbs first became aware of the intense anger and despair that tormented black Americans, regardless of their social, educational, and economic backgrounds. As I pushed people past the myth of color-blindness, I began to see that black people, whether they were middle class, unemployed, or young professionals trying to get started, were angry, he told Black Enterprise.

This all-pervasive anger among patients, combined with the lack of appropriate reference materials for therapists attempting to treat them, inspired Cobbs and an associate, fellow psychiatrist and University of California professor William H. Grier, to pool their professional knowledge and clinical experiences in a useful and accessible book. The result was the highly popular and provocative study Black Rage, which the authors described in the introduction to the 1980 edition as a clinical handbook spelling out in the clearest possible language certain special aspects of the psychiatric treatment of blacks.

Black Anger and Civil Rights

According to Cobbs and Grier, the intense social and political unrest of the 1960s served to magnify the anger and confusion of American blacks, causing many to search within themselves for what the authors described as the essence of what it [meant] to be a black American in a nation that reserved a uniquely disfavored place for its black citizens. During this period, they wrote, smoldering racial tensions and historical grievances suddenlyor so it was thoughterupted, and demands were made for immediate and lasting change.

The cutting edge of black protest focused first on legal discrimination in the South, then on racial prejudice exhibited nationwide by whites, and finally on the racism historically imbedded in the institutions and people of this most democratic of nations. These explosive issues came close to tearing the nation apart, and many Americans were jolted in a most deeply personal way. Many blacks, they added, were compelled to re-examine that always delicate balance between the ills of individuals and the ills of their society. In the process, most came to realize that only by understanding both themselves and their society can either be changed.

On its publication in August of 1968, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times hailed Black Rage as among the most important books on the Negro to appear in the last decade. The authors, he wrote, present a series of case histories of Negro men and women they have treated, and build around them an explanation of the emotional state of the contemporary black man. Their thesis is understated, deliberately dismal and intensely eloquent; its impact is overwhelming.

Three years after Black Rage appeared, Cobbs and Grier collaborated on another book, The Jesus Bag, in which they explored the critical and highly complex role of religion in the lives of black people. The black capacity for converting weakness into strength needed for survival is nowhere more evident than in religion, they wrote in the books final chapter. It was thrust upon us to make us docile and it focused on the life hereafter. It gave little spiritual sustenance for life on earth and it left an unyielding conscience which is yet a barrier containing our rage.

But in the turbulent climate of the 1960s, religion lost its hold on some of us and the rage-binding conscience was no longer effective, they noted. In a fury we burst into the streets. We looked into ourselves, and, even more, looked deep into white America. Our flaws, which we were taught to hide in shame, were in fact the flaws of this nation. Where once we saw ourselves as deformed, and debased we now see how much more deformed and debased is the white bigotry which has so hurt us. Black people, they concluded, have survived an attack aimed at their lives with guns and at their secret selves with the weapon of religion. They have taken a Jesus Bag shaped like a noose and refashioned it into a black cornucopia of spiritual riches. They are determined to reform the nation and if need be, the world.

During his early years as a psychotherapist, Cobbs counseled patients from all racial, social, and economic backgrounds, helping them work through, on an individual basis, whatever psychological conflicts they had. But by the late 1960s his professional orientation had shifted from the problems of individuals to the ills of society. This change in directionin part a reaction to the national focus on equal opportunity and civil rightshelped draw him into the new and rapidly growing field of diversity management.

An Unprecedented Encounter

The year before Black Rage was published, Cobbs and humanistic psychologist George Leonard convened a multiracial group of more than 30 psychiatrists and psychologists for an informal weekend of discussion at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. While many of the participants were more interested in enjoying the famous baths than engaging in rigorous discussion about the psychodynamics of racism, Cobbss skillful direction and mediation helped turn the impromptu event into a powerful and unprecedented encounter.

At a basic level, the work was conducted at the explosive interface between black rage and white fear, Cobbs recalled in Reflections of an Old Hand, a paper delivered at a symposium in October 1993. One aim was for blacks to get in touch with their rage and whites in touch with their fears. Then as now, I knew that behavior connected to unexamined rage is unpredictable and behavior connected to unacknowledged fear is potentially explosive. When either behavior is unmanaged, violence is one of the outcomes. It is in this cauldron that diversity work in the professional sense started for me.

On his return to San Francisco, Cobbs founded Pacific Management Systems and within a short time, he and a number of his associates were conducting diversity workshops for community organizations, schools, police departments, and social service agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. These workshops, known as racial confrontation groups, challenged participants to uncover and examine their own myths and stereotypes about race, and then to step back and listen to the attitudes and opinions of others. In this way, they could strip away their prejudices and begin to understand and appreciate their real differences. The truth is we are not all the same, and acknowledging the differences does not necessarily mean one is prejudiced, Cobbs wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. When you suspend any judgments you might have, a difference is simply different. After all, you cant manage differences if you wont acknowledge that they exist.

By the mid-1970s, the terms civil rights and equal opportunity had been replaced by the phrase affirmative action, and many companies in the private sector were scrambling to iron out racial conflict before it took its toll. Twenty years later, in the 1990s, diversity management is big businessnot only because it is fair, but also because it is profitable.

Affirmative action has served its purposeand will continue to do soas a redressing of past injustices and a way to help minorities and women get in the door of major corporations, Cobbs wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. But now American business needs to take the next step and reap the economic benefits of its tremendously eclectic and diverse workforce. As we move toward the 21st century, embracing diversity will become an economic necessity that will have greater and greater payoffs. Over the last 25 years, the diversity field has mushroomed from a handful of informal workshops to an industry worth some $2 billion a year.

Capitalizing on Diversity

As the diversity management field has grown and changed, so have the needs of large companies. In addition to African American employees, the multicultural workforce of the 1990s includes women of all ages; immigrants from around the world; disabled people; and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The education and training activities provided by firms such as Pacific Management Systems are designed to help executives, managers, and employees understand the values, expectations, norms, and goals of each other, and of the organization as a whole. Increased sensitivity to the needs of all employees enables companies to profit from the potential of a diverse workforce and makes it possible for all members of the organization to capitalize on their unique strengths and experiences. The full and active participation of a diverse workforce can also help organizations open new markets and develop new products.

Although Cobbss ethnotherapy model has provided corporationsboth American and multinationalwith the tools to examine, understand, and begin to benefit from racial and ethnic diversity, he is quick to acknowledge that much remains to be done. In our organizations, we must fight to make valuing diversity a bedrock value and not something that is optional or somehow outside the parameters of how business is conducted, he wrote in an article published in The Promise of Diversity, an anthology of professional papers focusing on eliminating discrimination in the workplace. Only when valuing diversity is a core value of our organizations will we begin to be uncomfortable when we do not see diversity.

In addition to Black Rage and The Jesus Bag, both coauthored with William H. Grier, Cobbs has written dozens of articles for scholarly and professional books and journals, including the National Urban Leagues State of Black America. In 1986 he coproduced the educational video series Valuing Diversity, which drew international attention to his ethnotherapy model and its success in eliminating prejudices and misconceptions arising from racial and ethnic differences. He has also participated in diversity seminars and conferences overseas, including the Second Mount Kuchumaa Symposium Series in Tecate, Mexico, and the First Annual Diversity Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. In the early 1990s he established a collaborative consultancy arrangement between his company, Pacific Management Systems, and the Johannesburg firm Diversity Dynamics.

Selected writings

(With William H. Grier) Black Rage, HarperCollins, 1968. (With Grier) The Jesus Bag, McGraw-Hill, 1971.



Cobbs, Price M., and William H. Grier, Black Rage, HarperCollins, 1968.

Cobbs, Price M., and William H. Grier, The Jesus Bag, McGraw-Hill, 1971.

The Promise of Diversity: Over 40 Voices Discuss Strategies for Eliminating Discrimination in Organizations, edited by Elsie Y. Cross, Judith H. Katz, Frederick A. Miller, and Edith Y. Seashore, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1994.


AHP Perspective, July/August 1993.

Black Enterprise, October 1988, p. 86.

Consortium Review, Winter 1989.

Ebony, August 1972, p. 170.

Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1986.

New Yorker, September 28, 1968.

New York Times, August 7, 1968.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 29, 1990.

Washington Post, May 31, 1971.


Cobbs, Price M., Reflections of an Old Hand (speech delivered at a symposium conducted by Pacific Management Systems), October 15, 1993.

Caroline B. D. Smith