THE WHITE LIBERAL PROBLEM

The Mail

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

I would like to comment on the "white liberal problem" re. the letter of 2/23/63. J.G.'s letter is insistently addressed to the "white liberals" only. They are, supposedly, a group apart, easily recognizeable by their blindness to their own prejudices. J.G., implicitly, is not a white liberal, but he assures us that he bears them no personal ill-will, since he, too, has "Liberal friends." (To avoid any further identity confusions I'd better say here that I am a "white," of "Jewish" background, and a radical.) J.G. offers the white liberal and the country one simple solution to dissolve the "race barrier"--to treat "the individual as an individual." The problem, supposedly, is entirely psychological and can be overcome by an internal change of attitude. If we only have the spirit within us the barrier will fall. Fortunately for the white liberal this is an arch-typal position--the individual for his own sake--fortunately this position calls for no action, but only complacent waiting for individual-type Negroes to drop in. J.G., then, entirely identifies himself with the white liberals, and curses them only to assume the singing-robes of the high-priesthood of liberalism, the persons of the prophet. Thus, he places his hope only in "liberals on both sides of the race barrier."

I am far from underestimating the importance of the self-perpetuating psychological barriers created by segregation. Nor do I dismiss the contribution of liberals to social change in our country. But treating the individual as an individual is our end and cannot be a program. What really results if we treat the individual as an individual here and now, and ignore the existence of groups as groups?--if we treat persons strictly according to their merits, as J.G. suggests? We establish a heirarchy of society from "scientist" to "drunkard" (as if no scientists were also alcoholics!) and the IQ test becomes our new Bill of Rights. For the lucky few in Harvard this attitude may seem entirely proper, as long as they stay around the Square and don't wander into the shabby area a few blocks below Dunster House. Since we are judging the individual on his merits we might as well forget about the blatantly unequal opportunities in education, employment and housing and culture which tend to maim the individual Negro.

We need no wonder, for that matter, why scientists are an unusually small percentage of the dark-skinned segment of our population. We need not wonder if there is injustice done to groups in America as long as our personal friendships are A-OK. But the fact remains that so-called Negroes are damaged en masse by the imposition of what I agree with Mr. Gillman is an artificial barrier, as, indeed, are the so-called whites, though their scars are less likely to show up in the simple test between "scientist" or "drunkard." This barrier, however, is not only in the mind, but in institutions and practices--divisive, violent, and exploitative. We can not ignore the reality of segregation itself and, yes, the economic and social bases of segregation, in our effort to do away with its psychological effects. John Weber '64