To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
The Negro "status seeker," as Mr. Frederick H. Gardner justly observed in last Friday's CRIMSON, is not an effective "equalitarian." He does not win our admiration as do the courageous freedom fighters. But it is presumption to scorn the Negro who seeks personal betterment. Few persons are cut out to be crusaders, and to insist that every Negro is under moral compulsion to make himself an unwilling sacrifice is cruel and destructive.
Perhaps it will be argued--James Baldwin may have so intimated--that no Negro can be happy or fulfilled in any current milieu. Negro or white. My own experience leads me to believe that this is simply untrue. It is more difficult for the Negro (many whites find it hard), but it can be done. Fulfillment is a function not of race or condition but of temperament. It is not necessary to the cause of Negro rights to hang a load of guilt on the Negro who seeks some solace in the here and now.
Mr. Gardner bolsters his case by an analogy to the Jew who pays "institutional lip service" to equality but "vigorously upholds a segregated network of schools and homes." We Jews who have access to the rich cosmopolitan life of the University and the world of the intelligentsia may look askance at the Jew who "chooses" to "segregate" himself. But our virtuous renunciation of Jewishness rests on the availability of a preferred alternative. We are not warranted in judging harshly those who find comfort in a Jewish milieu. The melting pot is an opportunity not a duty. This insistence in nationalistic uniformity is in curious contradiction to our praise of difference and variety.
Finally let us not denigrate, let us not undermine the "rigidly structured Negro society" of Atlanta and other cities. In the current situation the likely alternative is the hellish chaos of Harlem. We must keep the old world in effective health while the new world is a building. Louis L. Jaffe Professor of Law
Mr. Gardner replies:
It was not my purpose to express scorn for anyone, but to show that within a southern Negro community--Atlanta in the case at hand--there exists a variety of social attitudes, few of which approximate the radicalism which Northerners read into the civil rights movement.
There is, in fact, a strong current of conservatism in Negro Atlanta, and many Negro clergymen, store-owners, teachers and small businessmen find "their solace in the the here and now" specifically in upholding a framework of segregation from which they profit. This is a phenomenon that has received little attention in the North. Then too, many members of Atlanta's black bourgeoisie take advantage of the hazy distinction between personal and social advance to indulge private (sometimes selfish) ambitions in the name of civil rights. As for the "courageous freedom fighters," the question is not whether we in the North admire them, but whether we accurately assess the percentage of the Negro populace they represent.
Professor Jaffe is rightly disconcerted by my reference to New York Jews. In trying to indicate that the ghetto experience need not guarantee an equalitarian outlook, I sought to invoke not the Jew who chooses to segregate himself, but the Jew who segregates against other minority groups (while still striving for equality within white Christian society). I regret having left room for misinterpretation.
I would like to take the opportunity to broaden this final point. If the ghetto does not impart an equalitarian strain to its victims, then it impresses the dog-eat-dog ethos upon them, and perpetuates a cycle of discrimination. The image of Jewish landlords violating state housing laws at the expense of Harlem tenants, to my mind, fits this cycle; so does Negro persecution and exploitation of Puerto Ricans and other Negroes. Advancing the cycle to grant the Negro middle class its exploitative prerogatives does not complement the civil rights movement.