Commentary Magazine


“My Negro Problem”—I

To the Editor:

“My Negro Problem—And Ours” [Feb.] is important, at times profound, and above all, honest. The level of dialogue on the racial and other important social and political issues cannot, at this particular time in American history, be determined by the anticipation of angry protests or intense disagreements. Those who dare to think and feel deeply about social problems are obligated to organize their thoughts as coherently as they can and communicate them with candor. It is my opinion that Mr. Podhoretz’s article is an eloquent example of the fact that the true intellectual has no choice. . . .

It happens that I agree with most of what Mr. Podhoretz says. But I do not share completely his belief that the racial problem in America, or anywhere else, can be solved by miscegenation or intermarriage. The fact is, there has been and will be an undetermined amount of miscegenation, and this has not softened the problem. And of course there is a distinction between miscegenation and intermarriage. The type of miscegenation which has occurred in America has reflected an important aspect of the total pattern of racial injustice; namely, the desire of white men to exploit Negro women sexually as part of a system in which they exploit Negro men economically and politically. While white Americans have not invented this system wherein higher status individuals seek to maintain a system in which they have priority socially, sexually, and economically, they certainly have reinforced this pattern in race relations. This is precisely the distinction between miscegenation and intermarriage. Intermarriage takes place in a situation of equal status—miscegenation involves sexual exploitation of individuals of unequal status. It would follow, therefore, that if one had widespread intermarriage, this would be indicative of the absence of the problem with which we are concerned—widespread miscegenation, without intermarriage would be a symptom of the intensification of the problem. . . . Without the type of honest and courageous communication represented by James Baldwin’s article and Mr. Podhoretz’s we are all doomed to that stagnation of self-delusion which is tantamount to intellectual, moral, and probably literal death.

Kenneth B. Clark
Department of Psychology
The City College
New York City

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To the Editor:

Reading Norman Podhoretz’s candid article, I reflected on the nearly infinite variety of settings in which young people grow up and go to school in this country. Are there boys who grow up in America without ever having a fight—or ever realizing that they are afraid of fights? (What girls encounter is different again and little is said about it in most accounts we have.) To illustrate: my own childhood was quite unlike Mr. Podhoretz’s; when he was fighting his way home, fending off Negro boys who perhaps resented the fact that he and others like him had organized homes, I was being taken by a governess to Rittenhouse Square, geographically not far from the Negro South Side of Philadelphia, or attending country day schools, or the downtown William Penn Charter School. Like Podhoretz I feared and admired the graceful athletes in school, but all of them were white and some of them aristocratic. Indeed, what for Mr. Podhoretz and many others were issues on the margins of race were for me in my childhood issues on the margins of social class. I learned to fear tough whites, not only as a child but later—the slowly-hardening gaze of the drunk who concludes that I feel superior to him and proceeds to want to beat me up. I have never thought of America as a peace-loving democracy.

Our personal experiences are, as it were, replaced by categories of social visibility; and the very emphasis Mr. Podhoretz puts on physical grace is a benign side of the emphasis our society puts on appearance—not only color but height, good looks, shape, and outward marks of breeding. Mr. Podhoretz’s experiences as a child could easily have been forced, as he suggests, to flow into the general pattern of anti-Negro feeling in our society. Indeed the problem of all candor, in this field as in many others, is the multiplicity of unintended audiences: most importantly, of course, the white racists who wait to pounce on every scrap of evidence of Negro indolence and violence and disorganization to support their preconceptions; but also the Negro racists for whom it is more convenient that all whites “are sick in their feelings about Negroes” because then one can never be disappointed or gulled or robbed of one’s well-justified hatred. (There are many Jews who feel this way about Germans, and some about all non-Jews.) Those whose experiences do not fit them for the prevailing preconceptions can often acquire a false childhood, a false memory, shaped to the present prejudices of their sub-group.

There is even a certain amount of distortion in James Baldwin’s magnetic New Yorker essay. Baldwin modestly attributes to his being a Negro miseries that were his as a special kind of Negro (among other things, a preacher’s son), in Harlem but not of it. But his situation seems to me to be far more difficult than that of Norman Podhoretz (as I’m sure the latter would grant also), for he had opposition rather than support to fall back upon at home and was working toward a personal future in which only he believed and to which virtually nothing in his Negro environment gave the slightest support but only mockery and despair.

For me and for other fortunately situated whites, “the racial nightmare” was not central in our childhood and has become central through intellectual understanding rather than through projecting onto Negroes resentment for the inhibitions and over-protectiveness that were the other side of our advantages. . . .

I mention all this, as I have said, to illustrate the great diversity of childhood in America about which we know so little, and to warn against the dangers of over-generalization to which we can be tempted by the very concreteness of Mr. Baldwin’s and Mr. Podhoretz’s accounts. For example, though I think I have a pretty keen sense of Negro hatred of whites, I am not wholly persuaded by Mr. Baldwin that all Negroes hate whites in spite of the fact that virtually all have good reasons for doing so, as well as—until very recently—good reasons for pretending not to. Let us then speak for ourselves as Mr. Podhoretz has done, and in doing so speak in some tentative measure for others also, but always with awareness of the vastness of the country. Naturally, each of us is apt to think that his problem is the problem by which our society, plainly so threatened by its inner psychic and social strains, will live or die. The Negro problem, or more properly the white problem, is so central that it seems altogether likely that, could the racial nightmare be ended, we would “achieve our country, and change the history of the world.” However, although violence is endemic to America and indifferently distributed and directed in different sections and strata, so that there are more suicides per capita in Vermont and fewer homicides than in Mississippi, the danger that these tensions, barely contained within, will be directed outward against the ever available and often provoking Communists is grave. But I am not certain that, to be safe (and safe therefore to experience the terrible and living horrors with which Mr. Baldwin confronts us all) from this, we must first be pure on the race front. The two struggles—for a more orderly and pacific world and for a less fratricidal and more loving society—are linked but not identical. As Mr. Podhoretz says at the end, we can learn to behave better than we feel, better than we in some childish sense “are,” and I see both the vanity and the opportunity of all our problems as subordinate to the question of maintaining a reasonably intact world.

David Riesman
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

In the guise of the “good liberal” he purports to be Norman Podhoretz has written nothing short of a racist article. . . .

Mr. Podhoretz is as incapable of mitigating his hate as the most die-hard Southerner: “The hatred I still feel for Negroes . . .” While holding fast to his stereotype of the Negro and regarding them en masse as tough, erotic, truant, graceful animals, his animadversions are on a par with those of the most rabid anti-Semite. This breed regards the Jew as vulgar, offensive, sharp, and bargaining.

Mr. Podhoretz is seemingly concerned about the solution to the Negro problem. But, in these crucial times, when children as innocent and guileless as his very own, are prohibited from attending classes because they are black, he abets the stereotyped image of the Negro. By rationalizing the adult feelings that grew out of his ghetto childhood, Mr. Podhoretz reinforces the white man’s negative image of the Negro.

When Mr. Podhoretz was a child, he spoke as a child, he understood as a child, and he thought as a child. Now that he is a man, he should put away childish things.

Marvlous Elaine Harrison
New York City

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To the Editor:

In “My Negro Problem—And Ours” does Norman Podhoretz offer us anything more than another version of the “waiting-for-a change-in-the-hearts-of-men” ideology refurbished for middle-class liberal consumption? . . .

The middle-class liberal is acutely aware of his “twisted feelings”—especially when Negroes attempt to move into his neighborhood, but he is also aware that trying to slow the pace of desegregation by talking of the necessity of “waiting for a change in the hearts of men” has a decidely illiberal sound. Mr. Podhoretz’s analysis of the problem saves the day for him. By advocating miscegenation he retains his liberal status and needn’t feel uneasy about his personal resistance to desegregation since it won’t solve the “real” problem, anyway. Nor will he have to face Mr. Podhoretz’s moment of truth: By concentrating on his own soul he will help to keep the present structure of Negro-white relations intact, and therefore his daughters will have little or no opportunities for even defining a Negro as a possible husband.

One may agree with Mr. Podhoretz that the nub of the “Negro problem” is that “special feeling about color” that all white Americans acquire regardless of personal history. But this “special feeling” is the result of institutionalized segregation, and the current efforts at desegregation aim at subverting this pattern. To the extent that these efforts are successful they will allow the formation of more human patterns of relationships which, hopefully, will lead to higher and higher rates of intermarriage, and this, in turn, will quicken the erosion of the “special feeling about color.” The possibility of “blood running in the streets” is an inherent risk of the program of desegregation that must be faced and dealt with; attempting to avoid that problem by visualizing a “huge social transformation” through an individual cure of souls means that in the next generation another James Baldwin will have to preach to us again with even less cause for believing that anyone is listening.

Murray Hausknecht
Long Island City, New York

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To the Editor:

“My Negro Problem—And Ours” is, I think, a unique work. . . . In his brave decision to remember honestly, Mr. Podhoretz has given us something of genuine importance, of disturbing originality.

Elizabeth Hardwick
New York City

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To the Editor:

It is perhaps too easy to praise another man’s courage; on the race question, and in politics generally, such praise has too often been the shortest route to evasion. But Norman Podhoretz’s courage in writing and publishing “My Negro Problem—And Ours” must be praised and supported. The moral clarity of this astonishing essay is of that rare kind that really does represent an entirely new beginning for all future discussion of the Negro problem, at least so far as white liberals are concerned. Everyone knows—and has always known—that the problem of racial integration is inseparable from the issue of miscegenation and that all talk of integration that stops short of facing the “brutal” issue in its largest social and biological consequences is dishonest rhetoric designed to save the remnants of the very assumptions it pretends to attack. In this matter the most reactionary Southerners have often been more honest—closer to the truth, anyway—than enlightened liberal opinion that tacitly preserves the separate-but-equal ideal when it comes to the sexual mingling of the races while promoting integration in schools, busses, and other social facilities. Mr. Podhoretz’s candid essay tears the mask off this duplicitous thinking in a way nothing else in recent literature has. It places the issue of miscegenation—as a socially desirable solution rather than as what it has been in the past: a despised private option—firmly in the foreground of all future discussion, which is where it belongs. His essay thus provides the white liberal with the one thing he has always lacked in dealing with the Negro problem: a position, anchored in the most difficult reality, from which he can hope to build a believable future. The polite fiddle-faddle has been removed at last, and we can begin now to see where we are and toward what we are moving. The pain that many enlightened people must have felt on reading this essay was the pain of confronting a truth too long ignored.

Hilton Kramer
New York City

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To the Editor:

It is probably perfectly valid to write about Negro-white tension in America without setting oneself the task of finding causes or solutions, to offer one’s own experiences as perhaps at least interesting, even to take the long tragic view and assert that there is no solution, as Norman Podhoretz does. If he had done only that his essay would be sometimes moving, sometimes embarrassing, but mainly unexceptionable. Unfortunately, he does not limit himself to that. He goes on, almost in spite of himself, to look for reasons while holding that reasons no longer matter—the problem of hate just is. He wonders plaintively why the Negroes in his neighborhood should have hated the Italian and Jewish immigrants who had no share in Negro enslavement, as though the Negroes there were in any position to make such nice distinctions and to hate selectively. He sees himself as a liberal and he knows his liberalism has not saved him from hate. Then by the easy and familiar inductive leap he holds all liberals guilty of as compromised an attitude as his, thereby absolving himself of responsibility. He feels in any case that the problem has been forced on him—by Negroes as well as white people—and begs off finally by ascribing an almost occult power to color as the ultimate cause of race hate.

Podhoretz is so infatuated with the word “hate,” he so nearly revels in its use, that it becomes finally an excuse for his failure to come to a comprehension, if not resolution, of his Negro problem. He so frightens (and comforts) himself with the word that he abandons the intellect: learned, rational understanding, which he asserts he has, is no good because the hate (for many people more likely “discomfort”) persists. In a kind of reverse utopianism he despairs of solution or even progress where there is “hatred” or “envy” or “rejection.” Yet James Baldwin, whom Podhoretz quotes for some reason or other in his puzzled and inconclusive paragraph on Black Muslim-ism, has said (in a recent number of The Progressive) that it is impertinent for white people to think they must learn to accept the Negro. If Podhoretz were less carried away by his “hate” he would be less willing to abandon reason and political process as means toward the solution of our Negro problem.

But Podhoretz cannot refrain from solving it after all: the way for a problem to be solved is for the problem no longer to exist. After raising the spectre of bloodshed because the Negro wants equality now, after sneering at the white “liberal’s” gradualism, he bravely asks for eventual total assimilation. He says whimperingly to the Negro, you make me uncomfortable, you make me feel inadequate, you worry me because you are different—so please stop being different. This is the same old story of asking the Negro to do it all. This is asking the Negro, who has been thwarted and denied in every endeavor because he is a Negro, to give over the drive to succeed, to count, while at the same time remaining a Negro. Podhoretz can understand why Jews want to survive: they are tied to a memory of past glory. But not the Negroes. Their past is stigma, their color is a stigma, their “vision of the future is the hope of erasing the stigma by making color irrelevant, by making it disappear as a fact of consciousness.” Again Podhoretz has trouble with his words. The Negroes’ past and color are stigmas only on white Americans. To make color irrelevant is one thing and is all that most Negroes and most liberals ask; to make it disappear as a fact of consciousness is another and is what Podhoretz seems to need for his own self respect. To put it more precisely than he has been willing to do, his vision of the future is of erasing the stigma on the white man’s past by erasing the Negro.

Joan S. Weston
Amherst, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

I write to commend you for publishing “My Negro Problem—And Ours,” which seemed to me an act of supreme courage. This is not to say that I agreed with every point Mr. Podhoretz was making, especially the conclusions he drew from his own personal persecution, as a boy, at the hands of Negro boys. Nonetheless, there is in Mr. Podhoretz’s essay a self-searching and self-judging honesty which is rare among liberals when it comes to dealing with the color problem. And I may add that I, as a South African Negro, speak as one who knows something of the hypocrisies, of the pain and rage, which surround the discussion of color prejudice in that unhappy country.

Mr. Podhoretz’s contribution to an honest discussion of the relationship between white and black people is especially timely because, if one assesses the mood of black people correctly around the world, we may not have too much time in which to continue talking decently to each other across the color-line. Every so often editors bemoan the inroads made by bureaucracies upon the freedom of speech, and yet little of it is used to enlarge, however painfully, the areas of our understanding.

Lewis Nkosi
London, England

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To the Editor:

The fact that both Negroes and whites are beginning to speak and write candidly about their deepest feelings on matters of race relations—as James Baldwin has in his recent articles in the New Yorker, Harper’s and elsewhere, and as Mr. Podhoretz did in the February issue of COMMENTARY—seems to me a most hopeful sign. I hope that readers of both races will recognize that this dialogue is being conducted in a humane and constructive spirit—even though it is bound to touch upon a good many raw nerves. The end result, I hope, will be a much wider realization that the country’s racial problem involves emotional issues which cannot be solved by legislation, lawsuits, or police action; that the fault is not all on one side; and that the first step toward resolving such issues is to bring them into the light of honest discussion.

I cannot agree with all of the points Mr. Podhoretz made. For example, I am not convinced that hatred between the races is as common as he suggests. Neither can I believe that inter-marriage is likely to prove a practical solution for the problems he discusses, at least within the foreseeable future. I’m quite sure, however, that it is a healthy thing to have such questions raised, and I hope that Negro writers will continue the discussion with the honesty and good will which are so evident in Mr. Podhoretz’s article.

John Fischer
Editor-in-chief
Harper’s Magazine
New York City

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To the Editor:

It takes a monumental capacity for confessional honesty to have written as Norman Podhoretz has written in “My Negro Problem—And Ours.” For the first time to my recollection an American Jew (also a precarious phenomenon) has had the courage to acknowledge the corruptibility of consciousness to which he—in spite of all inherited wisdom and sublime influence—is liable. . . .

Yet I cannot agree with him or Mr. Baldwin that color is a political problem. It is rather too easy in my view to make an existential fact into a political issue merely because one passionately seeks to eliminate it. Color is not removable and miscegenation—whatever the daring of Mr. Podhoretz’s conclusion—is not (as he admits) a programmatic principle. . . .

Arthur A. Cohen
New York City

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To the Editor:

I doubt that any other thing I have ever read so impressed me for intelligence and honesty as “My Negro Problem—And Ours.” It must have been an act of great courage also.

Charles S. Hyneman
Department of Government
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

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To the Editor:

I don’t often write fan mail to editors, but I was deeply touched by “My Negro Problem—And Ours,” which, I think, sums up a state of mind with regard to the Negro felt by more people than care to admit it.

Charles Raddock
New York City

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To the Editor:

“In thinking about the Jews I have often wondered whether their survival as a distinct group was worth one hair on the head of a single infant . . .”—“I cannot see how it will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear.”—The solution is so easy I wonder how no one else ever thought of it. If we had no Negroes or Jews we would have no minority problems. If this is a proposed solution, then COMMENTARY should start looking for a new editor. Or, better still, no editor will be necessary since the very reason for the existence of COMMENTARY will have disappeared. It is fairly elementary that in the absence of Jews, Poles, French, Italians, Gypsies, etc., Hitler would have slaughtered all people with long noses, or short foreheads. Having eliminated the black color by intermarriage, when do we start on the brown, the yellow, and the red? This attitude proves that there can be a racial Munich as well as a political one. To elimate persecution, bigotry, prejudice, and the like we just remove the victim. Thus a new school of thought is born. And this from the editor of COMMENTARY! Shame.

Morton Weitzner
New York City

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s interesting and honorable discussion of his Negroes is somewhat unreasonable. He is, of course, right to conclude that where there is a social injustice one must simply remedy it, period. But since, in this area, to do justice arouses such emotional turmoil in himself, he ought, in justice to himself, to consult psychotherapy and find out why it is so hard for him to be rational. Childhood traces at the level that he explores them for us do not explain anything, for why is he still susceptible, though his real situation is so different? They are obviously screen-memories. (The same applies to much of Baldwin.)

I certainly shall not presume to mention the unconscious conflicts which (to me) appear in his childhood narrative, but let me make two general observations: (1) wherever society has imposed a boundary—whether racial, religious, national, or moral—there is bound to be rampant unconscious projection across it, to bolster each one’s own shaky identity by lowering anxiety; and (2) for many people, an underlying Oedipus-complex makes forbidden and uncanny those who are “like” one’s own family.

Podhoretz’s case of miscegenation as a remedy is typical of his avoidance of his own concrete reality. Let us hope that people will not marry to miscegenate but because of personal liking and physical attraction. If Podhoretz would imagine more concretely, he would realize that his daughter’s putative Negro boyfriend would be somebody that he would dislike or like and that that would determine whether or not he would tear his hair.

Paul Goodman
New York City

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s article is a masterpiece of courageous and acute journalism. It is accurate in its perception and tremendously impressive in its conclusions. My deepest congratulations.

Lee R. Bobker
New York City

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To the Editor:

I have never been beaten by Negroes, only by whites, but my feelings of terror as a boy were exactly of the order of Mr. Podhoretz’s and appeared in the same general circumstances. If you were around the school yard toward dusk and later, and you did not belong to a gang, you would most likely be beaten.

I know what Mr. Podhoretz means, too, by the admiration a boy feels for the sheer toughness of the boys who fight all the time, and who live in such a way that the police, teachers, parents, anybody else on the side of authority is an enemy for whom one has only contempt.

The trouble with most educational systems in poor neighborhoods is that the schools are not planned as instruments of the community, but only as buildings where subjects—vocational or academic—are taught, and the authority of the teacher has no basis in the community as a whole.

In Mr. Podhoretz’s case he learned not to hate because his family and friends educated him not to. As for his solution, it will be quite a while before everybody is intermarried and nobody is white or black. In the meantime, what we have to do is to pour our intellectual and moral energies into the solution of the true educational problem—teaching children to live in a community. We know how to do that, and whenever the community has really tried, by economic, social, and educational change taken all together, it has been successful. At least it has reduced the hating to a manageable size, shifted it to an individual basis and away from a black-white, Jew-Gentile, Italian-Irish battle.

Although I can agree with Mr. Podhoretz that the blacks have to see whites and cannot expect the whites to do all the looking, the whites do have the power and therefore the responsibility to arrange for everyone to see everyone else.

That is what educators and intellectuals should be dealing with instead of trying to make education a way of stuffing academic material down the throats of a whole population.

Harold Taylor
New York City

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To the Editor:

I am beset by some of the feelings about Negroes which Mr. Podhoretz’s article describes with such admirable honesty, and so no doubt are most other middle-class whites. Nevertheless, I think that his childhood experiences with Negroes may have been more traumatic than those of most of us, thus scarring his feelings today—as well they might—but in the process also affecting his conclusions about the problem of Negro-white relations. . . .

The white fear-and-hatred may involve projective mechanisms against the outgroup, but I think the primary explanation lies not in psychological or psychoanalytic concepts but in the facts of economic and social inequality. Since Negroes are at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, whites who come into contact with them fear the loss of status. This affects most directly the low-income whites—and this is why they have been the instigators of most race riots—but it also touches the middle class liberal, for example in his unwillingness to expose his children to predominantly Negro schools, and therefore to predominantly lower-class education. To be sure, there is also fear of Negro violence and fascination with Negro sexuality, but these feelings differ only in degree from those held, say, a generation ago by middle-class Anglo-Saxon about Southern and Eastern European low-income people.

Color is of course a more lasting mark of lower-class status than ethnicity but it is not an intrinsic one, and it need not be a permanent one. If Negroes could obtain the same occupational and educational opportunities as whites, then Negro life would eventually take on more of the same middle-class characteristics, and this in turn would reduce the association of fear and hatred with color. Color itself would not disappear, of course, but once other differences are reduced, it would be much less noticed.

Equality of opportunity is easier advocated than obtained, especially since the demand for unskilled labor, by which the European immigrant escaped from the lower class, has virtually disappeared today. The drastic changes in the economy and social structure which are necessary to reduce inequality are resisted by whites not only to maintain their racial dominance, but also by the widespread unwillingness to use the government as an agent of social change, and by the inability of Negroes to generate the political power to force such changes. . . .

The proper extension of educational and occupational opportunity may thus take a much longer time than justice demands, but despite all the negative trends, I am still hopeful that someday Negroes will become part of the middle class.

Once economic assimilation is a reality, and class based differences in behavior vanish so that color can no longer mean class difference, intermarriage is likely to take place as well. Even so, it will be the last step in the process of social assimilation, and by then, American society will probably be so different from today’s that the twisted sexual and other feelings which the races now hold toward each other will be washed away. Under such conditions, the term miscegenation will of course be as inappropriate as it is now for marriages between whites and orientals, even though these unions were considered unthinkable a generation ago.

But widespread Negro-white intermarriage is so far off in time that to think of it as a solution, rather than as the end-product, is not only irrelevant, but likely to deflect attention from the more immediate need for the reduction of economic and political inequality. Moreover, such proposals could easily play into the hands of those defenders of the status quo who use the white fears aroused by miscegenation as an excuse for resisting the extension of more basic opportunities.

Herbert J. Gans
New York City

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz has written on a highly-charged subject with extraordinary skill, heart, and perception. I think that this essay will be referred to for years by the people involved in this important matter.

Harold U. Ribalow
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . As a serious essay pretending to shed light on a crucial question, Norman Podhoretz’s article is juvenile, pedestrian, and even dangerous. I cannot help seeing the bewildered faces of thousands of Southern Jews, already carrying a heavy burden of stress and anxiety, when they are confronted with this article by their equally harassed white, gentile neighbors. Mr. Podhoretz should know that no serious student of the Negro problem can accept the glib cliché that “all Negroes hate whites” and that “all whites hate Negroes.” As a Jew, he should know that assimilation among Jews has been going on for centuries, especially in Germany, without producing the slightest mitigation of German hatred and intolerance against the Jew. Why then does he think that the Negro counterpart of assimilation, miscegenation, will work here in the United States? . . .

Does Mr. Podhoretz really believe that the average Southerner is concerned with the Negro’s skin, or is racism again rather a convenient device with which Southern political demagogues exploit the underprivileged poor whites to their own advantage by offering them the Negro as a scapegoat? In other words, if Mr. Podhoretz had been willing to consult other authorities besides Mr. Baldwin, he would have found political and economic factors more crucial and definitive in Negro-white relations than the racial issue.

Most distressing of the absurdities in Mr. Podhoretz’s article is his failure to draw on the only rationale for the improvement of Negro-white relations, and Christian-Jewish, as well. The philosophical and human case for the end of racism is in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Golden Rule. It is from these sources that millions of Americans—Negro and white, Christian and Jew—draw the courage, hope and, faith that the injustice toward the Negro will be undone.

Finally, Mr. Podhoretz’s essay suffers from the liberal confusion that every human problem has a “solution”—final and ultimate, despite the evidence of human history that no such final solution has ever existed. Only the Nazis and similar individuals ever come up with ultimate solutions. Realistic Americans . . . optimistically look for substantial progress in the Negro’s position, not for final solutions. . . .

David Antman
Forest Hills, New York

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To the Editor:

I, too, have become bored and irritated by the pedestrian level on which the Negro problem continues to be discussed, and it was a great joy to read Norman Podhoretz’s article for its refreshingly honest comment on the subject.

Robert Gutman
Director of Research
The Urban Studies Center
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

The article by Norman Podhoretz, “My Negro Problem—And Ours,” had a good deal of force and honesty to it, and it was a serious attempt to confront the white liberal’s dilemma in terms that take into account the injuries to both parties. The ending was another matter, however. I have no quarrel with miscegenation as a matter of individual choice, but I can’t see it solving any of the problem which the article so seriously attempts to discuss. In places like South Africa and the Deep South where miscegenation has been widely (albeit covertly) practiced, the problem of color has only intensified; the man of color is always the outsider, even if he only happens to be a hybrid, not a pure strain. . . . If he cared to, the Jew in America could adopt gentile habits and a gentile name. But how can the Negro? His “facelessness” is the facelessness of the black man in a white society which does not recognize the ambiguities of mixed strains. . . .

Dick Elman
Public Affairs Director
WBAI-fm
New York City

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To the Editor:

I was greatly moved in reading “My Negro Problem—And Ours.” Its frankness is disarming. I shall not pretend that my hair did not rise several times at the thought of some of the things Mr. Podhoretz reports about his treatment by Negro boys: but who started it? I kept thinking—isn’t it the white adult who first decided to keep everything to himself and despise the Negro? How else could Negro boys behave? Isn’t the huge guilt the white man’s entirely? When the temperature was down I thought my emotional states were due to the fact that I am a South African Negro, which says much. We still come back to Mr. Podhoretz’s “awkward” question, “How could the Negroes in my neighborhood have regarded the whites across the street and around the corner as jailers? . . . As for white hatred of the Negro, how could guilt have had anything to do with it?” Is the physical fact of color not the all-potent thing after all in these relationships? . . .

At one point I wondered why Mr. Podhoretz seemed to think that integration necessarily had as its ultimate or inevitable aim the preservation of the Negro race as a protected minority. But he offers an answer to the dilemma—quite relieving—miscegenation. I just cannot see how a nation can continue to cheat itself into thinking that it can go on happily ever after merely because it is a physical mixture of races and put off indefinitely the day when it will be a chemical compound, like the Brazilian phenomenon. I can see this as the only solution for South Africa.

I am rather skeptical of James Baldwin’s assertion that all Negroes hate whites. Besides, this is neither here nor there. Isn’t it the antithesis of the equally absurd statement, “I like Negroes” or “I like Italians”? . . . I do not know the racial scene in America sufficiently to say Baldwin is wrong. But it does seem that he is ignoring dynamic person-to-person relationships which are all the time forming and breaking up and forming. I can quite appreciate that, as he says, color is a political thing, and therefore generates vicious and overwhelming group attitudes, and such person-to-person relationships become irrelevant, unimportant. And then, as Negroes, we tell ourselves that we ought all to be hating every white man.

Finally, it is brave and wise for COMMENTARY to want to publish articles like “My Negro Problem—And Ours.” It is important that we should purge ourselves of the complexes Mr. Podhoretz gestures at; and how else can we do this than by knowing them for what they are?

Ezekiel Mphahlele
Congrès pour la Liberté de la Culture
Paris, France

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Mr. Podhoretz’s examination of the “Negro problem” is brave, and eloquent, and—as he would probably not deny—dreadfully confused.

Children are remarkably intense creatures, strange and revelatory; children grow into adults, and the process of growth necessarily shapes the end product. But a child’s understanding of himself and his world, his inability to relate one phenomenon to another with even a reasonable semblance of objectivity, makes for a fantastic distortion in his perspective. To carry such distortions forward, and then to attempt adult-world generalizations on such a wildly askew basis, cannot be more than of limited utility. Mr. Podhoretz was tormented by Negroes as a child, and hated; bravely, he admits that he hates still. . . . But even if he has some reason to maintain his hatred, living “on the upper west side of Manhattan,” why does he maintain it so unchanged? He would be in exactly the same danger—no less, no more—walking through a white waterfront neighborhood at night, dressed in his uniform of fairly prosperous respectability. . . . What he felt in childhood, what they felt then, is not crucial, not any more. Not even helpful, indeed—one draws passion and irrationality from such childhood remembrances, and one is relieved of their burden, but understanding must be sought elsewhere. . . .

There are more millions of people in the U.S.—white and black alike—than Mr. Podhoretz or any other adult will ever be called upon to deal with, face-to-face. The situations in which those people live are of course in part personal ones, but not in largest part. . . . We live in an incredibly complex world. Life can be pushed at, and affected, at an incredible multiplicity of points. If an urban, liberal, white Jew sends his children to a private school, rather than to the racially-mixed local public school, that hurts long-run Negro-white relations. But if he also—surely in good measure from guilt!—gives his support, financial and social, to the NAACP or to CORE, it may be that the net effect of his actions is beneficial rattier than hurtful. It may be, further, that the two aspects of the one individual are deeply dependent one on the other, and that, for example, progress made by Negro action groups may in turn cause a raising of Negro educational levels and thereby create less pressure for panicked withdrawal to non-public education. Nothing, not even the Negroes and the whites themselves, is all black and white.

Burton Raffel
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Mr. Podhoretz’s article on the Negro problem is penetrating and knowledgeable, and its candor puts us all in his debt. I hope that it will arouse troubled thought, not just rationalization and piety. Three comments come to my mind.

First, I have the impression that a special intensity of hatred is building up in certain Negro quarters toward the middle-class liberal white. There is an element of felt betrayal. It is the feeling of betrayal that arouses the intensest of hates in all human relationships, and how else can the Negro feel but betrayed when he notes in the white liberal the signs of aversion (residential, educational, and, in a way that he never felt in the old South, physiological) that he had been led to believe were the stigmata of reactionaries only. Expecting nothing anyhow from the reactionary, the Negro is not likely to respond to him with the same knife-like rancor that goes to the liberal—who has wooed the Negro with words and laws, and then left him. It would be hard to imagine a better recipe for lasting hate than the present combination of expectation and rebuff. I am convinced that Black Muslimism is more a reaction to white liberalism than it is to old-line segregationism.

Second, I agree with Mr. Podhoretz that the Negro problem, as he and James Baldwin pose it, is not going to be settled until color disappears. . . . Both the Negro leader and the white liberal have usually protested that talk of intermarriage was a red herring. Opponents of civil rights have always said warningly that economic and social equality once begun must lead to intermarriage. If I understand Mr. Podhoretz he is saying hopefully that intermarriage once begun might lead to social and economic equality. I can think of various social mechanisms of racial intermingling in history—concubinage, marriage by force, by arrangement, romance—but none, unhappily, that apply at the present time, given the tragically contradictory legal and psychological conditions attending the Negro problem.

Third, I would like to propose that we banish the word integration. Apart from its unexceptional mathematical meaning, it is a semantic blob, a non-word. . . . Where else in the history of human relationships has this awful word been used? Women’s rights? Jew and Gentile? Catholic and Protestant? Nowhere, to the best of my knowledge, and nowhere is where the word belongs.

What is to replace it? I take my stand on one thing alone: citizenship. Citizenship is not a semantic blob. It is as hard and clear as a diamond. It is the noblest word in the history of Western polity. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we concentrate on citizenship as the end, forgetting about the non-word, integration, we will put ourselves in a few decades at least where Catholic-Protestant and Jew-Gentile relationships have been put. These relationships, the Lord knows, are far from perfect; they add to the human condition. But few need be reminded of how far we have come.

Robert A. Nisbet
Chancellor
University of California
Riverside, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

I have been a reader of and subscriber to COMMENTARY for the past twelve years. During that time I have never read an article of such low intellectual caliber as “My Negro Problem—And Ours.”

The article is offensive to any Jew who has had any association with Jewish tradition. Such a Jew is told in effect that because he helped to keep Jewish identity alive, he must bear part of the responsibility for the annihilation of six million Jews. This is as logical as telling a victim of a murder that he must bear some responsibility for his own murder because he was still alive at the time of his murder.

The article is offensive to any Negro. In effect, the Negro is told he has no past worth looking back at and no future, except his escape from his past by intermarriage. I wonder how many eminent Negro personages were consulted before the conclusions on intermarriage were reached. . . .

Israel W. Kirshenbaum
Brooklyn, New York

_____________

 

To the Editor:

May I thank you profoundly for “My Negro Problem—And Ours”—a piece which needed writing and which Mr. Podhoretz wrote beautifully? . . .

I believe, however, that Mr. Podhoretz draws the wrong conclusions to reach the right answer. Differences in skin color are handicaps for the minority groups. . . . We are decades away from erasing these artificial barriers between man and man. But the tide is turning toward the procurement of equal rights—political and economic—in favor of the colored races. . . .

Harry Schneiderman
Chicago, Illinois

_____________

 

To the Editor:

“My Negro Problem—And Ours” is one of the most honest efforts of real soul-searching in this whole business of prejudice that I have seen in a long time.

Constance Curry
Director
Southern Student Human Relations
Project
US National Student Association
Atlanta, Georgia

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s piece is a real landmark and if I had a Pulitzer Prize to give, he’d have it.

Gilbert A. Harrison
Editor-in-chief
The New Republic
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

[Correspondence on “My Negro Problem—And Ours” mill be continued in forthcoming issues.]

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