Commentary Magazine


Action for Unity, by Goodwin Watson

Community Action Against Hatred
Action For Unity.
by Goodwin Watson.
New York, Harper, 1947. 165 pp. $2.00.

 

It is always refreshing to find an exception to a rule, especially a constructive exception.

Surveys of the “strength of the forces of hate” and assessments of the “forces now pitted against them” in the communities of this country are seldom satisfactory—usually because they are made quickly, with inadequate staff, and on impressionistic and hearsay bases.

How obviously and effectively hate—promoting must a person or organization be to be numbered among the “forces of hate”? One frequently suspects that the Gerald Smiths make the thousands of respectable and unconscious bate—mongers feel all the more invisible and complacent. To what extent may we permit ourselves, in a survey, to accept good intentions and other institutional facades at face value in weighing the utility of anti-hate “forces”? An interracial committee with an extensive paper program can divert liberals and minorities from attacking an effectively anti-minority city government.

Dr. Watson, of Teachers College, Columbia University, knew these and many other survey problems when he undertook to develop such a report and assessment under the sponsorship of the Commission on Community Interrelations of the American Jewish Congress. In Action for Unity, he tells what he learned in “published reports of projects, interviews with executives of national agencies, and visits to a dozen cities.” In the cities visited, he talked with “(1) active leaders in organizations working to improve community relations (these might be called the spark plugs); (2) social scientists who studied local problems (the scientists); and (3) some men or women of long experience in the community who were generally respected for their objectivity and fairn’idedness (the sages).” He is the first to admit the weakness of depending upon “subjective impressions to supplement the very limited objective data on effectiveness of given programs,” but his own considerable knowledge of social psychology and social action gives his book unusual value despite such acknowledged shortcomings.

In my estimation, Dr. Watson’s study can be regarded as a useful effort to bring together illustrative facts and impressions and to make a number of shrewd suggestions on the social strategies available to those who work for democratic objectives. Even after the current aspects 01 his report are outmoded, Dr. Watson’s analyses of the roles of personality and organizational types and his comments on patterns for action will have continuing value for many years.

Let me give a few examples of the advice to which I refer. In talking about the way the overworked few appear in the executive committees of overlapping paper organizations throughout the country, he tells how these well-intended folks perpetuate their overwork by coming “to think of themselves as almost indispensable and to fear that there are no others upon whom to call. A movement which deliberately went beyond the men and women who have for years carried the burden of promoting community cooperation might tap undiscovered resources of leadership and ingenuity.” In discussing the “persistent danger with individuals and organizations who seek to be useful only as ‘fixers,’” Dr. Watson makes these cogent observations: “They tend to become merely an expression of the balance of forces. They themselves are not a force. They are like the pointer on a scale moved back and forth as the weights are shifted. Their prestige and apparent influence is out of all proportion to the effect that they actually exert. The driving pressure groups, pro and con, determine the dynamics of the situation, and the negotiators and diplomats become only the mouthpiece which makes the score official.”

Dr. Watson apparently regards as his two most important recommendations—arising out of his synthesis of the experience of many organizations and individuals—(1) “that it is more constructive to attack segregation than it is to attack prejudices,” and (2) that community programs should be built “around some such slogan as this: ‘No action without research; no research without action.’” These points might v/ell become basic to all planning and action for democratic objectives. A wealth of evidence indicates that segregation can be more readily attacked than prejudice, and that attacks on segregation effectively undermine prejudices. Action research, too, it has been demonstrated time and again, increases immeasurably the effectiveness of action materials and strategies and minimizes the need for expensive “shogun” methods.

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