Anti-Semitism, Survey-Analysis & Assimilation
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz clearly has strong feelings about Negro anti-Semitism. These feelings, along with her pretensions to social-science expertise, have led to an article [“Can Anti-Semitism Be Measured?,” July] as unfair as it is uninformed.
With respect to my study, Protest and Prejudice, she quotes out of context, drops crucial qualifying words and phrases, makes misstatements of facts, misinterprets data, misunderstands the nature of survey research, uses a 1970 perspective to attack 1964 data, makes undocumented charges, and tries to pass off her strongly held value positions as scientific criticism; not to mention the intellectually lazy tactic of attacking the study not on its own terms for what it tried to do, but in light of questions and methods it chose not to deal with.
Mrs. Dawidowicz seems to be making three orders of criticism:
- My personal values affected my findings.
- My study of the black community in 1964 has been “turned into ancient history.”
- Surveys are inappropriate for measuring anti-Semitism.
After being attacked by segments of the white and black Left for doing a study that is seen as “racist” and a “cop-out” precisely because it tries to be “objective,” “neutral,” and “scientific,” it is refreshing, even if not defensible, to be attacked for doing what is seen as partisan scholarship.
The main “evidence” adduced to support Mrs. Dawidowicz’s charges are a statement from the preface about my involvement and concern with the civil-rights struggle and a quote from the dedication of the book which states:
To those oppressed because of their racial, religious, or ethnic identity in the hope that they will become more militant and more tolerant and thus transcend evils so long and cruelly perpetrated by man on man.
Would Mrs. Dawidowicz prefer a dedication which hoped that those oppressed for such reasons would become militant and perpetuate the intolerance, bigotry, hatred, oppression, and cruelty so characteristic of ethnic subordination? Or, perhaps, she would prefer a society where those oppressed for ethnic reasons simply knew their place and didn’t rock the boat for fear of producing an even worse society?
It is one thing for a researcher to acknowledge his values. It is quite another for a reviewer, who as a citizen and a Jew happens not to like the implications of the data, to take this acknowledgment as evidence of partisan scholarship.
The data presented were in no way always consistent with my values. In fact, 1 felt very ambivalent about some of the findings of mass moderation on the part of American blacks. That such information was nevertheless reported has led to criticism from those who think that social science should only be a vehicle for furthering political ends. For one strongly concerned with civil rights, to write a hook stressing the variety of attitudes held by different groups of blacks, rather than emphasizing how extensive militancy and hatred of whites are, can hardly be called partisan scholarship.
One standard by which a body of scientific data can be evaluated is its consistency with other research. That the large number of studies done on mass black opinion since mine, and the eight studies concerned primarily with Negro attitudes toward Jews, reach descriptive conclusions essentially similar to mine, hardly bespeaks a partisan approach. Unless, of course, we are to believe that there is a massive conspiracy among a large number of researchers.
The accusation of partisan scholarship seems to emerge from the fact that the data have political uses. Mrs. Dawidowicz is upset that during Ocean Hill-Brownsville and related controversies some people took the data out of context and wrongly used them to deny the presence of black anti-Semitism. I am also upset by this. I am equally upset by the way white conservatives have misused the data on moderation to argue that blacks are essentially content and that problems stem from a small number of agitators. As well, I have not been pleased by the way some black nationalists have selectively used the data to argue that a majority of blacks support aggressive violence. This use of the same research study by those holding opposite ideologies hardly bespeaks partisan scholarship.
Data on such issues are complex and rarely ever lend themselves to completely unambiguous interpretations. There is always a danger of misuses of the data. But what is the alternative? Would Mrs. Dawidowicz prefer a discussion of mass attitudes that takes place, without reference to a systematic body of empirical data, as her favorable reference to the “evidence” on these matters provided by Claude Brown suggests? Or would she prefer to have the data reported only if it happened to be unequivocally consistent with her personal values and interests, in this case, documentation of the extreme threat posed by black anti-Semitism as perhaps might be indicated by findings that all blacks hated Jews and only Jews?
Mrs. Dawidowicz’s wish to discredit the data is so great that she is led to outright distortion, even beyond taking material out of context and denying the many qualifications contained in the book (such as my many warnings about the difference between attitudes and behavior, experience and perception, and that all opinions count equally only in a survey). For example, in contrasting my results with those of the UCLA study of Watts she writes: “. . . social researchers at UCLA, studying aspects of the Watts riot, found that 30 per cent of their respondents indicated signs of black militancy. Their measuring devices differed from Marx’s but when the UCLA researchers administered Marx’s scale to their Los Angeles respondents, the latter’s black militancy evaporated.” This is patent untruth. The UCLA researchers never applied my scale. In fact, they were unaware of it at the time of their study. Furthermore, her effort to suggest that the carefully carried out UCLA study done at a different point in time, in a city I didn’t study, using a single question rather than an index, whose results on level of support for the Black Muslims have generally not been replicated by other research, somehow has major bearing on the validity of my study is unjustified.
The moderation found by my study and by many subsequent studies does not pose for her any questions about the problems inherent in a common-sense approach to complex social issues. Rather, she seeks to discount data which are inconsistent with her subjective conceptions of what they should be, by noting, “nothing it seemed was what it appeared to be. Was the index at fault? Was the sample a fault? Were the interviewers at fault?” It is precisely because common-sense approaches are very often wrong that we do social science. The resolution of the difficulty lies not in Mrs. Dawidowicz’s unsophisticated and undocumented methodological critique but in her unwillingness to accept empirical data which run contrary to her sense of what the data are, or should be. (The errors of methodological interpretation in the essay are numerous and not of interest to the general reader. Here let me simply note Mrs. Dawidowicz’s lack of understanding of the criteria by which questions are chosen for an index, the use of positively worded items to deal with problems of aquiescence, her confusing necessary and sufficient causes with statements of a probabilistic nature, and her failure to grasp the important difference between an index vs. a single question.)
Not acknowledging her retrospective view, Mrs. Dawidowicz accuses the study of being an uncritical apology for black militancy. Though in so doing she ignores the fact that the data and my value statements applied to the militancy of 1964, not that of 1970, some of which is clearly unrealistic, self-destructive, and a far cry from the earlier humanism of the movement. The study found that those most likely to be militant over civil-rights issues in 1964, rather than being the frustrated, alienated, hate-filled lumpen misfits, who populated the Eric Hoffer-Ronald Reagan image of activists, tended to be instead an elite group in the black community. They were better educated and informed, less socially isolated, had a more positive self-image, a higher morale, and were less hostile to whites. If such findings constitute an apology for the earlier phases of the civil-rights movement, so be it.
Mrs. Dawidowicz’s failure to understand survey analysis and what my study tries to do is clearly indicated in the statement, “the radical shifts in the civil-rights movement have, of course, turned Marx’s sociology of the black community in 1964 into ancient history.” In a postscript to the book’s paperback edition, I consider whether the data collected in 1964 are still relevant in the face of the profound changes that have occurred on the civil-rights scene and whether or not the mass moderation found in 1964 has now disappeared. Here it is useful to differentiate between the analytic and descriptive findings. My concern was primarily with the former. To argue that my sociology is now out of date would require Mrs. Dawidowicz to produce systematic empirical data that shows, for example, that religion no longer operates to inhibit militancy, that social mobility no longer encourages militancy, that being removed from the values of the traditional South and having a positive self-image no longer increases the likelihood of civil-rights concern, or that having a low morale and being socially isolated are now suddenly conducive to a militant ideology. Does Mrs. Dawidowicz really believe that those with a high degree of unpleasant economic contact with merchants they perceive to be Jewish have suddenly become among those least likely to be anti-Semitic? Are attitudes toward Jewish and non-Jewish whites suddenly no longer related? Have the 20 per cent of blacks who make a distinction between Jewish whites and other whites suddenly started seeing Jews as worse than other whites, not better? With respect to the descriptive question of whether mass moderation still exists, the 30-odd studies summarized in the postscript, carried out in 1967 and 1968, clearly suggest that mass moderation is still present. In many ways the attitudes of the masses of black people were not terribly different in 1969 from what they were in 1964, the mass media and dramatic events notwithstanding. From all of the subsequent research that I have seen, these findings still hold. If Mrs. Dawidowicz has evidence to suggest that any of the above is no longer true, she has certainly not presented it.
Mrs. Dawidowicz argues that the study is lacking in validity because it did not sample disproportionately from certain segments of the black population, such as activists and college students. In doing this she again misses the point of the study. A study’s validity and the criteria for serious methodological criticism is not based on whether groups of interest to a reviewer are oversampled. Rather, it comes from having a sample that is representative of the group one is interested in studying and in using questions that elicit as closely as is possible a person’s actual feelings and attitudes.
The problem I chose to study was what effect did the civil-rights movement have on the black community in toto? In 1964 we had a number of useful historical and autobiographical accounts and studies on particular groups, like CORE and the Muslims, but there was relatively little data on the attitudes of the black community in its entirety toward the civil-rights movement. What was its impact on the masses of blacks? Who were those most knowledgeable and most concerned with the civil-rights movement? What kinds of attitudes were held toward whites in general and Jews in particular? A fair evaluation of the study requires that it be criticized in light of how well it deals with these questions.
To argue that I deliver a coup de grâce not only to my study but to the entire enterprise of “Patterns of American Prejudice” by saying “the important questions are clearly not so much how many, but who, how intensively, and in what way?” is to rip an argument out of context. In saying this, I meant the important questions for the future of civil strife in America. This was in a context which discussed the future of race relations in American society and was not an abstract discussion of the relative merits of various methodologies, as Mrs. Dawidowicz’s use of the quotation implies. There are a large number of important questions for which surveys are vital and indeed the only way to gain information. Among them are processes of opinion formation, sources of mass support and constraint for public: figures and policies, and the distribution of attitudes in a population and their change over time.
Surveys are inherently no better and no worse than any other social-science technique. The worth of a technique depends on the type of questions one poses. Because surveys have limits, as do all methods (including Mrs. Dawidowicz’s citation of “evidence” from Claude Brown), does not mean they are unsuitable for dealing with certain aspects of anti-Semitism. To be sure, broad interdisciplinary studies covering the vast sweep of history will yield richer accounts than single focused studies. Yet such focused studies are the building blocks out of which more grandiose efforts emerge. Furthermore, precisely because grand theories depend on a reading of “the facts,” and our common-sense assumptions about the facts are so often wrong (such as the erroneous belief that blacks single Jews out for special hatred among whites or that blacks are appreciably more anti-Semitic than whites), it is necessary to do concrete empirical studies, even at the risk of occasionally showing common sense to be correct.
The changes that have occurred since my study was written in 1965—66 have led me to speak out and write against the crass use of anti-Semitism for political and other purposes by some black leaders, as well as the kind of social conditions which may encourage this. Yet it seems to me that in America it is exceptionally shortsighted and parochial to move from seeing anti-Semitism as a problem to seeing it as the problem. . . .
Gary T. Marx
Department of Sociology
To the Editor:
. . . Concerning the proposition of Gary T. Marx that black anti-Semitism is a reflection of black hostility toward all whites, it is necessary to add that it is also an expression of the black urge to identify with white American Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. Let us not forget the sixteen-year-old black girl who wrote in her introduction to the black exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum that, with regard to the attitude toward the Jew, the blacks would find themselves at last “with the majority.”
The attitude toward the Jew is one of a number of foci of black ambivalence with regard to white values. The black rejection of those values is usually expressed in the conscious ideology, which explores the alleged vacuousness of white American culture; the desire of black activists for participation in and acceptance by the dominant white culture, on the other hand, is expressed in less explicit forms. Anti-Semitism serves this duality of impulse exquisitely; hence the awareness that black anti-Semitism does have a qualitative uniqueness. In fact, it enables the black man to become white in relation to the Jew, who becomes black in American and Western Christian cultural terms (and in putting the matter this way, I do not mean to associate myself with the ahistorical view of Sartre).
Department of Philosophy
New Brunswick, New Jersey
To the Editor:
In her review of The Tenacity of Prejudice Lucy Dawidowicz presents herself as the alert critic exposing the authors’ hidden value biases to the naive reader Unfortunately, her own strong value commitments as a “Jewish survivalist” prevent even an accurate reading of the text. Mrs. Dawidowicz reports that we “consider a Christian intolerant if he is against intermarriage with a Jew.” On the contrary, we wrote: “While disapproval of intermarriage can have roots in hostility toward Jews, it can also follow from a legitimate desire on the part of non-Jews to maintain their religious and cultural identity” (p. 43). However, Mrs. Dawidowicz is not entirely off the mark when she accuses us of viewing group survival as “an obstruction to the creation of a prejudice-free, neutral society.” It seems clear that a democratic order places limits on what is acceptable in the name of group survival. As we noted in the book: “The more private the context, the more defensible the discriminatory practice; the more public the context, the less legitimate does all discrimination become. An example of a relatively legitimate form of discrimination is opposition to religious intermarriage (provided, of course, opposition . . . does not seek legal sanction). At the other extreme is political discrimination on religious, racial, or ethnic grounds” (p. 89). However, the problem is still more complex. We further noted that there are intermediate areas—the social club is a prime example—where it is unclear whether priority should be given to democratic values or to the desire of social groups to preserve their identity. On such issues (we also have black nationalism in mind) it is sometimes necessary to distinguish between what is permissible for a powerful majority and what is defensible for a frequently embattled minority. In a society committed to both pluralism and democracy, the majority has to forgo certain luxuries of self-segregation that minorities can often indulge in with little harm or moment to others.
We would answer Mrs. Dawidowicz’s charge that we “seem to believe that anti-Semitism must be combatted because it is the ultimate obstacle to Jewish assimilation” in much the same way. In one sense, her characterization fits: we believe that Jews should be free to “assimilate” if they so desire, unhindered by Christian (or Jewish) survivalism. At the same time, we would be moral cretins not to oppose anti-Semitism for the simple reason that it is a peril to Jews. One does not have to be a “Jewish survivalist” to defend Jewish survival.
Much of Mrs. Dawidowicz’s review-essay is a polemic against survey analysis which, according to her, “serves ultimately to limit our understanding of anti-Semitism.” Such criticism is hardly to be taken seriously. Survey research, like every academic perspective, is necessarily limited and partial and cannot answer all of the many questions that can be asked about so complex a phenomenon as anti-Semitism. If only because many good historical studies are available, we did not think it necessary to recapitulate the long history of Jewish suffering and the many ways in which Jews have been used as scapegoats. Instead we focused on a single question on which there was much disagreement and contradiction in the literature: why, in a society where anti-Semitism is indigenous and widespread, is it accepted by some individuals and rejected by others? This question not only is important in itself, but as we argue in the book, shows how historical theories have been overgeneralized and misapplied. From the fact that Jews have historically served as scapegoats for national ills, it is often inferred that individuals become prejudiced because they are seeking a scapegoat for their personal frustrations. Such analogical reasoning does not stand up under empirical scrutiny. There is little to indicate that people become anti-Semitic out of personal frustration, either psychological or economic. However, as we made clear (p. 188), while people do not typically become anti-Semitic because they seek a scapegoat for their personal frustrations, in an economic crisis their anti-Semitic beliefs can become activated and turned to scapegoating purposes. Instead of gratuitously assailing surveys for being ahistorical, Mrs. Dawidowicz might have reflected on the relation between survey findings and the cycles of anti-Semitism that seem to mystify her.
At the same time that Mrs. Dawidowicz criticizes surveys for being pedestrian, she entirely ignores the larger theoretical issues raised in our book. Nowhere does she mention our disagreement with the theory of prejudice propounded in The Authoritarian Personality and uncritically accepted for two decades by laymen and scholars alike. Nor does she mention our disagreement with Stember’s recent conclusion that anti-Semitism is a vanishing phenomenon (this would indeed make any future resurgence of anti-Semitism mysterious).
Finally, Mrs. Dawidowicz dismisses the evidence presented in our study (and others) concerning education as a countervailing factor to prejudice, and does so on the flimsy grounds that a few college students indulge in astrology and other excesses. We never said (indeed our data show otherwise) that a modern education is 100 per cent effective in combating prejudice. What we did say is that at the present time education is practically the only institution in our society that is any bulwark at all.
Most of all we are dismayed that Mrs. Dawidowicz could become so enmeshed in her private opinions and loyalties as to lose sight of the implications of our study, as well as the others in this series, for the status and future of the American Jewish community.
Gertrude J. Selznick
Survey Research Center
University of California
Lucy Dawidowicz writes:
Understandably unhappy with my comments, Mr. Marx, like Hamlet in impotent rage, unpacks his heart with words and falls a-cursing. He accuses me of benightedness about the arcana of survey research. He regards the construction of an index of black nationalism, for instance, as being as complex and demanding as, say, the deciphering of Linear B or the mastery of Yiddish dialectology. I will disregard the ad hominem arguments and address myself to Mr. Marx’s specific complaints.
1) The UCLA study (T. M. Tomlinson, “Ideological Foundations for Negro Action: A Comparative Analysis of Militant and Non-militant Views of the Los Angeles Riot,” Los Angeles Riot Study, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles, June 1, 1967). Mr. Marx calls me a liar for citing this study’s reference to his index. I quote two brief passages to establish my veracity and attest to Mr. Marx’s limited capacity for the most elementary form of library research:
This study will use attitudes toward the Black Muslims as the criterion of militance. This approach is different from the usual methods (e.g., Marx [appropriately footnoted with full bibliographic reference—L.D.]), which attempt to scale a series of critical items that ostensibly tap views representing gradations of militance. (pp. 1-2)
Thirty per cent of the total sample felt that the Muslims were doing “well” or “fairly well,” 35 per cent felt that they were doing “harm,” and 35 per cent felt they were doing “nothing” or “didn’t know” how they were doing. This is not to say that the Muslims were the preferred organization of 30 per cent of the sample; in fact, if the respondents had been asked to rank the organizations in order of preference, the Muslims would have undoubtedly finished last. Marx [footnoted] indicates that less than 3 per cent of his sample of 1,100 from four different cities felt that the Muslims, compared with other organizations, were doing the best job. Had this study used Marx’s method, the data would probably have been about the same. However, in this study, sympathy could be expressed without the contamination of relative evaluation. (p. 4)
My mistake was reading the subjective for the declarative, “had” for “when.” Otherwise the conclusion I drew remains valid. Mr. Marx’s index of black nationalism was not the precise instrument he thought it was; other devices to measure this phenomenon showed it to be of different proportions and intensity.
2) Out of context. Mr. Marx claims I took out of context the last paragraph of his postscript to the paperback edition of Protest and Prejudice. He was speaking, he argues, of substance (real life), not methodology, when he wrote: “. . . playing the numbers game with public-opinion data can be conducive to highly unrealistic assessments.” Do I now hear the voice of the activist in the words of the social scientist? If indeed “the important questions for the future of civil strife in America” are, to quote Mr. Marx once more, “not so much how many, but who, how intensively, and in what way,” then (a) I have not quoted him out of context, and (b) those are precisely the questions to explore if social research is to have any validity and not be divorced from real life.
Mr. Marx’s remark that he was “upset” that some people “wrongly” used his book “to deny the presence of black anti-Semitism” sends out bad vibes. At the height of those troubles at Ocean Hill-Brownsville and elsewhere, Mr. Marx was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that “Jews are incredibly paranoid. They see an anti-Semite under every rock”
Mr. Marx’s letter has not disappointed my expectations of him. A man who cannot distinguish between Eric Hoffer and Ronald Reagan can scarcely be competent to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-whitism, or to recognize anti-Semitism at all.
Mrs. Selznick and Mr. Steinberg grant, grudgingly and periphrastically, that my interpretation of their values was on mark. They defend themselves on one point: they did say that disapproval of intermarriage was not necessarily an expression of anti-Jewish feeling. Right, but notwithstanding the qualification, they constantly used the responses to the question on intermarriage as an indication of discrimination.
The underlying and more important question here is whether attitudes toward intermarriage, social clubs, and Christmas carols in the public schools are indeed what Selznick and Steinberg made of them—indicators of anti-Jewish discrimination, albeit more defensible than other forms of intolerance because more private. The answer to this question, as I wrote in my article, revolves on one’s view of what society is or should be. My friend Gavin Langmuir says the basic problem is agreeing on what is meant by anti-Semitism. If all kinds of dissimilarities and antagonisms are regarded as anti-Semitism, we are no closer to an understanding of what anti-Semitism is or how it works.
Mrs. Selznick and Mr. Steinberg complain that I did not take their book, and the whole series, seriously, with all their implications for the status and future of American Jews. I thought that was what my article was all about. What is the American Jewish community to make of these assorted findings, each volume with its own definition of anti-Semitism, its own measuring devices, and limited by its methodology and its authors’ subjectivities? On the basis of these books, I wouldn’t like to have any Jewish organization mapping policy and programs for me.