Commentary Magazine


Race and Class

To the Editor:

Reading Leslie A. Fiedler’s article “Race—The Dream and the Nightmare” [October 1963], I found myself reacting as I did to James Baldwin’s celebrated New Yorker piece. Interesting as are Mr. Fiedler’s thoughts on the problems of race relations, they reveal that prejudice—harbored chiefly by intellectuals—which pervades so much of the social criticism going on in this country . . . a prejudice against the whole of middle-class America, the class nurtured on the Puritan Ethic, reared in the belief that if one practiced the Ten Commandments, saved money, provided for one’s children and one’s future, one would . . . attain the ideal—a good and happy life. This bias lacks the dramatic qualities of prejudice against the Negro, . . . the Jew, . . . or the Indian . . . but it is just as real.

What the intellectuals rarely seem to take into account is that the middle-class generation to whom they address their remarks has already awakened to the vast disillusionment that strict adherence to this code is no longer an automatic guarantee to that life. And the awakening entails a recognition that those who depended on the old codes were not only wrong, but also guilty, responsible for all the ills in our society from the dream and nightmare of race to the plight of the Ugly American. The trauma of this realization is perhaps as deep as that incurred by Mr. Baldwin on realizing he was black—and different. One need only observe the prevalence of alcoholism, the divorce rate, the complete confusion of direction in the thinking of the middle class for evidence of this disintegration.

Since the middle class itself has come to recognize the breakdown of the Puritan Ethic as an integrating factor, . . . isn’t it about time that Mr. Fiedler and other intellectuals stopped harping on the issue? . . . Historically, liberal critics have led the way in meaningful revolution; perhaps more positive and constructive writing on the part of today’s social critics could assist the middle class in finding new directions.

Jean Pearce
Palo Alto, California

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