Commentary Magazine


The Ghetto Game, by Dennis Clark; and A Tale of Ten Cities, edited by Eugene J. Lipman and Albert Vorspan

Pluralism & Brotherhood

The Ghetto Game: Racial Conflicts in the City.
by Dennis Clark.
Sheed & Ward. 245 pp. $4.00.

A Tale of Ten Cities: the Triple Ghetto in American Religious Life.
by Eugene J. Lipman and Albert Vorspan.
Union of American Hebrew Congregations. 344 pp. $4.95.

What causes prejudices? So long as inquiry is restricted to a particular form of prejudice, the answer will be a specific kind of answer. But if one examines together, say, race prejudice and religious prejudice, it becomes necessary to think of a diffuse susceptibility to prejudice (quite apart from the objects of prejudice) which can characterize a society as a whole. In a society where people are, in general, alienated from each other and thus ignorant of each other, prejudice can perhaps be predicted as a characteristic quality of thought and feeling. Such a society would also tend to a querulous self-righteousness in its foreign relations with peoples of other creeds and colors.

In The Ghetto Game, Dennis Clark joins James Conant and Michael Harrington to warn that all is far from well in “the other America.” His book, like theirs, calls into question the widespread liberal assumption that the problem of race has somehow been solved in essence, and that only a task of mopping up remains. These authors may differ, as historians differ about the French Revolution, as to whether subjective discontent increases precisely because objective improvements stir new hopes, or whether, in fact, the Negro’s opportunity to secure good housing and a living wage is actually growing less. Mr. Clark presents evidence in support of each of these views. But whether one clothes despair with the concept of rising expectations or with the theory of increasing misery, it is there to be felt by any traveler in Harlem.

Mr. Clark, Executive Secretary of the New York Catholic Interracial Council and former Housing Specialist for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, discusses segregated housing. Like Harrington, however, he is fully aware that residential segregation is only the ground plan for the complexly dovetailed structure of urban prejudice, that (to instance the most familiar example) where you live determines where you go to school. He makes it plain, also, that the practical ability to choose alternative residences presupposes an income level which most American Negroes do not enjoy: an insight memorably compressed by Harrington in the aphorism that the American Negro is not poor because he is black, but black because he is poor.

The value of this clear and comprehensive recital of our housing woes lies above all in its insistence that, in such matters as housing, the American dilemma has become fully as much Northern as Southern. “The concentration of people of color in the ‘black belts’ or urban centers has made a full-scale national phenomenon of a system of racial attitudes and restrictions which was formerly a regional condition peculiar to the South. Segregated housing has brought segregation as a social institution into full play in the technical and industrial centers of the nation’s strength.” Thus, if in 1960 the Negro community of Atlanta, New Orleans, and Birmingham was between 30 and 40 per cent of the total population of these cities, Negroes made up 54.8 per cent of the city of Washington, 35 per cent of Baltimore, 34.4 per cent of Newark, and between 20 and 30 per cent of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. In each of the latter cities, the percentage of Negro residents increased by at least half between 1950 and 1960. The resulting increase in Northern segregation, in Mr. Clark’s judgment, has counterbalanced the more dramatic, but very partial, decrease of segregation in the South.

The great postwar housing boom wrongly concentrated on suburban rather than innercity development. What has it meant for the Negro? In 1961 the American Population Association was told, Clark reports, that the suburbs of twelve major cities studied had remained 93 per cent white over a thirty-year period, and that in five of the twelve cities studied the ratio of non-whites to the white suburban population actually declined. The utterly inadequate and middle-income oriented urban renewal programs of the 1950’s too often resulted in slum-shifting and Negro-clearance: “the portions of the Negro urban population most in need of improvement have been passed over.” The failure of state laws against discrimination in housing is suggested by the estimate of a New York City realtor that, if the present rate of satisfying complaints under the New York law continues, it will take about 16,500 years to integrate the city’s 1,800,000 apartment units.

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Before considering Mr. Clark’s suggestions as to a way forward toward “cities of freedom,” it will be helpful to consider a somewhat analogous problem at a different stage of solution. A Tale of Ten Cities, by Eugene Lipman and Albert Vorspan, is also a story of ghettos: not the black-and-white ghettos of race, but the “triple ghetto” of Catholic, Protestant, and Jew. The material in this book is of particular interest because, as the authors point out, race relations have been more often and more thoroughly studied than have the inter-relations of religious groups. Its picture of faith-mixing, and the absence thereof, can help us to visualize future alternatives in race relations when (and if) the legal walls of racial segregation come tumbling down. Together, A Tale of Ten Cities and The Ghetto Game pose disturbing questions as to what kind of society (setting aside the clichés of Cold Warriors and Marxists alike) America is becoming.

For the tale of religious ghettos is in some ways as troubling as the story of America’s Harlems. “In a shrinking world of color and diversity,” Lipman and Vorspan assert, “millions of Americans—Protestant, Catholic and Jewish—are living in homogenized white neighborhoods and sending their children to schools where everybody is in the same racial, economic, and—increasingly—religious grouping.” Here, too, the picture is one of increasing, not decreasing, separation among fellow citizens. If America is ceasing to be a white man’s country, it has long since ceased to be a Protestant white man’s country. Catholics (about 40,000,000) and Jews (about 5,000,000) are together more than two-thirds as numerous as Protestants (a little over 60,000,000). America has moved into a “post-Protestant” phase of its religious history: diversity cannot be deported or converted, it must be lived with. Yet despite widespread if grudging acceptance of this fact, communication and understanding between the faiths has not significantly grown.

The evidence presented for this assertion is overwhelming. Recognizing the important difference between the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960, conceding that in America “for the first time, perhaps, in history” a Jewish community has the security to turn its energies outward rather than concentrating on its own survival, Lipman and Vorspan warn that there was a “greater volume of hate material in circulation in 1960 than there was in 1928.” Still more striking is the evidence for self-imposed isolation. In a land of Protestant Thanksgiving and Christian mid-winter observances, Catholic and Jew still feel themselves alien, still apprehend the peaceful coexistence of faiths as a “competitive co-existence.” Contact does not necessarily produce communion, and the line between casual acquaintance on the one hand, and intimate friendship and intermarriage on the other, is still heavily drawn. Thus the authors (themselves both Jewish) relate:

Among American Jews, for example, there appears a distinct tendency to seek “Jewish” neighborhoods, to find comfort among Jewish friends, and to belong principally to Jewish organizations. . . . [One study] found that 40 per cent of the Jews interviewed had not spent a social evening in the home of non-Jews in the preceding year. The Jewish attitude toward social contact with non-Jews is ambivalent. Jewish parents are eager for their pre-teen age children to be in mixed groups (Boy and Girl Scouts, school clubs, neighborhood friends), but when their children reach high school age, the parents strongly prefer a minimum of contact with non-Jewish children outside the classroom. In one study, 75 percent of the parents of even the pre-teen children indicate they would not want their children to have Christian friends of the opposite sex.

As in the area of race, the dominant Protestant white community must bear the heaviest responsibility for continuing isolation. But the ugly fact remains: “The faith groups still see one another across barriers of mutual isolation and distrust.” Hence stereotypes continue to flourish. Non-Catholic Americans, Protestant and Jewish, habitually fail to distinguish between the Brooklyn Tablet and The Commonweal, or between the two Senator McCarthys from Wisconsin.

One result of the triple ghetto in American religious life is the attenuation of all religious faith. In the absence of genuine interfaith cooperation, in an atmosphere of “You worship God in your way, and I will worship Him in His,” religion can contribute little to the common life. There comes about what Lipman and Vorspan call a “bland faith in faith,” an “aloofness of too many religious institutions from the great social and political challenges of our time.” Catholic, Protestant, and Jew alike bemoan this condition. The authors quote Abraham Joshua Heschel as saying: “The trouble is that religion has become ‘religion.’ . . . Religion is regarded as one of the amenities of Western civilization.” They quote the Christian Century as stating: “God, says the unwritten glossary of American politics, is a word in the last paragraph of a political speech.” And they say themselves: “There is a strong tendency to make religion irrelevant and to prefer it that way.”

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What is to be done about our isolation from each other? The easiest answer, whether in race or religion, is to accept the doctrine of separate but equal, and call it “pluralism.” Clark puts into words what this would mean in urban housing: “If we find ourselves unable to desegregate the urban areas to any appreciable degree, we must arrive at some civilized rationale within the pluralist framework for balancing the racial worlds which remain.” But he would deplore such a meager solution. “If, on the other hand,” Clark continues, “we can bring about desegregation on a scale which produces genuine broad areas of interracial living, we shall have elevated our society in a vivid and liberating way.” Similarly Lipman and Vorspan call for an interreligious turning to the ethical needs of our day, which would draw “men of differing faiths together to work jointly to bring God’s Kingdom just a bit nearer in some area of His world.”

What both books seem to be saying is that Americans must ask themselves whether they really want to live together as brothers. Brotherhood would have consequences. It would mean intermarriage between races, and intermarriage between faiths. It would not require the abandonment of cherished cultural and religious traditions, but it might demand viewing these traditions in a new way: as variant expressions of an underlying common truth, discovered together through shared experience. It would entail a willingness to look again at the fundamental institutions of the laissez-faire metropolis, the social setting in which, by 1975, two-thirds of the American people will be living. Perhaps only the joint adventure of reshaping the culture of our cities can provide sufficient challenge to break down the ghetto walls. There, if anyone is still looking for frontiers, is a frontier indeed.

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