Nathan Glazer, whose recently completed study of ethnic groups in New York City will soon be published, is spending the current year in Japan. The present article is based in part on a paper he read last June before the plenary session of the National Community Relations Advisory Council.
The American city is distinguished among big cities by virtue of the fact that the different ethnic elements making it up are very often of approximately equal size. London and Paris and Tokyo and most other great cities one could mention are all heterogeneous, with people from all over the world living in them. But in even the most heterogeneous of these cities a single group is generally overwhelmingly in the majority—with other definable and distinctive ethnic elements comprising, at most, 2 or 3 per cent of the population. In the American city, by contrast, groups that are socially considered, within the context of American life, to be “minorities,” may comprise 10 or 25 or even 50 and more per cent of the population.
Jews, for example, have made up 25 per cent of the population of the greatest American city for the last forty or fifty years—and 10 per cent of the next two or three largest cities. (The proportion has recently become somewhat smaller; Jews today probably comprise a smaller part of metropolitan Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland than they did thirty years ago.) Negroes make up 10 to 30 per cent of the population of our largest cities—though the proportion is somewhat less for the greater metropolitan areas in which these cities are located, since Negroes are usually either excluded from or economically incapable of entering most suburban places. Catholics make up between one-third and two-thirds of our big cities, and again the proportion is reduced for the metropolitan areas. The suburban areas of the major cities show the highest proportion of white Protestants, and in many of these suburbs they are the majority—as they are the majority in the nation as a whole.
I have spoken of Jews, Negroes, white Catholics, and white Protestants—the four elements which, as Gerhard Lenski points out in his valuable book on Detroit, The Religious Factor, largely constitute the American city. Religion, of course, is only one of the factors that define these groups. Each of them has in effect created its own subculture, based on its home-country experiences and on the cultural patterns that resulted from settling in America. Nevertheless, religion has been an important influence in their development into distinct sub-communities—religion both in its organizational form and in the kind of social and political attitudes it tends to foster within the group.
It should be remembered, however, that this division of the American metropolis by religion and race is of relatively recent applicability. Thirty years ago, social class seemed a far more important basis of division, whereas forty or fifty years ago, the cultural differences among ethnic groups—between old Americans, old immigrant groups, and new immigrant groups—were felt to be the most relevant classifications. American Catholicism seemed a less significant category, for example, than the division into Irish, German, Italian, Polish, and Slovak Catholics; American Protestantism less important than the division into Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian Protestants. Today it is clear that the most significant sub-communities of the American city have ceased to be definable by the earlier distinctions of ethnic background or class, which have now been replaced by religion and race.
Even as recently as twenty years ago it would not have been possible to foresee the social structure that has emerged in American cities in our day. For this structure is to a great extent the result of the success of the Catholic Church in beginning to mold all its disparate ethnic elements into a single American Catholic community. The Italian immigrants—the second largest Catholic immigrant group—did not at the time of their arrival show as great an attachment to the Church as did the Irish and the Polish. What is more, in a number of cities a positive antagonism developed between the Irish (who were solidly in control both of the local Democratic machines and of the Church) and the Italians. This antagonism found expression in the adherence of large Italian groups to the Republican party. For a while, it also resulted in a certain amount of successful Protestant missionary activity—Norman Thomas when he was a minister worked in a mission church in East Harlem (then an Italian neighborhood); Fiorello La Guardia was a Protestant as well as a Republican, and while he was not typical of the Italian immigrant masses, they were not in the least put off by either of his affiliations. American Protestants saw in the Italians’ weak attachment to their Latin Catholic Church a golden opportunity (much as they now see one among the Puerto Ricans): if the Italians were rebelling politically against the Irish by becoming Republicans, why should they not carry their rebellion further and become Protestant?
This did not happen. The spread of Protestantism among Italians turned out to be only a temporary response to the dislocations of their new life as immigrants when they were being reached by the Protestants who came to work among them in settlement houses and mission centers. The Italians were won back to the Church. Or rather, they were won over to something that had never existed for them in Italy: a Catholic Church with a uniquely American coloration, a Church characterized by powerful organization and great fund-raising capacity, puritanism and sexual prudery (of the Irish as well as the American variety), and a generally narrow and illiberal outlook in politics and social life (though combined with an enlightened attitude on race).
Thus a unified Catholic community has begun to crystallize in America—albeit one whose character is a matter of serious concern to many liberal Catholic intellectuals. A critical factor in the emergence of this community was the rise of many Catholics of the newer immigrant groups—particularly the Italian—to middle-class status after the Second World War. Interestingly enough, middle-class Catholicism turned out to be even stronger than working-class Catholicism. In an earlier time, the successful Italian became Protestant, much as the successful Jew became Reform; but later, just as the Conservative and even Orthodox Jewish groups learned how to compete with the Reform movement for the loyalty of middle-class Jews, so did the Catholic Church find means for holding on to the newly prosperous Catholics. The new middle-class Catholic Church is not ethnically bound, as was the working-class Church; it uses English, its ethnic composition is more diverse—it has become, in fact, a Catholic melting pot. And because more middle-class children attend Catholic schools and more of the adults participate in Catholic organizational activity, the middle-class Catholic becomes more Catholic than his working-class coreligionist—that is, he adopts more of the attitudes, more strongly, that tend to distinguish the American Catholic community. The success of American Catholicism in bringing together its constituent groups, and the organizational strength and political weight of the resultant community, are matters of vital importance to any consideration of intergroup relations in the city.
There are certain obvious historical patterns in the relations among the three dominant urban “minorities.” By the time the Jews had come to assume an important role in the life of the great cities, Irish Catholics were already entrenched in local politics. The neighborhoods into which Jews moved were most often Catholic neighborhoods. The group that has usually followed the Jews into these neighborhoods is of course the Negroes. Intergroup relations as seen from the Jewish point of view, then, have traditionally centered on the Catholics—who came before and who often dominated city politics—and the Negroes—who are coming after and who will now be playing a greater and greater civic role.
Of the problems posed for the metropolis by these three minorities, the Jewish group raises fewer than do the other two. Jews are the wealthiest of the three. As compared with the Negroes, they are better supplied with organization; and since their problems are so minor, the fact that measured by Catholic standards they are disunited is of little significance. And though, like the Catholics, Jews wish to maintain a somewhat separate subculture, few of them demand government aid in doing so.
Both the Catholic and the Negro communities are, however, embroiled in problematic issues. The existence of the Catholic community generates two main questions: to what extent Catholic political power is being used to impose a special Catholic morality on the rest of the city population; and to what extent the community at large should support the special school system of the Catholic group, which is one of the primary elements in the maintenance of its separate subculture. With Negroes, on the other hand, there is the major question of their separation from the general community, the result both of discrimination and poor preparation in education and family life. This separation occurs in housing, in schooling, in work. It means that as the Negroes become a sizable part of the population of the old cities, the government of these cities will come more and more under the domination of a group whose character is inevitably marked by resentment and a certain limitation of experience. Under these circumstances the vitally necessary cooperation between city and suburbs will be hampered by differences in outlook and standards, by the operation of prejudice on the one side and bitterness on the other.
By contrast, the problems of intergroup relations of concern to Jews today are the problems of the society in general, the problems that must preoccupy anyone who thinks of the public welfare, of the nature of the still fluid American society. Jewish intergroup agencies, for instance, no longer concentrate exclusively on specifically Jewish matters. For them the issue is no longer, as it once was, that of fighting anti-Semitism or discrimination against Jews; the issue is the kind of city and state the Catholics prefer, on the one hand, and the kind of city problems Negroes create, on the other. The “anti-Semitism” of the Negro ghetto is an expression of the relation of Negro and white in the Northern city, and while Jews are a prime target of Negro resentment because of their concentration as landlords and storekeepers and (sometimes) welfare officials, any other white group in the same position would be victim to the same resentment.
There is yet a fourth group to be considered here—a group that has all but vanished from our city-consciousness—the white Protestants. This group withdrew from the government of the great cities some time ago—to devote itself instead to the management of pleasant suburbs and to the higher levels of politics—and therefore in the context of urban intergroup problems, the white Protestants seem rather hazy and distant. In New York City, for example, they form about one-eighth of the population; those of Anglo-Saxon descent form perhaps a third of this small minority. Nevertheless, in the nation as a whole this group that is so minimally represented in New York City still makes up half the white population. And what is more important, culturally it is still the normative element in America.
Americans talk of their pluralist society, and this pluralism is a very real thing—both in the sense that individual rights are supreme and in the sense that individuals can come together for a wide range of actions, including those that make possible the creation of virtually separate subcultures. But despite the fact that the protection of individual rights permits an approach to a pluralist society, America remains after all a country founded by Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and one still in large measure governed and controlled by their descendants. Not only do Anglo-Saxon Protestants dominate the great industries and great institutions of America today, they also dominate American history. Jewish, Catholic, and Negro children learn about their great men in school; and indeed, American history would be distorted if more than a few individuals from other groups were given any great prominence in the record. The white Protestants created the American public school and have stamped its character; they created the great American universities; they created whatever it is that can be called the American spirit and American culture. The rest of us, in truth, are junior partners in this spirit and this culture.
The Jewish group, however, has something in common with the white Protestants. Unlike the Catholics and the Negroes, both of whom have demands to make on the society (the Catholics, to help relieve the heavy burden of their independent school system, the Negroes to achieve equality and the special measures in education and employment that will bring them up to a level where they can compete fairly with the other groups), the Jews and the white Protestants are on the whole satisfied with things as they are. The Jews are troubled by some relatively minor irritants, but they have no major issue as a group comparable to those agitating the Negroes and the Catholics. And by comparison with the Negroes and the Catholics, both the Jews and the white Protestants are extremely prosperous.
But if the Jews and the white Protestants at the moment are economically the most favored and politically the most content, they are, by the same token, left with a great measure of responsibility for dealing with those situations that upset and disrupt the society. For the white Protestants, this responsibility is an old and time-honored one—the great reforming movements are theirs, just as the great efforts to integrate immigrants and ex-slaves into American society were initially made by them. They founded the first schools for the ex-slaves and staffed them, and not long afterward they founded the welfare agencies and settlement houses and schools for the impoverished immigrants, and staffed them. I think cities were a better place for the poor and underprivileged to come to at a time when the Anglo-Saxon Protestant reforming and social spirit was strong, than they are in many ways today. There is a difference between a charitable, personal concern for people—and this was the nature of early schools for the poor, welfare agencies, and settlement houses—and a bureaucratic assumption of responsibility, which expresses concern through the laws establishing the rights and benefits of the underprivileged, but not through the individuals who administer those rights and benefits.
Jews coming into the cities, and other immigrant groups with them, were fortunate in being met with the old personal and charitable concern. That it did a great deal for them is evident, for example, from reading the autobiography of Morris Raphael Cohen; and there are many similar accounts. One finds—to point to only one aspect of the situation—that the models of behavior presented by early Protestant schoolteachers and social workers played a crucial role in the lives of these immigrants. Whatever the limitations of such models, they had the virtue of a clarity that comes with the relative inflexibility of norms and social attitudes. By contrast, today’s urban migrants, Negro and Puerto Rican and Southern white, come up against a huge set of bureaucratic structures, generally incapable either of communicating any true personal concern for their welfare or of serving as appropriate models of behavior.
I think the greatest potential resource for the solution of intergroup tensions in the American city is the white Protestant community (I speak, of course, of the Northern and Western city—in the South the situation is completely different); and I believe that the most important potential role of the Jewish social agencies is to devote themselves—as elements of this Protestant community did in the past and still do today—to the needs of the whole community, in the faith that general improvements will also further the interests of the Jewish sub-community. As we have seen, the white Protestant role in the city was diminished by the growth of urban Catholic and Jewish populations, and the withdrawal of the white Protestants to the suburbs. Today, the suburbs are inevitably involved in the problems of the cities. Negroes will eventually move into the suburbs, and the future of community life will to a large extent depend on what kind of experience they have in the city, what kind of education and opportunities become available to them. A narrow self-interest on the part of white Protestants will not keep them from becoming involved in this issue, nor will a narrow self-interest on the part of Jews.
Now, in this regard, the white Protestants have the advantage of a long tradition of disinterested action on behalf of other groups. Jews on the other hand have had to take care of their own throughout their history and have developed no such tradition. One of the greatest present needs in American Jewish life is a whole shift of emphasis to the disinterestedness Jews are now happily in the position to express. They should no longer take it for granted that the Jewish community center in a given area is to be moved out when that area turns Negro; that Jewish social work agencies, dealing with disturbed adolescents, families, and the aged, should exist mainly to serve Jews—that, in effect, the Jewish responsibility in providing services for those damaged by life remains for the most part restricted to their own group. (Jewish hospitals already devote a good part of their resources to the care of poor non-Jews.) Perhaps this means that many Jewish agencies, which now command resources ten or twenty times greater than those provided in the Negro community by public or private funds, should become public and non-Jewish. Such a transformation would by no means be easy to effect, but here the Jewish community at large might learn from its defense agencies, which, with the vast diminution of anti-Semitism in recent times, have devoted an increasing portion of their energies to fighting for other minority groups, notably the Negro. Indeed, it would be of major public benefit if a few of the competent and well-staffed agencies dealing with intergroup relations for the Jewish community could go so far as to turn themselves over to the Negroes—if anyone could think of how this might be done. In the same way it would benefit the general public welfare if some of the resources that go into community centers and synagogue centers, which often provide duplicating services within the Jewish community, could be used for Negroes. The real point about this shift in emphasis is not that it would bring Jewish philanthropy to others who need it more, but that by improving the general situation Jews improve their own. For just as we recognize that a prosperous America and Western Europe will not be able to survive intact surrounded by an impoverished and resentful world, so it is impossible for prosperous Jewish and white Protestant communities to live peacefully and happily in the same cities with deprived and resentful groups.
The white Protestants can teach Jews a good deal about the creation of various agencies to serve other groups. Not that Jews could take over these methods without altering them. One of the reasons white Protestants—I have particularly in mind some of the activity of the liberal denominations—can do so much is that they are not religiously or theologically bound to a single ethnic group; Episcopalians and Methodists and Congregationalists and Presbyterians can work intimately and effectively among local Negro communities because they are linked to them by religion, and may even look forward to gaining new adherents from among those they help. And yet even Quakers, who are very little interested in proselytizing, carry on most impressive work among the urban depressed.
In this connection the group images presented respectively by Jews and white Protestants in a growing Negro neighborhood offer a significant comparison. The Jews are represented by landlords, storekeepers, by the community center and synagogue which have almost nothing to do with the local non-Jewish community and are ready to move out when the neighborhood changes. Only on a higher level—remote from the attention of the neighborhood people—is there some cooperative activity between Negro and Jewish social workers, city employees, labor leaders, defense agencies, and liberal political figures. The local white Protestant representation or “witness,” by contrast, consists of mission churches and settlement houses providing a variety of activities and even local political leadership. It is true that the young men and women working under the auspices of the local Protestant-sponsored activity may be Jewish—but this only serves to underline the lack of channels within the Jewish community for the same kind of activity. Unquestionably the common link of religion is an important basis for Protestant work among Negroes. But it must be pointed out that fifty years ago the same sort of program was carried out by Protestants—and only partially for missionary purposes—among Jews and Italian Catholics.
I have discussed up to now the potential role of Jews and white Protestants—as the most prosperous of the four groups and the ones having the least pressing community concerns—in dealing with Negroes. On its side the Negro community, at least from the evidence of its press and the statements of its leaders, does not appear to want this kind of aid at all. Obviously self-help is both more gratifying and more desirable; and obviously Negro nationalists like the Muslims are not going to take kindly to the interest of any whites in Negro problems. But the Negro community contains many elements, many different kinds of people. There are scores of needs and services that many Negroes would accept willingly from the hands of whites, if whites were willing to offer them. And the giving of these services would have not only the advantage of helping many individual Negroes, but also of helping to create the personal contacts that have been so lacking and that Jews, whatever their ideological views, have a duty to encourage.
But what of the other great problem in intergroup relations, the Catholic sub-community? This is in the long run, I feel, as difficult a problem as that of the Negro, though certainly a less intense and pressing one. Here there is little Jews can learn from white Protestants—after all, the first of the intergroup conflicts that have characterized the American metropolis since it lost its white Protestant majority was between the Protestants and the Catholics. In this area, in fact, Protestants might perhaps learn something from Jews, who have experienced throughout the world and through centuries of history a hundred varieties of intergroup adjustment.
This broad summary of group conditions in the American metropolis suggests that urgent needs exist in one of the four sub-communities, the Negro; that in another, the Catholic, needs and resources are closer to a state of balance, even though the burden of maintaining services is severely felt; that in the other two, the Jewish and the white Protestant, resources are greater than needs. In some way, the overabundant resources of these communities must be allocated to those who need them, and here the tradition of Protestant charity and social welfare—which is still very much alive—offers a model for Jews in their future relation to Negroes. The existence of a Catholic sub-community with its own special values and attitudes presents a problem in intergroup relations whose solution is less clear. Perhaps if Jews can learn from the best traditions of white Protestants how to manage and share their prosperity, Jews in turn can teach Protestants the lesson of how communities differing in both outlook and structure may still manage to live together in a modern unified society.