- Our America is still white.
- Consider the plight, statistically, of its greatest nonconformists, the
"nonwhites" (a Census Bureau designation).
- Literacy: One of every four "nonwhites" is functionally illiterate; half
do not complete elementary school; one in five finishes high school or better.
But one in twenty whites is functionally illiterate; four of five finish elementary
school; half go through high school or better.
- Salary: In 1959 a "nonwhite" worker could expect to average $2,844 annually;
a "nonwhite" family, including a college-educated father, could expect to
make $5,654 collectively. But a white worker could expect to make $4,487 if
he worked alone; with a college degree and a family of helpers he could expect
$7,373. The approximate Negro-white wage ratio has remained nearly level for
generations, with the exception of the World War II employment "boom" which
opened many better jobs to exploited groups.
- Work: More than half of all "nonwhites" work at laboring or service jobs,
including one-fourth of those with college degrees; one in 20 works in a professional
or managerial capacity. Fewer than one in five of all whites are laboring
or service workers, including one in every 100 of the college-educated; one
in four is in professional or managerial work.
- Unemployment: Within the 1960 labor force of approximately 72 million,
one of every 10 "nonwhites" was unemployed. Only one of every 20 whites suffered
- Housing: The census classifies 57 percent of all "nonwhite" houses substandard,
but only 27 percent of white-owned units so exist.
- Education: More than fifty percent of America's "nonwhite" high school
students never graduate. The vocational and professional spread of curriculum
categories offered "nonwhites" is 16 as opposed to the 41 occupations offered
to the white student. Furthermore, in spite of the 1954 Supreme Court decision,
80 percent of all "nonwhites" educated actually, or virtually, are educated
under segregated conditions. And only one of 20 "nonwhite" students goes to
college as opposed to the 1:10 ratio for white students.
- Voting: While the white community is registered above two-thirds of its
potential, the "nonwhite" population is registered below one-third of its
capacity (with even greater distortion in areas of the Deep South).
- Even against this background, some will say progress is being made. The
facts bely it, however, unless it is assumed that America has another century
to deal with its racial inequalities. Others, more pompous, will blame the
situation on "those people's inability to pick themselves up", not understanding
the automatic way in which such a system can frustrate reform efforts and
diminish the aspirations of the oppressed. The one-party system in the South,
attached to the Dixiecrat-Republican complex nationally, cuts off the Negro's
independent powers as a citizen. Discrimination in employment, along with
labor's accomodation to the "lily-white" hiring practises, guarantees the
lowest slot in the economic order to the "nonwhite." North or South, these
oppressed are conditioned by their inheritance and their surroundings to expect
more of the same: in housing, schools, recreation, travel, all their potential
is circumscribed, thwarted and often extinguished. Automation grinds up job
opportunities, and ineffective or non-existent retraining programs make the
already-handicapped "nonwhite" even less equipped to participate in "technological
- Horatio Alger Americans typically believe that the "nonwhites" are being
"accepted" and "rising" gradually. They see more Negroes on television and
so assume that Negroes are "better off". They hear the President talking about
Negroes and so assume they are politically represented. They are aware of
black peoples in the United Nations and so assume that the world is generally
moving toward integration. They don't drive through the South, or through
the slum areas of the big cities, so they assume that squalor and naked exploitation
are disappearing. They express generalities about "time and gradualism" to
hide the fact that they don't know what is happening.
- The advancement of the Negro and other "nonwhites" in America has not been
altogether by means of the crusades of liberalism, but rather through unavoidable
changes in social structure. The economic pressures of World War II opened
new jobs, new mobility, new insights to Southern Negroes, who then began great
migrations from the South to the bigger urban areas of the North where their
absolute wage was greater, though unchanged in relation to the white man of
the same stratum. More important than the World War II openings was the colonial
revolution. The world-wide upsurge of dark peoples against white colonial
domination stirred the separation and created an urgancy among American Negroes,
while simultaneously it threatened the power structure of the United States
enough to produce concessions to the Negro. Produced by outer pressure from
the newly-moving peoples rather than by the internal conscience of the Federal
government, the gains were keyed to improving the American "image" more than
to reconstructing the society that prospered on top of its minorities. Thus
the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954, theoretically desegregating Southern
schools, was more a proclamation than a harbinger of social change -- and
is reflected as such in the fraction of Southern school districts which have
desegregated, with Federal officials doing little to spur the process.
- It has been said that the Kennedy administration did more in two years
than the Eisenhower administration did in eight. Of this there can be no doubt.
But it is analogous to comparing whispers to silence when positively stentorian
tones are demanded. President Kennedy lept ahead of the Eisenhower record
when he made his second reference to the racial problem; Eisenhower did not
utter a meaningful public statement until his last month in office when he
mentioned the "blemish" of bigotry.
- To avoid conflict with the Dixiecrat-Republican alliance, President Kennedy
has developed a civil rights philosophy of "enforcement, not enactment", implying
that existing statuatory tools are sufficient to change the lot of the Negro.
So far he has employed executive power usefully to appoint Negroes to various
offices, and seems interested in seeing the Southern Negro registered to vote.
On the other hand, he has appointed at least four segregationist judges in
areas where voter registration is a desperate need. Only two civil rights
bills, one to abolish the poll tax in five states and another to prevent unfair
use of literacy tests in registration, have been proposed -- the President
giving active support to neither. But even this legislation, lethargically
supported, then defeated, was intended to extend only to Federal elections.
More important, the Kennedy interest in voter registration has not been supplemented
with interest in giving the Southern Negro the economic protection that only
trade unions can provide. It seems evident that the President is attempting
to win the Negro permanently to the Democratic Party without basically disturbing
the reactionary one-party oligarchy in the South. Moreover, the administration
is decidedly "cool" (a phrase of Robert Kennedy's) toward mass nonviolent
movements in the South, though by the support of racist Dixiecrats the Administration
makes impossible gradual action through conventional channels. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation in the South is composed of Southerners and their
intervention in situations of racial tension is always after the incident,
not before. Kennedy has refused to "enforce" the legal prerogative to keep
Federal marshals active in Southern areas before, during and after any "situations"
(this would invite Negroes to exercise their rights and it would infuriate
the Southerners in Congress because of its "insulting" features).
- While corrupt politicians, together with business interests happy with
the absence of organized labor in Southern states and with the $50 billion
in profits that results from paying the Negro half a "white wage", stymie
and slow fundamental progress, it remains to be appreciated that the ultimate
wages of discrimination are paid by individuals and not by the state. Indeed
the other sides of the economic, political and sociological coins of racism
represent their more profound implications in the private lives, liberties
and pursuits of happiness of the citizen. While hungry nonwhites the world
around assume rightful dominance, the majority of Americans fight to keep
integrated housing out of the suburbs. While a fully interracial world becomes
a biological probability, most Americans persist in opposing marriage between
the races. While cultures generally interpenetrate, white America is ignorant
still of nonwhite America -- and perhaps glad of it. The white lives almost
completely within his immediate, close-up world where things are tolerable,
there are no Negroes except on the bus corner going to and from work, and
where it is important that daughter marry right. White, like might, makes
right in America today. Not knowing the "nonwhite", however, the white knows
something less than himself. Not comfortable around "different people", he
reclines in whiteness instead of preparing for diversity. Refusing to yield
objective social freedoms to the "nonwhite", the white loses his personal
subjective freedom by turning away "from all these damn causes."
- White American ethnocentrism at home and abroad reflect most sharply the
self-deprivation suffered by the majority of our country which effectively
makes it an isolated minority in the world community of culture and fellowship.
The awe inspired by the pervasiveness of racism in American life is only matched
by the marvel of its historical span in American traditions. The national
heritage of racial discrimination via slavery has been a part of America since
Christopher Columbus' advent on the new continent. As such, racism not only
antedates the Republic and the thirteen Colonies, but even the use of the
English language in this hemisphere. And it is well that we keep this as a
background when trying to understand why racism stands as such a steadfast
pillar in the culture and custom of the country. Racial-xenophobia is reflected
in the admission of various racial stocks to the country. From the nineteenth
century Oriental Exclusion Acts to the most recent up-dating of the Walter-McCarren
Immigration Acts the nation has shown a continuous contemptuous regard for
"nonwhites." More recently, the tragedies of Hiroshima and Korematsu, and
our cooperation with Western Europe in the United Nations add treatment to
the thoroughness of racist overtones in national life.
- But the right to refuse service to anyone is no longer reserved to the
Americans. The minority groups, internationally, are changing place.