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Race Prejudice; Its Causes and Its Cure

 

RACE PREJUDICE; ITS CAUSES AND ITS CURE


AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BEFORE THE BOSTON HISTORICAL AND LITERARY ASSOCIATION



The prejudice against the Negro, in in which is involved the race problem of the United States, grew out of the accumulation of differences between the two sharply defined types of mankind which the institution of slavery brought together. They differed physically, the one being black and the other white. The one had constituted for poets and sculptors the ideal of beauty and grace; the other was rude and unpolished in form and feature. The one possessed the arts of civilization and the learning of the schools, the other, at most, the simple speech and rude handicrafts of his native tribe, and no written language at all. The one was Christian, the other heathen. The one was master of the soil; the other frankly alien and himself the object of ownership. This accumulation of superficial differences brought into play an antagonism measured by the sum of that due to each. There was the contempt of the instructed for the ignorant, of the fair and comely for the black and homely, of the master for the slave, of the Christian for the heathen, of the native for the foreigner, of the citizen for the alien, of the one who spoke a language fluently for one who spoke it brokenly or not at all. Such was the combination of differences with their resulting antagonism which the Negro had to face in the long struggle for equality stretching through the centuries in front of him.

These were the causes of race antagonism. Where lies the remedy? It lies in the removal of the antagonisms by the removal of the causes which gave rise to them. The instinct of antagonism will disappear as the characteristics that called it into play are modified: in other words, as the structure was built up beam by beam, stone by stone, so it must be torn down stone by stone, beam by beam. There is no magic wand which can be waved to make it vanish.

If this doctrine be correct, it should be borne out by a retrospect of history. Passing over 250 years of colonial and national development, to what extent had these differences been modified at the period just before the civil war? In language the Negroes were one with the whites, and there was no longer any barrier of alien speech between them. The heathen religions had disappeared, the relation of master and slave was still the rule, although there were many free people of color. The one was citizen and the other, if not alien, was still not a citizen, and had no rights which the other held himself bound to respect. The physical characteristics had been greatly though not uniformly modified. A constant infusion of white blood, permitted by the customs of slavery, had left its impress upon the black race. The two races had thus been brought closer together at many points, and the antagonism was essentially less than at any earlier period.

The civil war removed others of these differences; all men were now alike free; all were voters, and therefore theoretically equal citizens. Thus radically were swept away several of the barriers which separated these two peoples. But the whites were still relatively rich and instructed, the black poor and ignorant. The control of the social organism, the habit of com   mand, the pride of race and of authority still remained with the whites.

What further modification of these differences has taken place in the 40 years since the civil war? A political reaction in the south has temporarily denied the equolity of the citizen; but this is temporary, and will in due time pass away, from the principle is embodied in the constitution, and is as vital to the liberties of white men as to those of black. The destruction of slavery and the marriage laws of the south have checked in some degree the admixture of the races, but the strain of white blood has been more generally diffused within the Negro race, thus bringing about a gradual change of type, and the customs of slavery have not entirely disappeared. For other reasons the physical type of the colored people has improved. They have been better fed and better clad; with better opportunities and larger liberty there has been a gradual softening of crudities and refinement of type. They have made a great advance in education and general enlightenment. There are 27,000 colored teachers. They conduct in the English language several hundred newspapers, including several monthly magazines, and there is a small and increasing number of their writers who have a respectful hearing beyond the limits of their own race. Several thousand of them have been graduated from higher institutions of learning. They have accumulated property estimated at three to four hundred millions. Their style of living and standards of culture have improved in even greater proportions, for many of them live better than white people of similar station would consider themselves able to afford. In Virginia, for instance, they have acquired 1-20 of the acreage of the state. The Negro church societies include 300,000 members, own $40,000,000 of church property, and send missionaries to Africa and the British West Indies.

Thus our savage has become civilized, our heathen Christian, our foreigner a native, our slave a citizen, our Negro a man of mixed blood, our pauper a land owner. The prejudice against him has decreased. With many individuals it has disappeared entirely. It varies in strength with locality. When left to natural laws it decreases relatively with the differences, but throughout the most of our southern states it has been deliberately and designedly stimulated for political purposes, and hence may seem to have become greater instead of less within the past generation. Another reason which retards the decline of prejudice is the inertia of preconceived opinion. Notice the strain with which a team of horses start a wagon and the ease with which they draw it over a good road. Forty years have been barely sufficient to start our wagon.

What can we do to still further modify these differences and reduce this prejudice; what remains to be done to complete our adjustment to our environment? Where do we stand in comparison with the white race, who constitute the main feature of our environment and with whom we must live in harmony and unity in order to live wholesomely and happily? Language and religion, as elements of antagonism, have disappeared, though some of us might use the language better and might have more religion wihtout being at all too good for this world. The relation of master and slave no longer exists, though that of employer and servant is still very imperfectly adjusted and the customs of slavery die hard.

Of the differences which remain to be adjusted a vital one is education, or rather the social efficiency which grows out of training. So important and fundamental is this question that it has for the moment overshadowed every other element of the race problem, and it is immensely significant and hopeful that in the discussion of this problem all good men, whatever their color, and however they may differ in other ways, are agreed that education, training in the arts of life, is a primary element of any attempted or possible solution. The matter of education, too, is important to us as a means as well as an end, since the temporary closing of other avenues of activity has directed toward it much of the best thought of our ablest men and given their talents a healthy outlet and a worthy career. Much prog   ress has been made, upon which we may justly congratulate ourselves. But let us not deceive ourselves. Much more remains to be done. The census shows that we have reduced our illiteracy over 50 percent. But what does that mean? By the census definition it merely means that 52 percent of the Colored people have stated to the census enumerator that they can read and write. By the census 88 percent of the southern white people are returned as literate. But does that mean that the 52 percent of the Colored as well educated as the 88 percent of the whites? I think we would not claim it. There are 15,528 Colored clergymen as compared with 94,437 whites. What is their relative degree of education, morality and zeal for the cure of souls? This, and not their number, is the real test of their influence. By the census we have a large number of business men, but in the census statistics, the grocer with a $200 stock counts as much as the grocer with a $200,000 stock. The census figures show many white children and so many Colored children in attendance at the public schools, and it is easy to stop upon these figures and overlook the fact that in some places the white schools are open ten months and the Colored but ten weeks. To close this gap so as to compete with the whites in social efficiency or value to the community, the Colored people must be relatively as well educated, their teachers of relatively as high a grade, their schools open as many days in the year, their grocers have relatively as large stocks, their banks relatively as large capital and volume of transactions. The mere raising of percentages in quantity without a corresponding advance in quality does not by any means eliminate the difference. Whatever can be done by organization or by individual effort to dignify labor, to make it more efficient and thereby to increase its rewards is an advantage to our people, and whoever helps this cause forward is their benefactor. We should not permit ourselves in our impatience of results, in our resentment of well known wrongs to forget the philanthropy which has given so fully and freely both of money and lives toward the education of the Negro in the South.

The standing controversy with reference to the kind of education which the colored people in their present condition need most, recalls to one's mind the old story of the shield which hung across the roadway in front of a castle which two knights in armor were approaching from different directions. One maintained that it was gold and the other that it was silver. After the fashion of their age they set their lances and fought for their opinions until they were both unhorsed, and when they were carried into the castle to have their wounds dressed they discovered that both were right—one side of the shield was gold and the other silver. Our old ideals of education were based purely upon intellectual training, with a dash of morality and religion. But in this modern day the definition of education has been enlarged to take in a wider training for social usefulness. The great mass of men have always earned, must always earn their living by the labor of their hands, and that these hands should be trained in schools is a vital necessity for any people who hope to register progress; and especially necessary to a people who by the decline of the apprenticeship system, the selfishness of labor unions and a prejudice which limits their opportunities, are compelled to compete wth those possessing greater advantages. Will any one pretend to say that this necessity among our people has been fully met or more than merely begun upon? An institution like Hampton or Tuskegee in every Southern state for another generation would not meet the need of the Negro for training in the practical arts of life.

But the need of the higher education is equally important, not for so many perhaps, but certainly for a great many more than have enjoyed it. There are living and have died in the United States since the civil war at least 15,000,000 Colored people. They have had about 2500 liberally educated Colored men and women as leaders, one to six thousand. There are towns in the United States where there is one saloon to every 30 or 40   people. Were there no color line, there are trained white men in every southern community who could furnish leadership for the Colored people. But there is a color line, deep and dark and wide, and our southern brethren are thrown back upon themselves for all sorts of leadership. To supply this need they want all the higher education that can be supplied by southern colleges and by the free northern universities. A Fisk or an Atlanta in every southern state, and a hundred Colored graduates from every great northern college for a generatios to come would be none too many to supply the demand for trained teachers and preachers, engineers and architects and professional and business men required for the healthy and diversified development of a people who are likely a generation hence to number 30,000,000—a population as large as that of the whole country at the outbreak of the civil war. The state has assumed the burden of primary education, but owing to the poverty of the south, is but imperfectly performing this duty for either whites or blacks. The state has also undertaken in some degree to provide for the higher education, but the separate school system of the south has excluded the Negro from the state institutions, and private philanthropy has in some measure supplied the need. It is a question whether the nation ought not to take up the matter of southern education. Well might not we ask whether we have a duty to perform at home before we spend the nation's money in carrying the blessings of civilization to distant and alien peoples. By what color of reason do we spend the nation's money in teaching science to the Filipinos, when a great portion of our own population, white and Colored, cannot read or write?

Poverty is still a characteristic of the Negro, which must cease to be a race trait before the prejudice is eliminated. Statistics show that Colored men own in whole or in part 186,000 farms out of a total of 5,739,657 farms in the United States, or one farm in 31. If we stop there, this would not be a bad showing, but pursuing our investigation we find that these Negro farms contain but 15,827,000 acres out of a total farm acreage of 841,201,000, or only one acre in 53, and that the value of these farms owned by them is reported at $177,915,000 out of a total farm value in the United States of $20,439,906,000, or $1.00 in $133. To bring the Colored farmer to economic equality with the white farmer he must own one farm in every eight, instead of one in every 31. These farms must contain one acre in every eight instead of one in 53, and these farms must be worth one-eighth of the entire farm valuation instead of 1-133. We are loosely credited with property to the value of three to four hundred million dollars. It is a very respectable sum, and would make half a dozen white men fairly well to do; it would make one white man very rich. There are several families in New York who could buy out the whole Colored race and have money to spare. The aggregate wealth of the nation in 1900 was given by the bureau of statistics as $94,300,000,000. We have the $300,000,000; they have the $94,000,000,000; dividing it up, we are worth an average of $3 apiece; they are worth an average of $1446 apiece. I need not argue that before the Negro shall have attained financial equality with the white, he must possess one dollar in every eight instead of one in every three hundred.

The disparity of civil and political rights must be removed; our constitution must be respected and our laws made to conform to it. I believe in manhood suffrage, that in some way—and what other way is possible except by the ballot?—every sane man, not in prison, who contributes by his labor to the wealth of the community, should have a voice in the selection of those who make and administer the laws. But if there is any restriction upon the suffrage, it should apply to all men alike. I have sometimes thought, however, that some qualification of character or education might be, not unwisely, required for holding office. The progressive debasement of state and municipal legislatures suggests that in some way a higher standard must be sought.

But wherever men's rights are fixed   by law, those laws should apply equally. Entrance and promotion into every branch of the public service should by governed by merit alone. Discriminating laws which classify men and fix their rights and opportunities by race or color are utterly abhorrent to the spirit of liberty.

The last and most difficult of these differences which holds us apart from our fellow citizens is the still strongly marked difference in physical characteristics—in other words, in color or race, as we usually term it. I have shown how this difference has been modified. Should it disappear entirely race prejudice and the race problem would no longer exist. Problems there might be, but they would not be those of race. Do we wish to perpetuate this difference? We have had preached to us of late a new doctrine, that of race integrity. We are told that we must glory in our color and zealously guard it as a priceless heritage. Frankly, I take no stock in this doctrine. It seems to me a modern invention of the white people to perpetuate the color line. It is they who preach it, asd it is their racial integrity which they wish to preserve: they have never been unduly careful of the purity of the black race. I can scarcely restrain a smile when I hear a mulatto talking of race integrity or a quadroon dwelling upon race pride. What they mean is a very fine thing, and a very desirable thing, but it is not at all what they say. Why should a man be proud any more than he should be ashamed of a thing for which he is not at all responsible? Manly self-respect, based upon one's humanity, a self-respect which claims nothing for color and yields nothing to color, every man should cherish. But the Negro in the United States has suffered too much from the race pride of other people to justify him in cultivating something equally offensive for himself. Of what should we be proud? Of any inherent superiority? Why deny it in others, proclaiming the equality of men. Of any great achievement? We are still in the infancy of achievement, and the showing we can make is not by comparison with others, but with our own less fortunate past. We complain because others judge us by our worst, and yet we ourselves are too prone to compare ourselves with ourselves, to look down rather than up, backward rather than forward. What we have done merely marks the inevitable advance of a people surrounded by many things which stimulate to advancement, and while some of us have been cruelly hampered by lack of opportunity, I think we will all admit, here in the privacy of our own family circle, that the masses us of us have not taken the fullest advantage of the opportunities we have had.

Why should we wish to perpetuate this disastrous difference between us and our fellow citizens? Every other people who come to this country seek to lose their separate identity as soon as possible, and to become Americans with no distinguishing mark. For a generation they have their ghettoes, their residence quarters, their churches, their social clubs. For another generation they may still retain a sentimental interest in these things. In the third generation they are all Americans, seldom speak of their foreign descent and often modify their names so that they will not suggest it. They enter fully and completely, if they are capable and worthy, into the life of this republic. Are we to help the white people to build up walls between themselves and us to fence in a gloomy back yard for our descendants to play in? This nation, with the war amendments, threw that theory overboard when it established the equality of all men before the law. The northern states have long since repudiated it, when they abolished discriminating laws and threw open the public schools to all alike, and if it still lingers among us it is due to that inertia of which I have spoken, which makes it difficult to change deep-rooted social questions. The southern states in attempting to perpetuate the color line, are trying to do the impossible, and I for one do not wish to encourage them for one moment by accepting their views any further than they can compel their acceptance by force. Race prejudice will not perhaps entirely disappear until the difference of color shall have disappeared, or at least until all of us,   white and Colored, shall have resolutely shut our eyes to those differences and shall have learned to judge men by other standards. I ask you to dismiss from your mind any theory, however cherished, that there can be built up in a free country, under equal laws, two separate sorts of civilization, two standards of human development. I not only believe that the mixture of races will in time become an accomplished fact, but that it will be a good thing for all concerned. It is already well forward and events seem to be paving the way to embrace the Negro in the general process by which all the races of mankind are being fused together here into one people. Millions of foreigners, much nearer the Negro in some respects than our native whites, are pouring into the country. Perhaps in the economy of divine Providence, they may help to solve our problems by furnishing a bridge with which to span the race chasm. This is not a matter with which we of this generation need greatly concern ourselves, except for the principle involved. It is not left for us to say whether it shall take place or not, and it is not likely to affect any of us. But that in the long run it will come to pass, is, I think, the lesson of history and the conclusion of sound logic. I hope the prejudice may disappear long before that distant period, but I am quite sure it will disappear when there is no longer anything for it to feed upon. I wish I had time to quote in this connection some recent utterances on this subject, from the pen of a former governor of the island of Jamaica, who has lived for 20 years in that community, where the black population has outnumbered the whites by 40 to one, and where the doctrine of the equality of all men before the law has been faithfully and consistently worked out to form a contented, happy and progressive community. I quote a few words: "The color line is not a rational line, the logic neither of words nor facts will uphold it. If adopted it infallibly aggravates the virus of the color problem. The more it is ignored and forgotten, the more is that virus attenuated. The Negro in Jamaica has thus far been raised, and a freedom of civic mixture between the races has been made tolerable by the continuous application of the doctrine of humanity and equality, and equal claim of the black with the white to share, according to personal capacity and development, in all the inheritances of humanity. My comparison of conditions in the Republic and in the West Indies has brought me to the conviction that no solution of color difficulties can be found except by resolutely turning the back to the color line and race differentiation theory."

And now to close, may I venture a prophecy? There are many who see the world through smoked glasses, and who view this problem of race solely from the pessimistic point of view. I think for my own part that it is in a healthy process of solution, which by sticking closely to correct principles and by acting upon them when the opportunity offers, we can help to further. Looking down the vista of time I see an epoch in our nation's history, not in my time or yours, but in the not distant future, when there shall be in the United States but one people, moulded by the same culture, swayed by the same patriotic ideals, holding their citizenship in such high esteem that for another to share it is of itself to entitle him to fraternal regard; when men will be esteemed and honored for their character and talents. When hand in hand and heart with heart all the people of this nation will join to preserve to all and to each of them for all future time that ideal of human liberty which the fathers of the republic set out in the declaration of independence, which declared that all men are created equal, the ideal for which Garrison and Phillips and Sumner lived and worked; the ideal for which Lincoln died, the ideal embodied in the words of the Book which the slave mother learned by stealth to read, with slow-moving finger and faltering speech, and which I fear that some of us with our freedom and our culture have forgotten to read at all—the Book which declares that "God is so respector of persons, and that of one blood hath He made all the nations of the earth."