56. The Meaning of All This.--Twosorts of answers are usually returned to the bewildered Americanwho asks seriously: What is the Negro problem? The one isstraightforward and clear: it is simply this, or simply that, andone simple remedy long enough applied will in time cause it todisappear. The other answer is apt to be hopelessly involved andcomplex--to indicate no simple panacea, and to end in a somewhathopeless--There it is; what can we do? Both of these sorts ofanswers have something of truth in them: the Negro problem lookedat in one way is but the old world questions of ignorance,poverty, crime, and the dislike of the stranger. On the otherhand it is a mistake to think that attacking each of thesequestions single-handed without reference to the others willsettle the matter: a combination of social problems is far morethan a matter of mere addition,--the combination itself is aproblem. Nevertheless the Negro problems are not more hopelesslycomplex than many others have been. Their elements despite theirbewildering complication can be kept clearly in view: they areafter all the same difficulties over which the world has growngray: the question as to how far human intelligence can betrusted and trained; as to whether we must always have the poorwith us; as to whether it is possible for the mass of men toattain righteousness on earth; and then to this is added thatquestion of questions: after all who are Men? Is everyfeatherless biped to be counted a man and brother? Are all racesand types to be joint heirs of the new earth that men havestriven to raise in thirty centuries and more? Shall we not swampcivilization in barbarism and drown genius in indulgence if weseek a mythical Humanity which shall shadow all men? The answerof the early centuries to this puzzle was clear: those of anynation who can be called Men and endowed with rights are few:they are the privileged classes--the well-born and the accidentsof low birth called up by the King. The rest, the mass of thenation, the pöbel, the mob, are fit to follow, to obey,to dig and delve, but not to think or rule or play the gentleman.We who were born to another philosophy hardly realize howdeep-seated and plausible this view of human capabilities andpowers once was; how utterly incomprehensible this republic wouldhave been to Charlemagne or Charles V or Charles I. We ratherhasten to forget that once the courtiers of English kings lookedupon the ancestors of most Americans with far greater contemptthan these Americans look upon Negroes--and perhaps, indeed, hadmore cause. We forget that once French peasants were the"Niggers" of France, and that German princelings oncediscussed with doubt the brains and humanity of the bauer.
Much of this--or at least some of it--has passed and the worldhas glided by blood and iron into a wider humanity, a widerrespect for simple manhood unadorned by ancestors or privilege.Not that we have discovered, as some hoped and some feared, thatall men were created free and equal, but rather that thedifferences in men are not so vast as we had assumed. We stillyield the well-born the advantages of birth, we still see thateach nation has its dangerous flock of fools and rascals; but wealso find most men have brains to be cultivated and souls to besaved.
And still this widening of the idea of common Humanity is ofslow growth and to-day but dimly realized. We grant fullcitizenship in the World Commonwealth to the"Anglo-Saxon" (whatever that may mean), the Teuton andthe Latin; then with just a shade of reluctance we extend it tothe Celt and Slav. We half deny it to the yellow races of Asia,admit the brown Indians to an ante-room only on thestrength of an undeniable past; but with the Negroes of Africa wecome to a full stop, and in its heart the civilized world withone accord denies that these come within the pale ofnineteenth-century Humanity. This feeling, widespread anddeep-seated, is, in America, the vastest of the Negroproblems; we have, to be sure, a threatening problem of ignorancebut the ancestors of most Americans were far more ignorant thanthe freedmen's sons; these ex-slaves are poor but not as poor asthe Irish peasants used to be; crime is rampant but not more so,if as much, as in Italy; but the difference is that the ancestorsof the English and the Irish and the Italians were felt to beworth educating, helping and guiding because they were menand brothers, while in America a census which gives a slightindication of the utter disappearance of the American Negro fromthe earth is greeted with ill-concealed delight.
Other centuries looking back upon the culture of thenineteenth would have a right to suppose that if, in a land offreemen, eight millions of human beings were found to be dying ofdisease, the nation would cry with one voice, "Healthem!" If they were staggering on in ignorance, it wouldcry, "Train them!" If they were harming themselves andothers by crime, it would cry, "Guide them!" And suchcries are heard and have been heard in the land; but it was notone voice and its volume has been ever broken by counter-criesand echoes, "Let them die!" "Train them likeslaves!" "Let them stagger downward!"
This is the spirit that enters in and complicates all Negrosocial problems and this is a problem which only civilization andhumanity can successfully solve. Meantime we have the otherproblems before us--we have the problems arising from the unitingof so many social questions about one centre. In such a situationwe need only to avoid underestimating the difficulties on the onehand and overestimating them on the other. The problems aredifficult, extremely difficult, but they are such as the worldhas conquered before and can conquer again. Moreover the battleinvolves more than a mere altruistic interest in an alien people.It is a battle for humanity and human culture. If in the hey-deyof the greatest of the world's civilizations, it is possible forone people ruthlessly to steal another, drag them helpless acrossthe water, enslave them, debauch them, and then slowly murderthem by economic and social exclusion until they disappear fromthe face of the earth--if the consummation of such a crime bepossible in the twentieth century, then our civilization is vainand the republic is a mockery and a farce.
But this will not be; first, even with the terribly adversecircumstances under which Negroes live, there is not theslightest likelihood of their dying out; a nation that hasendured the slave-trade, slavery, reconstruction, and presentprejudice three hundred years, and under it increased in numbersand efficiency, is not in any irnmediate danger of extinction.Nor is the thought of voluntary or involuntary emigration morethan a dream of men who forget that there are half as manyNegroes in the United States as Spaniards in Spain. If this be sothen a few plain propositions may be laid down as axiomatic:
1. The Negro is here to stay.
2. It is to the advantage of all, both black and white, thatevery Negro should make the best of himself.
3. It is the duty of the Negro to raise himself by everyeffort to the standards of modern civilization and not to lowerthose standards in any degree.
4. It is the duty of the white people to guard theircivilization against debauchment by themselves or others; but inorder to do this it is not necessary to hinder and retard theefforts of an earnest people to rise, simply because they lackfaith in the ability of that people.
5. With these duties in mind and with a spirit of selfhelp,mutual aid and co-operation, the two races should strive side byside to realize the ideals of the republic and make thistruly a land of equal opportunity for all men.
57. The Duty of the Negroes.--That theNegro race has an appalling work of social reform before it needhardly be said. Simply because the ancestors of the present whiteinhabitants of America went out of their way barbarously tomistreat and enslave the ancestors of the present blackinhabitants gives those blacks no right to ask that thecivilization and morality of the land be seriously menaced fortheir benefit. Men have a right to demand that the members of acivilized community be civilized; that the fabric of humanculture, so laboriously woven, be not wantonly or ignorantlydestroyed. Consequently a nation may rightly demand, even of apeople it has consciously and intentionally wronged, not indeedcomplete civilization in thirty or one hundred years, but atleast every effort and sacrifice possible on their part towardmaking themselves fit members of the community within areasonable length of time; that thus they may early become asource of strength and help instead of a national burden. Modernsociety has too many problems of its own, too much proper anxietyas to its own ability to survive under its present organization,for it lightly to shoulder all the burdens of a less advancedpeople, and it can rightly demand that as far as possible and asrapidly as possible the Negro bend his energy to the solving ofhis own social problems--contributing to his poor, paying hisshare of the taxes and supporting the schools and publicadministration. For the accomplishment of this the Negro has aright to demand freedom for self-development, and no more aidfrom without than is really helpful for furthering thatdevelopment. Such aid must of necessity he considerable: it mustfurnish schools and reformatories, and relief and preventiveagencies; but the bulk of the work of raising the Negromust be done by the Negro himself, and the greatest help for himwill be not to hinder and curtail and discourage his efforts.Against prejudice, injustice and wrong the Negro ought to protestenergetically and continuously, but he must never forget that heprotests because those things hinder his own efforts, and thatthose efforts are the key to his future.
And those efforts must be mighty and comprehensive,persistent, well-aimed and tireless; satisfied with no partialsuccess, lulled to sleep by no colorless victories; and, aboveall, guided by no low selfish ideals; at the same time they mustbe tempered by common sense and rational expectation. InPhiladelphia those efforts should first be directed toward alessening of Negro crime; no doubt the amount of crime imputed tothe race is exaggerated, no doubt features of the Negro'senvironment over which he has no control, excuse much that iscommitted; but beyond all this the amount of crime that canwithout doubt rightly be laid at the door of the PhiladelphiaNegro is large and is a menace to a civilized people. Efforts tostop this crime must commence in the Negro homes; they must ceaseto be, as they often are, breeders of idleness and extravaganceand complaint. Work, continuous and intensive; work, although itbe menial and poorly rewarded; work, though done in travail ofsoul and sweat of brow, must be so impressed upon Negro childrenas the road to salvation, that a child would feel it a greaterdisgrace to be idle than to do the humblest labor. The homelyvirtues of honesty, truth and chastity must be instilled in thecradle, and although it is hard to teach self-respect to a peoplewhose million fellow-citizens half-despise them, yet it must betaught as the surest road to gain the respect of others.
It is right and proper that Negro boys and girls should desireto rise as high in the world as their ability and just desertentitle them. They should be ever encouraged and urged to do so,although they should be taught also that idleness andcrime are beneath and not above the lowest work. It should be thecontinual object of Negroes to open up better industrial chancesfor their sons and daughters. Their success here must of courserest largely with the white people, but not entirely. Properco-operation among forty or fifty thousand colored people oughtto open many chances of employment for their sons and daughtersin trades, stores and shops, associations and industrialenterprises.
Further, some rational means of amusement should be furnishedyoung folks. Prayer meetings and church socials have their place,but they cannot compete in attractiveness with the dance hallsand gambling dens of the city. There is a legitimate demand foramusement on the part of the young which may be made a means ofeducation, improvement and recreation. A harmless and beautifulamusement like dancing might with proper effort be rescued fromits low and unhealthful associations and made a means of healthand recreation. The billiard table is no more wedded to thesaloon than to the church if good people did not drive it there.If the Negro homes and churches cannot amuse their young people,and if no other efforts are made to satisfy this want, then wecannot complain if the saloons and clubs and bawdy houses sendthese children to crime, disease and death.
There is a vast amount of preventive and rescue work which theNegroes themselves might do: keeping little girls off the streetat night, stopping the escorting of unchaperoned young ladies tochurch and elsewhere, showing the dangers of the lodging system,urging the buying of homes and removal from crowded and taintedneighborhoods, giving lectures and tracts on health and habits,exposing the dangers of gambling and policyplaying, andinculcating respect for women. Day- nurseries and sewing-schools,mothers' meetings, the parks and airing places, all these thingsare little known or appreciated among the masses of Negroes, andtheir attention should be directed to them.
The spending of money is a matter to which Negroes need togive especial attention. Money is wasted to-day in dress,furniture, elaborate entertainments, costly church edifices, and"insurance" schemes, which ought to go toward buyinghomes, educating children, giving simple healthful amusement tothe young, and accumulating something in the savings bank againsta "rainy day." A crusade for the savings bank asagainst the "insurance" society ought to be started inthe Seventh Ward without delay.
Although directly after the war there was great and remarkableenthusiasm for education, there is no doubt but that thisenthusiasm has fallen off, and there is to-day much neglect ofchildren among the Negroes, and failure to send them regularly toschool. This should be looked into by the Negroes themselves andevery effort made to induce full regular attendance.
Above all, the better classes of the Negroes should recognizetheir duty toward the masses. They should not forget that thespirit of the twentieth century is to be the turning of the hightoward the lowly, the bending of Humanity to all that is human;the recognition that in the slums of modern society lie theanswers to most of our puzzling problems of organization andlife, and that only as we solve those problems is our cultureassured and our progress certain. This the Negro is far fromrecognizing for himself; his social evolution in cities likePhiladelphia is approaching a medieval stage when the centrifugalforces of repulsion between social classes are becoming morepowerful than those of attraction. So hard has been the rise ofthe better class of Negroes that they fear to fall if now theystoop to lend a hand to their fellows. This feeling isintensified by the blindness of those outsiders who persist evennow in confounding the good and bad, the risen and fallen in onemass. Nevertheless the Negro must learn the lesson thatother nations learned so laboriously and imperfectly, thathis better classes have their chief excuse for being in the workthey may do toward lifting the rabble. This is especially true ina city like Philadelphia which has so distinct and creditable aNegro aristocracy; that they do something already to grapple withthese social problems of their race is true, but they do not yetdo nearly as much as they must, nor do they clearly recognizetheir responsibility.
Finally, the Negroes must cultivate a spirit of calm, patientpersistence in their attitude toward their fellow citizens ratherthan of loud and intemperate complaint. A man may be wrong, andknow he is wrong, and yet some finesse must be used in tellinghim of it. The white people of Philadelphia are perfectlyconscious that their Negro citizens are not treated fairly in allrespects, but it will not improve matters to call names or imputeunworthy motives to all men. Social reforms move slowly and yetwhen Right is reinforced by calm but persistent Progress wesomehow all feel that in the end it must triumph.
58. The Duty of the Whites.--There isa tendency on the part of many white people to approach the Negroquestion from the side which just now is of least pressingimportance, namely, that of the social intermingling of races.The old query: Would you want your sister to marry a Nigger?still stands as a grim sentinel to stop much rational discussion.And yet few white women have been pained by the addresses ofblack suitors, and those who have easily got rid of them.The whole discussion is little less than foolish; perhaps acentury from to-day we may find ourselves seriously discussingsuch questions of social policy, but it is certain that just aslong as one group deems it a serious mesalliance tomarry with another just so long few marriages will take place,and it will need neither law nor argument to guide humanchoice in such a matter. Certainly the masses of whites wouldhardly acknowledge that an active propaganda of repression wasnecessary to ward off intermarriage. Natural pride of race,strong on one side and growing on the other, may be trusted toward off such mingling as might in this stage of developmentprove disastrous to both races. All this therefore is a questionof the far-off future.
To-day, however, we must face the fact that a naturalrepugnance to close intermingling with unfortunate ex-slaves hasdescended to a discrimination that very seriously hinders themfrom being anything better. It is right and proper to object toignorance and consequently to ignorant men; but if by our actionswe have been responsible for their ignorance and are stillactively engaged in keeping them ignorant, the argument loses itsmoral force. So with the Negroes: men have a right to object to arace so poor and ignorant and inefficient as the mass of theNegroes; but if their policy in the past is parent of much ofthis condition, and if to-day by shutting black boys and girlsout of most avenues of decent employment they are increasingpauperism and vice, then they must hold themselves largelyresponsible for the deplorable results.
There is no doubt that in Philadelphia the centre and kernelof the Negro problem so far as the white people are concerned isthe narrow opportunities afforded Negroes for earning a decentliving. Such discrimination is morally wrong, politicallydangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly. It is theduty of the whites to stop it, and to do so primarily for theirown sakes. Industrial freedom of opportunity has by longexperience been proven to be generally best for all. Moreover thecost of crime and pauperism, the growth of slums, and thepernicious influences of idleness and lewdness, cost the publicfar more than would the hurt to the feelings of a carpenter towork beside a black man, or a shop girl to stand beside a darkermate. This does not contemplate the wholesale replacing of whiteworkmen for Negroes out of sympathy or philanthropy; it does meanthat talent should be rewarded, and aptness used in commerce andindustry whether its owner be black or white; that the sameincentive to good, honest, effective work be placed before ablack office boy as before a white one--before a black porter asbefore a white one; and that unless this is done the city has noright to complain that black boys lose interest in work and driftinto idleness and crime. Probably a change in public opinion onthis point to-morrow would not make very much difference in thepositions occupied by Negroes in the city: some few would bepromoted, some few would get new places--the mass would remain asthey are; but it would make one vast difference: it would inspirethe young to try harder, it would stimulate the idle anddiscouraged and it would take away from this race the omnipresentexcuse for failure: prejudice. Such a moral change would work arevolution in the criminal rate during the next ten years. Even aNegro bootblack could black boots better if he knew he was amenial not because he was a Negro but because he was best fittedfor that work.
We need then a radical change in public opinion on this point;it will not and ought not to come suddenly, but instead ofthoughtless acquiescence in the continual and steadilyencroaching exclusion of Negroes from work in the city,the leaders of industry and opinion ought to be trying here andthere to open up new opportunities and give new chances to brightcolored boys. The policy of the city to-day simply drives out thebest class of young people whom its schools have educated andsocial opportunities trained, and fills their places with idleand vicious immigrants. It is a paradox of the times that youngmen and women from some of the best Negro families of thecity--families born and reared here and schooled in the besttraditions of this municipility have actually had to go to theSouth to get work, if they wished to be aught but chambermaidsand bootblacks. Not that such work may not be honorable anduseful, but that it is as wrong to make scullions of engineers asit is to make engineers of scullions. Such a situation is adisgrace to the city--a disgrace to its Christianity, to itsspirit of justice, to its common sense; what can be the end ofsuch a policy but increased crime and increased excuse for crime?Increased poverty and more reason to be poor? Increased politicalserfdom of the mass of black voters to the bosses and rascals whodivide the spoils? Surely here lies the first duty of a civilizedcity.
Secondly, in their efforts for the uplifting of the Negro thepeople of Philadelphia must recognize the existence of the betterclass of Negroes and must gain their active aid and co-operationby generous and polite conduct. Social sympathy must existbetween what is best in both races and there must no longer bethe feeling that the Negro who makes the best of himself is ofleast account to the city of Philadelphia, while the vagabond isto be helped and pitied. This better class of Negro does not wanthelp or pity, but it does want a generous recognition of itsdifficulties, and a broad sympathy with the problem of life as itpresents itself to them. It is composed of men and women educatedand in many cases cultured; with proper co-operation they couldbe a vast power in the city, and the only power that couldsuccessfully cope with many phases of the Negro problems. Buttheir active aid cannot be gained for purely selfish motives, orkept by churlish and ungentle manners; and above all they objectto being patronized.
Again, the white people of the city must remember that much ofthe sorrow and bitterness that surrounds the life of the AmericanNegro comes from the unconscious prejudice and half-consciousactions of men and women who do not intend to wound or annoy. Oneis not compelled to discuss the Negro question with everyNegro one meets or to tell him of a father who wasconnected with the Underground Railroad; one is not compelled tostare at the solitary black face in the audience as thoughit were not human; it is not necessary to sneer, or be unkind orboorish, if the Negroes in the room or on the street are not allthe best behaved or have not the most elegant manners; it ishardly necessary to strike from the dwindling list of one'sboyhood and girlhood acquaintances or school-day friendsall those who happen to have Negro blood, simply because one hasnot the courage now to greet them on the street. The littledecencies of daily intercourse can go on, the courtesies of lifebe exchanged even across the color line without any danger to thesupremacy of the Anglo-Saxon or the social ambition of the Negro.Without doubt social differences are facts not fancies and cannotlightly be swept aside; but they hardly need to be looked upon asexcuses for downright meanness and incivility.
A polite and sympathetic attitude toward these strivingthousands; a delicate avoidance of that which wounds andembitters them; a generous granting of opportunity to them; aseconding of their efforts, and a desire to reward honestsuccess--all this, added to proper striving on their part, willgo far even in our day toward making all men, white and black,realize what the great founder of the city meant when henamed it the City of Brotherly Love.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter XVIII, pp.385-397.
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