organized at home, but that “the Negroes” were having nothing to do with the effort. “The Negroes,” continued the complainant, were behaving in a racist way ; they did not want the help of white people any more. His remarks were pointed as a criticism of the liberals’ latest statewide organizing effort. White people in the Coalition had “given” these ideas to “the Negroes.” The fact is, prominent Negroes in this town had cut away from the traditional liberal leadership some time before the Coalition came upon the scene. But, since facts are debatable, let us restrict ourselves to the thought process implicit in this person’s conclusion. First of all, there is his obvious assumption that Negroes are incapable of making fundamental policy changes without whites’ guidance. If “their” attitude had changed, some white person must have engineered it. Secondly, there is the assumption, wholly racist in its import, that there is a thing called “the Negroes.” This follows, or perhaps precedes, the first assumption : if there is not a monolith that can be lumped under the heading “the Negroes,” there is obviously no single lever that can be manipulated by these unseen w hi t e machiavellians who are changing things around. There are a number of points of view represented among the Negro people in this person’s town. Reading from right to left, there is a minister, referred to by conservatives somewhat contemptuously as “our bag man,” who lines up support in the ministerial alliance by making donations to churches from funds consigned to him by conservative candidates. The preachers are expected to put in a plug from the pulpit for the friendly candidates. Then there is a group of professional men who have made their arrangements to support traditionalist statewide candidates, such as John Connally, presumably in exchange for patronage. Several of these have received various state appointments, and I gather more will be forthcoming before the votes are counted next spring. To the left of this group are the insurgents, numbering most of the Negro people in town, whose spokesman is a distinguished civic leader. He has a rather well developed precinct organization which the above-mentioned white liberal had no small hand in building some years ago. Then come the precinct activists, greatly augmented in number now, who, like all precinct activists, feel their leader is not close enough to the people. Finally, to the left of the precinct activists are a number of direct action people who have given up hope, for the time being at least, that any meaningful change can be achieved in their town through orthodox political action. In each of the groups of course are the personality clashes, ambitions, and skullduggery that go on whenever more than two human beings get together for politics. In short, there is no such political entity as “the Negroes” in this town, just as there is not in any town in America. White Americans who regard themselves as free of racial intolerance and who pride themselves on their individuality react with distaste to the concept of “the whites”; the same Americans, after 350 years of the caste system on this continent, unconsciously speak of “the Negroes” without any feeling of inconsistency. The gentleman in question has an attitude on the issue of race; he is opposed to segregation. He doesn’t know why Negroes avoid him. He is angry and hurt and looking for reasons and he has found one that satisfies him racism in reverse, encouraged by distant white people. He does not understand that an attitude, in itself, is hardly more than a point of departure. It is how you act that matters. Your acts reveal how you think. As Gallup polls attest, the country is overrun with people who say they are, and actually are, opposed to segregation, but as any Negro over the age of seven can attest, most of them think in racist terms. Hardly a surprising conclusion : the man I’m discussing has lived fifty years under the caste system; how else can he think? We may change our intellectual attitudes on the way Negroes should be regarded, but this hardly means we have even begun to divest ourselves of the thousands of tiny socialnot to mention sexualattitudes that comprise our inheritance from the caste system. We may not be conscious bigots any more, but we unconsciously continue to think in racist ways. After all, the Democratic Party has run Chicago for a half century, and the ghetto there is still suffused with pain, just as the ghettoes are in Texas cities. On this basis, the distinctions between white liberals and white conservatives can be measured more accurately by their economic implications for white people than by any organic differences of actual impact on the caste system. Is this unfair to liberals? I think the available evidence indicates not. Let me pose a question. It is clear that the relationship between this gentleman and myself became quit strained. Yet, look how much communication still remained between us. He stated his fears and his arguments to me in person ; he disagreed with me totally, but he wanted to hear what I had to say in response. In short, he considered me in the family. Now, if two white people can disagree so totally, can approach politics from two such different viewpoints and still communicate, why cannot two similarly divided people, one white and one black? My critic did not fall silent when he disagreed with me, nor handle me with the delicacy one employs in the care of fragile china. He did not “handle” me at all; he criticized me, and he was explicit. When he knows a Negro in his town to whom he can be explicitly critical, and from whom he is truly interested in hearing a frank response, when he can endure being told by his new acquaintance that the Negro revolt is concerned with freedom and not the freedom of white liberals to lead Negroes, when he can in short communicate `An Attitude, In Itself, Is Hardly More Than a Point of Departure’ on a valid human level, he will be on his way toward making a meaningful contribution to the insurgent South ; and not one instant before. Until that moment, he is, despite his manifest good intentions and his unassailable sincerity, more or less a part of the orthodoxy of white supremacy. Electing a dozen liberals to Washington will not alter this reality one iota as long as their election follows from this kind of thought process on the part of their white constituents. Let us elect them if we can, but while we’re about it let us have as few illusions as possible about the likelihood of their having a massive impact on the day to day realities of the caste system. Is the purpose of this essay to flail all white people, with special attention to white liberals? No, of course not. The liberal community in Texas obviously has some things in which we can justifiably take pride. We have not been completely bound in blinders, less so certainly than most or all other types of “Southern moderates.” Allied with impatient Negroes, whose impatience we know is justified, we face a suspicious and frequently paranoid white orthodoxy. We are in the middle and know something, at least something, of both worlds. Experienced as we are after ten, twenty, forty years in electoral combat with the party of white supremacy, we are not wholly inept in analyzing what the citizenry will and will not accept. What we would really prefer to do would be to sit down with Negroes, work out an intelligent strategy, and see everybody agree to it. The difficulty is most Negroes won’t agree. They want to win the election as a step toward getting free of the caste system and we mostly want to win the election. There is a profound difference in motive. So we frequently disagree on tactics, and the more open the debate, the more likely it is to become acrimonious. Often, people get up and walk out. The way to prevent this, obviously, is to be an adroit master of the politics of the presentto manipulate the debate, control the ground rules; in short, to stifle freedom. It is, therefore, the ‘liberal community’s fear of the white electorate that underlies its increasing authoritarianism. The white orthodoxy has crippled us, almost as much as our own righteousness. Why is it that otherwise well-informed Negro leaders have not completely mastered the subtleties of Texas politicswhich is white politicsso that they occasionally make serious errors of judgment, \(as when they thought Don Yarwe have instinctively excluded them from facing these subtleties, because we have lied to them by omission? I believe we have an image of ourselves that would be destroyed if we had really candid dealings with Negroes. To crack through the wall of segregation and know a Negro well, in the way close friends know each other, is to discover that you insult him, unintentionally to be sure, but insult December 31, 1965 13
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