Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.
American Analyses Race Problem
American Analyses Race Problem
"Court-Suits, sit-ins, pray-ins and protest marches are pressure points,' the necessary irritants which alone can achieve advancement in the racial problem. In a community already making progress, these irritants must never erupt into violence. In the deep South, in the atmosphere of religious adherence to segregation and white superiority, it seems, however, that those irritants often bring violence." So said Mr. Marshall Raffel, senior lecturer in the Political Science Department, recently arrived with his family in New Zealand, from Maryland, USA. Mr. Raffel, a graduate in Philosophy from Illinois University, also studied at Columbia and Harvard, was a member of the Maryland board of the American Civil Liberties Union, a group concerned with defending the civil rights and liberties of individuals.
Raffel contends that the white community did not calculate the explosiveness of the situation. He said it was recognised that there was deep feeling, but few had fully realised how close to explosion point that feeling really was.
Raffel is not an advocate of violence. "Generally, when you get violence, you have applied too much pressure. But it seems that it's the price we're going to have to pay in the deep South, to get the negro his civil rights."
Raffel was then asked whether he agreed with well-known negro author, James Baldwin, and leader Martin Luther King, that the Kennedy administration should "take a moral position and stop playing politics," and regardless of political dangers, the President should fight with all the powers at his disposal to get his civil liberties bill enacted.
Raffel thought that if Kennedy held to a firm moral stand, disregarding his political position, he might lose his opportunity to do long-term good. If the President sacrificed his chances for reelection, he would be negotiating from the weak position of only eighteen months more in office, (of which at least six would be spent campaigning for re-election).
Furthermore, racial problems are not the only troubles on Kennedy's plate. If however Kennedy was re-elected, his position would be immensely strengthened. He would have a further four years to fight for his legislation. Elections would no longer concern him. Two four-year terms are the limit for the presidency. Kennedy's civil rights proposals to Congress are, Raffel believes, being forced upon him at this time: he would have preferred to do battle after the election.
It is well-known that the Southern Democrats are the political bloc hindering the passage of the Civil Rights legislation. These men, as senior members of the Senate, hold most of the positions of responsibility and influence. Kennedy has a very tenuous control over these men "Even the threat to with-hold aid from industry in the troubled areas does not have much effect," said Raffel. "How much industry is there in the deep South?"
Raffel feels the long term solution to this problem will only come when the reapportionment of representation is effected. "It is the rural vote which has the hold at the moment. The cities, where the more affluent, educated and progressive citizens are found, do not have the representation they deserve. Movement of more industry into the South, will also improve the situation. The more affluent the society, the more educated they become, and with education should come the greater tolerance to integration, and certainly an aversion for the present rigid Southern position, which is a hazard to good business."
Raffel pointed out that white leadership in integration policies is very much needed in the South. There are no organized white civil liberty workers in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina or Georgia. Usually the white leadership is given by out-of-State groups. When local leaders, even moderates—raise their head in the deep South, they are often quickly driven out. The moderates of Little Rock, Arkansas, encountered great difficulties, and many have left.
In Mississippi, there was, until recently, only one white lawyer who would handle civil rights cases and he has been driven from the state under pressure of arrest, trumped-up charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and threatened disbarment. "I, for one." insists Raffel, "could never live happily in the deep South, no matter how great the economic rewards. There is simply no support for negro sympathisers in these areas. The people don't like those tinged with controversy."
It is not difficult to understand that even if Kennedy succeeded in pushing his legislation through both houses, he could not hope for immediate equality. Negroes desperately need extensive reforms in education, living standards, and training in technical and scientific fields. In the words of President Kennedy; "If we are ever to lift them from the morass of social and economic degradation, it will be through the strengthening of our education and training services."
Even if positions were opened to both negro and white, the white is almost certain, at this stage, to be the better qualified for the job. Until equal opportunity for equal qualifications is made available, the negro will still remain economically inferior to the white.
A further presidential proposal concerns equal employment opportunity. Kennedy wants congressional approval for the executive power of cancelling government contracts, if contractors practise racial discrimination.
Raffel spoke of the potentially dangerous Black Muslims, whose aim is total separation of the races, with eventual black superiority. "It is a potentially explosive organization. They have no intellectual support, and no support from the more stable elements of the negro community. It has a primitive appeal, it is built around religious fervour and hate. It has not erupted yet, but if it does, it could cause a bloody mess."
The influence of the Ku Klux Klan has practically died. In its place said Raffel, has come the White Citizens' Council which is the rallying point for the advocates of segregation.
Raffel's answer to the final question was diplomatically liberal but cautious. "If my daughter wished to marry a negro, if this were her carefully considered choice, I would do nothing to hinder her. I think that the whole question is one of personalities. There are a lot of whites I wouldn't want her to marry, and the same tests would apply to negroes. I wouldn't want her to marry an illiterate or irresponsible man. But the decision would be hers.
"I would, of course consider it my duty as a responsible parent to point out the problems that the couple would encounter. There is a strong likelihood that their social relations and financial position would be affected. They might be unable to live exactly where they pleased."
It is clear the racial problem in the United States is one which will affect the nation for generations to come, regardless of the fact that Kennedy's civil rights programme recently presented to Congress, is the most liberal of the twentieth century. He proposes that Congress stay in session until the solutions so urgently needed to help wipe out racial discrimination, have been enacted.
It remains to be seen whether the people of the United States have the responsibility and the reason, appealed to by the President and his Attorney-General, to earn the right to stand on the pedestal as the shining example of Western democracy.
Only when equal civil rights are awarded to negro and white alike, and all racial dissension is eliminated, may Americans feel justified in quoting their great president. Abraham Lincoln, who wrote; "Thanks to all. For the great Republic—for the principle it lives by and keeps alive—for Man's vast future—thanks to all." F.L.