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From "Negro and Jew: An Encounter in America"
Edited by Shlomo Katz
originally published in the December 1966 issue of Midstream magazine
THE PROBLEM of Negro anti-Semitism is neither simple, nor measurable. No one has ever done a scientific or even pseudo-scientific study of the state of anti-Semitism among the Negro People. The condition exists, but we can only speculate where and how much; and when it is articulated, it is shocking in terms of an ungainly horror. It is a strident, dreadfully wrong sound; and the response on the part of the Jewish listener is always a kind of sick confusion – a woeful protest that bolsters itself with logic, pleading that since the eighteen-twenties, here in America, the loudest and most consistently angry voice of protest against the Negro condition has been Jewish. (And here I do not for a moment forget any of the Abolitionist movements, but refer to a continued record of unceasing, unslackening protest during a century and a half.) Thus the knife not only cuts but twists and ravages in the wound.
"Why?" the Jew pleads, asking for logic in a condition of oppression that contains no logic. Yet the simple fact is that the Negro by and large is a Christian, and anti-Semitism is a Christian way of life, a particular disease out of a catalogue of diseases that have occupied the heartland of Christian culture through history, such as reciprocal mass-murder, bigotry, racism and other goodies, such as sexual hypocrisy and unspeakable righteousness. To expect the Negro to be free of this particular Christian habit would be as unrealistic as it would be optimistic, to expect his condition of oppression to lessen this feeling would be even more unrealistic. Quite to the contrary. If he sees his black skin as a badge of shame, a mark of inferiority – and white America has spared no effort to make this a part of the Negro's psychology – then he will seek even more desperately for what he may hate and regard as inferior.
I am well aware of the catalogue of reasons and sensible explanations that have been offered to explain Negro anti-Semitism. We are told that Jewish storekeepers in Negro neighborhoods gouge the Negroes. (And so do Christian storekeepers.) We are told of real estate owned by Jews in ghettos. (But more is owned by Gentiles.) We are told that Jews who work in Negro liberation organizations and give of their lives to the Negro liberation struggle incur the antagonism of those they attempt to help. (But thousands of Gentiles work no better, no worse, in the same organizations.) We are offered psychological explanations as silly as they are involved – and from all of it we emerge with the same desperate sense of pain, that people to whom we hold out a hand of help should – some of them – spit upon the outstretched hand.
But all in all, we avoid the obvious explanation; for this is the time of brotherhood, and if uncivilized hate-mongers like Billy Graham go out to preach the gospel in support of the war in Vietnam, we are not supposed to mention that by and large Christianity has preached much the same gospel for quite a while now. Jew and Gentile have clasped hands haven't they? We are even off the hook, and the Vatican bears witness to the fact that we no longer carry a bag of guilt. But nobody seems to have watered this sudden change of attitude toward the Jew down to the grass roots There are no tests, polls, public inquiries, but my own antennae sense a pretty fervent degree of anti-Semitism, all of it off the record. The Negro is dark-skinned, oppressed and used most murderously; he is also, with very few exceptions a Christian, and when he enters his Church on Sunday, he shares in that world-wide white Christian benediction anti-Semitism. And even if he never enters his church, he absorbs it by osmosis. Every force in the white world that surrounds him moves him to hate, and anti-Semitism is a Christian hate, practiced to perfection over two thousand years, handed to him ready made, as if the white world says to him,
"All other hates you must abjure – but this you may use. We approve your hatred of the Jew. We will applaud you and even support you."
But we want him to be noble enough to reject this useful, accepted white-Christian hate. We want him to say "But the Jew is my friend and support and I will not hate him."
Very nice. But Negroes are people, no more, no less, and people are not noble unless they have been taught to be noble, and three hundred years of hate, slavery and oppression do not constitute a school for nobility.
There is anti-Semitism among Negroes because they are Christians in a Christian America, and because they are oppressed and desperate for anything that will enable them to fight against the white-American contention that they are less human. They strike out blindly where they may. The wonder is not in their striking out but in their marvelous restraint. And if among them there is anti-Semitism, this is less important in the human scheme of things than the enormous, over-all fact of their oppression.