• U.S.

Books: A Time for Pride

4 minute read

CRISIS IN BLACK AND WHITE by Charles E. Silberman. 370 pages. Random House. $5.95.

Many of the books now pouring off the presses on the race issue hesitate, falter, flounder and peter out in mawkish sentimentality or pious preaching. This book by Charles Silberman, a FORTUNE magazine editor, marches in no-nonsense fashion to a number of hard truths that are not meant to comfort or console. It is impossible, writes Silberman, “to tell the truth about race relations without offending and angering men of both colors.” Some Silberman points:

> White Americans have degraded the Negro. Slaves were treated more shabbily in the U.S. than almost anywhere else on earth at any time in history. Their pride was systematically knocked out of them; families were broken up so often that a pattern was set, and even today they continue to break up with alarming casualness. In central Harlem, only half the children under 18 live with both parents.

> Negroes need to recover their self-respect. Though sit-ins have not accomplished much materially, they have given Negroes cause for pride: whites have had to bargain with them as equals. Similarly, by stressing Negro superiority —racist though that message is—the Black Muslims have had astonishing success straightening out the lives of lower-class Negroes, curing them of drug addiction, alcoholism and self-hate.

> White Americans must go out of their way to give Negroes a helping hand; merely allowing them long-withheld civil rights is not enough. They must provide public education for Negro children at an earlier age—at three or four. By the time the children are five or six, an overcrowded, oppressive home life has stifled their impulse to learn and made them much less alert than comparable white children. Corporations must set job quotas for Negroes, give them on-the-job training, even put up with impaired efficiency until the Negroes are trained.

> The “most impressive experiment affecting Negroes anywhere in the U.S.,” says Silberman, took place in Chicago’s Woodlawn slum. Despairing over the decline of their neighborhood, local clergymen called in Saul D. Alinsky, whose profession is creating large-scale grass-roots organizations in U.S. cities. Alinsky welded together such an effective group that it was able to organize a boycott of white merchants who overcharged the neighborhood. It forced slumlords to clean up their properties; it put the heat on city hall to relieve the overcrowding in the ghetto schools.

Alinsky is Silberman’s chief hero, the man who has shown Negroes the way to make themselves most effective. Critics charge that Alinsky is an agitator, and Alinsky proudly agrees; he uses nearly any method for making authorities miserable—rent strikes, demonstrations, marches on city hall. His stated intent is to “rub raw the sores of discontent” in order to inspire a depressed community to act to help itself. Silberman argues that it is this individual participation in action that alone can give Negroes a real sense of their own dignity. “It is in the act (or the means) of working for freedom or equality that one gains freedom or equality.”

Silberman warns that things may get worse before they get better. “The Negroes’ impatience, bitterness and anger are likely to increase the closer they come to full equality. This is not a quirk of Negro character but a characteristic of all disadvantaged groups: the closer they are to their goals, the harder it is to understand or justify the disparities that remain. Indeed, it is a commonplace of history that revolutions (and the Negro protest movement resembles a revolution in many ways) stem from hope, not despair; from progress, not stalemate. And the nearer to triumph the revolutionaries get, the tougher they usually become.”

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