This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.
Quick note: When this book was written, the polite term for a black person was “Negro.” That word has become politically incorrect, even offensive, but in context it’s obvious that the author meant it respectfully. Hopefully it will be accepted here in the spirit in which it was used, and give no offense.
** ** **
The founding fathers said: “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Christianity says: “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all men.”
Judaism says, “What thou thyself hatest, do to no man.”
Confucianism says, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.”
Islam says, “Help one another in righteousness and piety.”
How, against this background of lofty principles to which all men pretend to subscribe, do we explain to our children the petty hatreds, slurs, restrictions and humiliations inflicted upon those singled out as “undesirables” by self-appointed “desirables?”
Of all obstacles to a human being’s growth to full stature prejudice is the worst. It destroys more individuals than war. It is hereditary, not in the blood stream, but in the stream of conversation within the home. Out of the mouths of babes come adult slanders, repeated word for word.
How do you go about explaining to your child the meaning of words like spick, dago, wop, sheen, kike, nigger, hunk, polack, shanty, mockie, hebe, chink, coon, greaser? You might refer him to some glossary where he will get nice, sterile definitions with all the pain removed, or you might refer him to a living victim with all the pain still in him.
What a horror it must be for a child to discover that his skin is the wrong color. How can he liberate himself from the despised skin? Of all disadvantages, this, the terrible disadvantage of color, was the one my brothers and I did not have to overcome. A child learns early in life that color hatred is not just skin deep. It goes clear through to the marrow of his self-esteem. Hate my skin, hate me. Often he comes to accept his oppressor’s judgement and ends up hating himself and his group. What an iniquity in a civilized world to burden a newborn child with the hatred of ages.
Society has no right to mislead any child by promising him rewards for good conduct which it will not deliver. If he is treated like the experimental guinea pig in the maze he will behave like the guinea pig. A reward, usually a piece of cheese, is placed at the end of the tricky passageway. The guinea pig will make hundreds of learning attempts until he finally finds the right road to the reward. However, if after he has succeeded in learning the right road, you remove the cheese, even a guinea pig can have a nervous breakdown or become violent. The child who makes every effort to learn the “right way,” who strains to achieve the reward only to find it cynically withdrawn at the last moment, will break down. If we offer a reward for virtue we must offer it without consideration of skin color, language or religion, or we will reap the reward of violence.
This aberration called prejudice is an ancient malady and no one is completely immune to it. Even those most often victimized by prejudice may nurture prejudices of their own, perpetuating the vicious cycle of unreasoning, sick hate: white against black, black against white, nation against nation, neighborhood against neighborhood, man against man.
…The violated minority can appeal for justice but the final solution of the problem will have to come from the oppressor. Basically, anti-Semitism is a Christian problem. The Negro problem must finally be solved by the white man. After all, who done it?
Shedding a prejudice is an agonizing experience. An illogical hatred nourished for hundreds of years for whatever reason — religious, economic, or political — finally becomes a mass mental disease. The white people of this country are predominately favorable to the Negro’s demands for equality, yet many cannot shed their prejudice. When they say “The Negro is not ready yet,” what they mean is “I am not ready yet.”
It will take longer to unravel the knots of hatred in the white man than it will to achieve equality for the Negro. I have heard white men of good will say, “I don’t want to hate him. I hate myself for hating him. I don’t know why I hate him.” One woman’s deep-rooted fear of the Negro came to this: “Who is she to hate me? I am somebody. When she becomes somebody I will be nobody. If she moves next door we all become nobody. We can’t all be somebody.”
I am concerned here primarily with the effect of prejudice on the chances of the newborn babe delivering his message to the world. What are the odds for a kid born with the unpopular skin of the century? How can we afford the possible loss of this child’s talents, one of which may lead to a cure for cancer, or perhaps even a cure for the greatest killer of them all — prejudice? What might happen to the world if for one generation we did not teach our children to hate?