J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Basis for Anti-Negro Prejudice

(27 August 1985)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 35, 27 August 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The August issue of The New International contains anarticle by David Coolidge on white workers and Negroes in the unions. The article (which is to be concluded in the September issue) makes many interesting and valuable points. One of them is that the white worker who expresses anti-Negro prejudice is imitating the capitalist class. I wish to make here a few observations about this.

Many American white workers would be horrified to know that discrimination and segregation are in a specific sense American and to a lesser degree British. The American planters of the South were the originators of American race prejudice. They needed it to bolster their grip on their slaves. By means of race prejudice they could convince or attempt to convince the world that there was nothing wrong with slavery, because, after all, Negroes were inferior beings fit for nothing else but slavery. This doctrine was so suitable to CLASS DOMINATION (most of the Negroes being workers or manual laborers of some kind) that the American capitalist class took it over. It is from their rulers, capitalists and planters combined, that the American workers have learned the elements of prejudice against Negroes.

This can be proved in reverse, so to speak. The workers in France, for example, are free of race prejudice against Negroes to a degree that would astonish many American workers. Some years ago a, poll was taken in a French city on the Negro question. Some 200 families were asked if they would accept a Negro in their home as a paying guest. Over two-thirds said “Yes” and a great number were puzzled by the question. “Why not?” they asked.

French Experiences

During World War I, American Negro soldiers who were persecuted by the American generals and officers were accepted into the French army and fought as French units. So popular were the American Negroes that after the war there was a discussion in the French press about a vast immigration of American Negroes into France to replace the Frenchmen who had died in the war.

After that war, also, American visitors began to discriminate against American Negroes. One particular American restaurant in Paris which sold chicken fried in the good old Southern style refused to admit Negroes, also in the good old Southern style. In restaurants and bars which Americans frequented they brought pressure to bear upon the proprietors to exclude Negroes.

The French Minister of the Interior, Aristide Briand, heard of it. He issued a public statement: Stop it, or we shall close down everyone of you. This was no nonsense about fines and civil rights bills and FEPC investigations in the Roosevelt style. He meant business, and the discrimination stopped immediately.

In Italy, in Spain, in Portugal, in Germany, all over Europe, the situation was much the same before 1933. In the Scandinavian countries in particular, Negroes were welcomed and treated like other citizens.

The outstanding exception was Britain. I cannot attempt to go deeply into the causes of these things here. But I shall let the American capitalist class itself speak.

Carnegie Study

Newton Baker was Secretary of War in World War I. He suddenly found himself facing the enormous difficulties of the Negro question. After the war this far-sighted representative of the capitalist class decided that the Negro question required study. The American ruling class needed accurate knowledge and information in order to help American capitalism function as smoothly as possible. The Carnegie Institute promised to put up the money and all seemed set. But if workers do not know the origin of race prejudice against Negroes, the intelligent capitalists do. The Carnegie Institute refused to place an American in charge of the investigation. Why? Because he would be biased. There was too much prejudice, conscious or unconscious, in the country. For the same reason, they did not want an Englishman. Most strikingly, they did not want a Frenchman either.

As the planners themselves wrote, they did not want any European who came from an imperialist country! The conclusion was obvious. Wherever you have one capitalist class exploiting colonials, you cannot trust their opinions on the race question. Even scientific men are affected by the prejudice. The Institute finally chose a Swede, Gunnar Myrdal, because the Swedes had no colonial empire and therefore a Swede was more likely to be objective about the Negro question. Their choice has been justified. In his book, American Dilemma, this Swedish economist and sociologist has given American race prejudice a raking-over which should be read by every serious American worker.

The lesson is plain. The ruling class of any country which exploits people of a different race, either at home or abroad, creates a special racial ideology to help justify the exploitation. This they teach to the workers. According to the national situation, the workers will accept it to a greater or lesser degree. Even where, as in France, the tradition of the Great Revolution has helped to clear away the prejudice in the imperialist country itself, it still remains in regard to the colonies.

Today, as the working class gains maturity and begins to challenge the capitalists for the leadership of the nation, one of its urgent tasks is to create its own attitudes to the race question.

The ruling class taught ruling class attitudes – race prejudice, discrimination, segregation. The workers must build their own – equality of all men, solidarity in working class organizations, methods and aims.

Last updated on 13 December 2017