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THE NEW RACE-CONSCIOUSNESS
The Negro's Own Radicalism Twenty years ago all Negroes known to the white publicists of America could be classed as conservatives on all the great questions on which thinkers differ. In matters of industry, commerce, politics, religion, they could be trusted to take the backward view. Only on the question of the Negro's “rights” could a small handful be found bold enough to be tagged as "radicals”—and they were howled down by both the white and colored adherents of the conservative point of view. Today Negroes differ on all those great questions on which white thinkers differ, and there are Negro radicals of every imaginary stripe—agnostics, atheists, I. W. W.'s Socialists, Single Taxers, and even Bolshevists.
In the good old days white people derived their knowledge of what Negroes were doing from those Negroes who were nearest to them, generally their own selected exponents of Negro activity or of their white point of view. A classic illustration of this kind of knowledge was afforded by the Republican Party; but the Episcopal Church, the Urban League, or the U. S. Government would serve as well. Today the white world is vaguely, but disquietingly, aware that Negroes are awake, different and perplexingly uncertain. Yet the white world by which they are surrounded retains its traditional method of interpreting the mass by the Negro nearest to themselves in affiliation or contact. The Socialist party thinks that the "unrest" now apparent in the Negro masses is due to the propaganda which its adherents support, and believes that it will function largely along the lines of socialist political thought. The great dailies, concerned mainly with their chosen task of being the mental bellwethers of the mob, scream “Bolshevist propaganda” and flatter themselves that they have found the true cause; while the government's unreliable agents envisage it as "disloyalty.” The truth, as usual, is to be found in the depths; but there they are all prevented from going by mental laziness and that traditional off-handed, easy contempt with which white men in America, from scholars like Lester Ward to scavengers like Stevenson, deign to consider the colored population of twelve millions.
In the first place, the cause of “radicalism” among American Negroes is international. But it is necessary to draw clear distinctions at the outset.
The function of the Christian church is international. So is art, war, the family, rum and the exploitation of labor. But none of these is entitled to extend the mantle of its own peculiar “internationalism” to cover the present case of the Negro discontent--although this has been attempted. The international Fact to which Negroes in America are now reacting is not the exploitation of laborers by capitalists; but the social, political and economic subjection of colored peoples by white. It is not the Class Line, but the Color Line, which is the incorrect but accepted expression for the Dead Line of racial inferiority. This fact is a fact of Negro consciousness as well as a fact of externals. The international Color Line is the practice and theory of that doctrine which holds that the best stocks of Africa, China, Egypt and the West Indies are inferior to the worst stocks of Belgium, England and Italy, and must hold their lives,
lands and liberties upon such terms and conditions as the white races may choose to grant them.
On the part of the whites, the motive was originally economic; but it is no longer purely so. All the available facts go to prove that, whether in the United States or in Africa or China, the economic subjection is without exception keener and more brutal when the exploited are black, brown and yellow, than when they are white. And the fact that black, brown and yellow also exploit each other brutally whenever Capitalism has created the economic classes of plutocrat and proletarian should suffice to put purely economic subjection out of court as the prime cause of racial unrest. For the similarity of suffering has produced in all lands where whites rule colored races a certain similarity of sentiment, viz. : a racial revulsion of racial feeling. The peoples of those lands begin to feel and realize that they are so subjected because they are members of races condemned as “inferior” by their Caucasian overlords. The fact presented to their minds is one of race, and in terms of race do they react to it. Put the case to any Negro by way of test and the answer will make this clear.
The great World War, by virtue of its great advertising campaign for democracy and the promises which were held out to all subject peoples, fertilized the Race Consciousness of the Negro people into the stage of conflict with the dominant white idea of the Color Line. They took democracy at its face value—which is-equality. So did the Hindus, Egyptians and West Indians. This is what the hypocritical advertisers of democracy had not bargained for. The American Negroes, like the other darker peoples, are presenting their checques and trying to "cash in," and delays in that process, however unavoidable to the paying tellers, are bound to beget a plentiful lack of belief in either their intention or their ability to pay. Hence the run on Democracy's bank—"the Negro unrest" of the newspaper paragraphers.
Undoubtedly some of these newly-awakened Negroes will take to Socialism and Bolshevism. But here again the reason is racial. Since they suffer racially from the world as at present organized by the white race, some of their ablest hold that it is "good play” to encourage and give aid to every subversive movement within that white world which makes for its destruction “as it is.” For by its subversion they have much to gain and nothing to lose. Yet they build on their own foundations. Parallel with the dogma of Class-Consciousness they run the dogma of Race-Consciousness. And they dig deeper. For the roots of Class-Consciousness inhere in a temporary economic order; whereas the roots of Race-Consciousness must of necessity survive any and all changes in the economic order. Accepting biology, as a fact, their view is the more fundamental. At any rate, it is that view with which the white world will have to deal.—The New Negro, October, 1919.
Race First Versus Class First
“In the old days white people derived their knowledge of what Negroes were doing from those Negroes who were nearest to them, largely their own selected exponents of Negro activity or of their white point of view.
Today the white world is vaguely, but disquietingly, aware that Negroes are awake; different. but perplexingly uncertain. Yet the white world by which they are surrounded retains its traditional method of interpreting the mass by the Negro nearest to themselves in affiliation or contact. The Socialist party still persists
in thinking that the unrest now apparent in the Negro masses is due to the propaganda which its paid adherents support, and believes that the unrest will function largely along the lines of Socialist political thought.”
It is necessary to insist on this point today when the Socialist party of America has secretly subsidized both a magazine and a newspaper to attempt to cut into the splendid solidarity which Negroes are achieving in response to the call of racial necessity. It is necessary to point out that “radical” young Negroes may betray the interests of the race into alien hands just as surely as "the old crowd." For, after all, the essence of both betrayals consists in making the racial requirements play second fiddle to the requirements dictated as best for it by other groups with other interests to serve. The fact that one group of alien interests is described as "radical" and the other as "reactionary" is of very slight value to us.
In the days when the Socialist Party of America was respectable, although it never drew lines of racial separation in the North, it permitted those lines to be drawn in the South. It had no word of official condemnation for the Socialists of Tennessee who prevented Theresa Malkiel in 1912 from lecturing to Negroes on Socialism either in the same hall with them or in meetings of their own. It was the national office of the party which in that same presidential year refused to route Eugene V. Debs in the South because that Grand Old Man let it be known that he would not remain silent on the race question while in the South. They wanted the votes of the white South then, and were willing to betray by silence the principles of inter-racial solidarity which they espoused on paper.
Now, when their party has shrunk considerably in popular support and sentiment, they are willing to take up our cause. Well, we thank honest white people every