Voltairine de Cleyre, “Review—The Curse of Race Prejudice” (1906)


By Voltairine De Cleyre.

LIKE all the writings of Jas. F. Morton, his “Curse of Race Prejudice” is conceived in a spirit of fairness—fair even to laboriousness at times. One might occasionally wish for a little more ginger to spice it! For if ever warmth was justified, it surely is when one is characterizing the unspeakable acts of Negrophobiacs and Jew torturers. Nevertheless the average reader will undoubtedly in the end be more deeply impressed by Morton’s quiet and even speech than by the gall that bites and the vinegar that eats.

The substance of his arguments is summed up under the following ten heads:

1. All social, economic, religious or political discrimination based solely on color or race is wrong in principle and demoralizing in practice.

2. To treat a race as inferior is the surest way to make and keep it so.

3. It is a disgrace to any association of any sort to draw a color line.

4. A mere difference in color should debar no person from holding any office or position which is fit to be held at all.

5. Immigration into this or any other country should be open to all races on precisely equal terms.

6. The question of racial amalgamation is not involved in the demand for equal justice, and may be safely left to nature, without any present attempt to decide on its merits or possible evils.

7. The present status of a race in no way proves its permanent or even long-continued superiority or inferiority as compared with any other race.

8. The inherent possibilities of a race are to be measured by the highest individual it has produced.

9. It is unutterably mean, as well as heartlessly cruel, to refuse to extend the hand of fellowship to an individual who is our equal in intelligence, refinement and character, simply because his family or race as a whole is on a much lower level.

10. An individual who has succeeded in rising superior to his racial environment deserves not only full social recognition at the hands of his equals in culture and intelligence, but exceptional regard on account of his splendid achievement in surmounting the obstacles of birth and early environment.

If I were opposing Friend Morton, I would say in criticism that he would have done better to have cited more facts in support of these points and presented his opinion less. For example, it is more convincing to say: Forty years ago the negroes were an illiterate race, debarred from schools; to-day 55 per cent. can read and write; in the North 85 per cent. Property themselves in i860, in 1900 they had learned the white man’s game sufficiently to have acquired $600,000,000 worth of property in things. They operate 746,717 farms, containing 38,233,933 acres, equal to the area of New England. There were among them 82 bankers and brokers, 52 architects and designers, 236 artists, 212 dentists, 185 electricians, 120 civil engineers and surveyors, 210 journalists, 719 government officials, 728 lawyers, 1,734 physicians and surgeons, 395 stenographers, 475 bookkeepers, iSM0 clergymen, 21,268 teachers, 156,370 farm owners, 1,311 stock raisers, 1,186 manufacturers and officials in manufacturing establishments, 149 wholesale merchants —U. S. Census Report, 1900—all this is more convincing than: “The old yarn that the Negro is inherently lazy and shiftless is pretty well exploded. The highest form of industrial activity were hardly to be expected of a race designedly kept for generations in dense ignorance, and just emerging from a state of absolute bondage. No matter what the inherent qualities of a race, common sense and justice would demand that its capacity for industry be allowed at least two or three generations of independence to manifest itself, before the formation of any general conclusion on the subject. In only forty years, however, the industrial development of the Negro has already attained such immense proportions that his supposed incapacity for steady work must be relegated to the limbo of exploded superstitions. There is not the slightest shadow of reason to conclude that the Anglo Saxon or any other race, under precisely similar conditions, would have been able to show any better results. Statistics easily verifiable show that the improvement from year to year is constant and strongly marked.”

However, being on the same side of the question, it appears to me that not even the proofs given are necessary, the abomination of race prejudice being self-evident. I only suggest that an opponent might so consider the argument. The pamphlet concludes with an address delivered in New York during the Jewish massacres, wherein occurs a statement which was made by nearly every other protester at the time, but which is not strictly true, viz.: “What was the crime of the wretched victims of deeds too awful to relate? They were Jews, that was all.” The truth is, be it said to the honor of the Jews, that besides being Jews they were, more than any other separable social quantity, movers in the social revolution. Other revolutionists were massacred also, and with equal ferocity. No doubt the element of race hatred played an enormous part: but the government of Russia hates the Jews not so much as Jews, but as mortal antagonists; and the massacres were of governmental origin.

Altogether, the pamphlet is a welcome contribution to a much-needed literature,—sane, reasonable, ever keeping in view the great ideal of a universal humanity. As an Anarchist, however, one cannot but wonder how the author reconciles himself to the following sentence: “All evils of ignorant Negro rule, and the manifest injustice of robbing the Negro of his constitutional rights may be alike avoided by establishing strict educational qualifications for the exercise of suffrage, made in good faith, applicable to both races alike. . . .”

Has Comrade Morton become a convert to the efficacy of suffrage, or to the possibility of “purifying” the ballot-box?

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Reviews.—The Curse of Race Prejudice,” Mother Earth 1 no. 7 (September 1906): 34-37.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.