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Primary Sources: Why the White Man Calls You "Nigger"
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Seeing "The Negro and the American Promise" on public television inspired one Brooklyn viewer to share her comments about race relations.

Muriel Salzman
Brooklyn 35, New York

May 28, 1963

An Answer to James Baldwin on Why the White Man Calls You "Nigger."

You're a man, you say. A person -- an individual. In your book, you count. When you look in the mirror, you see someone. You make a footprint in the snow. When you eat in a restaurant, you pay a check.

Why has the White man tried to make a 'nothing' out of you? To segregate you out of existence and brutalize you to unconsciousness ...

Which White-man, is it by the way? Your neighbor who was no better off than you? Or the one only slightly better off -- who just yesterday was in your place.

Scratch a bigot and you will find a scared, harrassed soul -- whose only moment of confidence comes when he can say -- "I'm better than you, you ---."

It is the white man, too who is victimized by a social caste system based on economics. Someone profits by segregration -- that is, money in the pocket hard cash, real bucks for the landlord, The real estate man, business and everyone who gains by paying negroes less for the same job done by a white man.

Behind prejudice on any level -- in any area -- is FEAR. And that Fear is based on economic preservation. Man cannot live by bread alone, but it is equally true that he cannot live without bread.

You could even get Freudian on this subject. Sibling rivalries stem from fear of loss -- of love - attention security. No man has to hate his brother if he knows that there is good enough around for all.

As long as our nation exists as a land of plenty -- for the chosen few. There will be unrest. Slavery began as a financially advantageous arrangement -- oh boy -- free labor. Tell them that's all they're good for and work 'em like the devil. It paid off -- the South prospered on slave labor. The North is doing very well in its use of negroes for low paying positions.

I feel that all Americans must fight for integrated housing and schooling -- decreed by law. This will result in greater work opportunities on all levels.

The White-man's hate is really self-contempt turned outside. He, himself, is a victim of false ideals and standards -- perpetrated on him, by a vast economic chain which profits from his prejudice.

I would like to add that the Negroes of America -- in all the towns and cities ... and in all its various outlets... are showing America what Courage is. To die for an ideal is easy on the battlefield -- but to fight for it in your own backyard ... requires tremendous strength and conviction.

There is no doubt that the battle will be won ... this time, for good. I see violence and bloodshed, but ultimate victory. In many ways we are fighting another Civil War -- but it is a different Negro involved. He has had 100 years of "emancipation" and while he may not be truly free, he has learned what freedom can be.

I enjoyed seeing Kenneth Clark talking with James Baldwin. My memory of Mr. Clark goes back fifteen years when he pointed out to the Board of Education that intelligence tests are not valid for Negro children who have not experienced the Middle Class culture tested by these questions.

The nine years since the Supreme Court Decision have been like ninety.

To quote a famous proverb -- It is closer than farther -- this goal.

We are all keenly aware of prejudice in the North and an historic battle is being fought in Brooklyn. When Jr. H.S. 275 opens in September 1963, it will be the first school in the history of New York to become forcibly integrated. That is, although the school is located in a segregated area, children will be bussed in from the areas nearby so that the school population will be an integrated one. It is imperative that this school be watched once a parent knows that his child must attend an integrated school, he won't have to move to a neighborhood which is all-white. Who would have thought that the schools of New York City would fight the battle of integrated housing?

I enjoyed the Television interview. Clark's questions were excellent and Baldwin's probing sincerity was intensely communicated.

We scoff at Tennessee Williams' characters and say that they are too depraved to have validity, but the whole South has behaved far worse. It is nightmarish ... and if the Attorney General seemed credulous -- please realize the average American cannot fathom such violence in real-life. Television and the movies are vicarious -- but the scenes shown from Birmingham and Jackson were unrehearsed and it is shocking.

There is no doubt that Robert Kennedy could not absorb the full impact of the Negro tragedy. It is almost too much to encompass. I am confident that he will re-evaluate the evidence presented and will recognize its validity.

I, too, am optimistic. What else is there for man -- but the capacity -- but the capacity to hope -- dream... and endure. And to attain humanity he must feel for his fellow-man. It is this compassion in all men ... that will liberate man.

When modern fairy tales are written they will describe The Great Giant as the evil in men, which only love of man could vanquish.

It is this indestructible spirit of man to overcome adversity which has kept us going this long.

My gratitude to [New York public television] Channel 13 for arranging this interview.

Yours truly,
Muriel Salzman



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