Our Dearest Antipathies

Why do groups of human beings persist in hating one another for no apparent reason?

By Francis Edward Clark

Why do we like one person or race, and dislike another? What is the reason for our racial and personal antipathies? or is there, perchance, no fundamental reason? Is the average antipathy we cherish simply another case of Dr. Fell?

I do not like you, Dr. Fell;
The resaon why I cannot tell.
But this I know and know full well,
I do not like you, Dr. Fell.

It is really a matter that is worth considering; for battles have been fought and dynasties have been established or overthrown, purely on the strength of national or racial antipathies. Such antipathies seem as unreasonable and as difficult to account for as human nature itself, and perhaps the unreasonableness of human nature alone can account for them.

Consider the antipathy to the colored races, on the part of many white nations. It would seem that there is an inherent blood feud, of a mild and usually innocuous sort, between races of different colors; that Ham and Shem hated Japheth, and Japheth and Shem despised Ham, from the day the Ark landed on Mt. Ararat.

But contemporary history disproves that theory. There are today many lands where Ham and Japheth get along very comfortably together. In the island of Jamaica, for instance, where there are some ten thousand whites to more than half a million blacks, or colored people (for there is a distinction as well as a difference in these terms), the races, all three of them, have very few mutual antipathies. We hear of none of the race riots, hangings, and burnings at the stake that constitute the blackest blot on our own national escutcheon. The blacks are treated with justice and consideration by the whites, and the whites are esteemed by the blacks, with true scriptural humility, as 'better than themselves.'

It may be said that in Jamaica it behooves the whites, who are in a minority of one to sixty, to treat the blacks decently, lest intolerance meet its just reward. But Jamaica does not stand alone. There are many other countries where the two races get along amicably. In Brazil, for instance, a streak of black blood is no bar sinister. Half the white people have something of an African tint in their veins. I know a distinguished American religious worker in South America, whose beautiful and accomplished wife had a few tell tale kinks in her hair, and whose four pickaninnies, darker than either of their parents, were a decided handicap to the father when he visited the old folks in 'The States.' So it can scarcely be a matter between Ham and Japheth, since North America and South America are twin continents, and we all live in the twentieth century.

Another conundrum. Why is it that Indian blood is esteemed so much more desirable than African blood? In many cases both are equally tawny. Yet even society queens, if the newspapers are to be believed, are proud to count their generations back to Pocahontas; while no one could be elected to the upper ten who was a forty seventh cousin to Toussaint l'Ouverture or Booker Washington.

Yet the average Indian (I gladly except certain tribes) is far harder to civilize than the average negro. He prefers his tepee, his lousy blanket, and his witch doctors to a university education, though he might have the latter free.

Then there are all the grades of color between the black and the red (so called, although any ruddy tinge is difficult to discover in the Indian). There is the light yellow grading to dark yellow of China and Japan, the seal brown of Java, the dun brown of the New Hebrides, the ècru of Hawaii; to all of them different degrees of antipathy are manifested on the part of the fair haired and blue eyed races.

This antipathy cannot be laid to the intellectual inferiority of these races. Japan and China have their full proportion of intellectual giants and near-giants. Their civilization, though of a different kind, is as high as ours, and their art in some respects is superior.

Wherein, then, does the antipathy lie? It would seem to the superficial eye that it is a matter of pigment. Beneficent Nature, with her usual lavish hand, spilled more coloring matter into some cuticles than into others; therefore the super white races, '99.44 percent cent pure,' like a certain brand of soap, have taken a pregenital prejudice, it would seem, against the races that show on the surface a little more coloring matter. The lily whites of Northern Europe, who constitute our chief racial stock, are antipathetic to the colored races; while the Spaniards and Portuguese and, to some extent, the Italians, with their black hair and eyes and more swarthy skins, have little prejudice even against intermarriage.

Yet this pigment explanation, which has been seriously proposed, is surely a pigmy contribution to the subject.

An innate fear of the final domination of the whites by the colored is more reasonable. Few reason it out, perhaps; but he who really scans the world, 'from China to Peru,' cannot fail to acknowledge that there is some reason, in the future outlook, why the pale face should grow paler still.

The California fruit grower discovers that the Japanese fruit grower is smarter than he is; and he camouflages his objection with the statement that 'the Oriental will lower the scale of American living.' The white American laborer sees the Chinese laundryman working twelve hours a day, burning the midnight oil, and rejoicing in the opportunity, while he desires chiefly to scamp his own eight hour day, work as little as possible, and get, but not earn, his five dollar bill at the end of it. Of course, he objects to 'cheap yellow labor.' Query: which is yellower?

The South African magnate on the gold reef of Johannesburg, or in the great diamond pits of Kimberley, hates the approximation of the black men to the white, - intellectually and educationally, - because he wishes to keep the blacks in contract slavery, and intern them for a year at a time behind his barbed wire stockade. So he scoffs at the missionary and the schoolmaster, and continues to despise the negro because he can exploit him. Otherwise he would fear him.

Even the philosophic philanthropist, when he counts up the nations, begins to shiver in his shoes as he realizes that the more or less colored races outnumber the whites three to one; that they dominate, a hundred to one, the two largest continents, and are in a large majority in yet another continent.

The earlier ages of the world were undoubtedly ruled by colored people, for Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians were more than slightly tinged with nature's dyes. Only for some three thousand years have the white races been predominant. Will the next three thousand years see the world's sceptre seized again by its former rulers, or their allies in color? If these considerations are well founded, then the antipathy of the whites is really a tribute to their vigor and courage.

But color antipathies are not the only ones we have to reckon with. I have heard the Slays curse the Magyars and the Magyars the Slays, and with equally good, or bad, reason. The Czechs are decidedly persona non grata to the Russians, and all unite in hating the Jews.

The universal and mutual antipathy between Jew and Gentile has been accounted for in many ways, but is still unaccountable. A winter residence neighborhood, or a summer resort invaded by the Jews, is soon deserted by the Christians. A hotel to which Hebrews are known to resort is soon left to their exclusive possession. A university that attracts them in large numbers repels other students, and is made the butt of sly jokes by after dinner commencement speakers in rival universities, to the effect that such and such a college is safe from fire and flood, since He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. It is easy enough to divine the cause of the pogroms in Russian Poland and Roumania It is the same as that of the hatred of the Pacific coast laborer for the Japanese, and the Irish washerwoman for the Chinese laundryman. The Jews beat, if they do not cheat, these other nations at their own game. They are smarter business men, and usually get the long end of the bargain.

Moreover, the pogromists of Europe have some real grievances. The Jews are the usurers, and largely the liquor dealers, in these countries, and often get the unsuspecting peasants into their clutches, and keep them virtual slaves for life to ten per cent a month.

The Jews have little patriotic attachment to the countries in which they live. Why should they have? Except in America, Great Britain, and France, they have beer baited and beaten, despised and dishonored. As a result of their supposed lack of patriotic devotion, they are regarded as neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. They are not a hundred per cent Slav, Magyar, or Russian. In the opinion of these nations, they are not only Jews, but Ishmaelites, sons of Abraham and Hagar, and not of Abraham and Sarah. So they are fair game for any small boy with a stone, or any old boy with a gun.

But why the antipathy in America? Here they approach nearer to being hundred per cent nationals than in any other country. To be sure, they eat kosher meat and read, if they do not speak, Yiddish. They keep Saturday as a holy day instead of Sunday, if they keep either.

But these are not serious faults. They are, for the most part, decent, law abiding citizens; they are seldom found in the divorce courts, and seldom appear in the murder columns of our newspapers. In many ways they set us all a good example. Their children are often the brightest of all the boys and girls in our public schools; and I have been assured more than once by librarians, that the newly arrived Russian Jew children take the best books from our public libraries. While American boys get the nearest thing they can find to Dick Dead Eye, or The Mystery of the Bloody Toothpick, the Jewish boy asks for books of American history, or books that glorify American achievement.

Again we ask, why then the inbred antipathy to the Jew? Some have said, because they crucified the Saviour of the World. But the Romans had even more to do with the actual crucifixion than the Jews. 'Crucified under Pontius Pilate,' repeat millions of Christians every Sunday; but, though Pilate has not yet washed away the stain of murder, in that dismal lake on the top of Mt. Pilatus, we have no great antipathy to the memory of the race to which he belonged.

Moreover, was not Jesus himself a Jew, and Peter and John and Andrew, and all the apostles and early evangelists? Did not a Jew give us our choicest Christian hymns in the Psalms of David, and our loftiest poetry and prose in the books of Job and Isaiah?

No, the crucifixion of Jesus cannot figure largely as an element in the antipathy to the Jews, even though the enemies of Disraeli and some other Jews have often declared that they were direct descendants of Judas Iscariot, or of the unrepentant thief on the Cross. It must be more largely the financial smartness and the exclusive clannishness of the race of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that irks us Gentiles.

As we read the signs on Broadway, and see that the Cohens and the Solomon Levis have crowded out Smith, Brown, and Jones, we ask ourselves, 'Is America to become a commercial Jewry,' instead of a New Jerusalem let down out of heaven? And so we gather our far from immaculate American skirts about us, and pass by on the other side from Solomon Levi Cohen.

If these considerations are true, it would seem that most national antipathies are the result of fear, conscious or unconscious, that some race or nation will get the better of us; but how is it with our pet personal antipathies?

I will not venture to touch upon the subtle likes and dislikes, the sympathies and anti sympathies, that draw us toward one person and away from another, both equally good, lovable, and interesting. It would seem to require the Brahmin theory of preexistence: that in former eons these antipathetic people rubbed each other the wrong way, and the ancient, forgotten grudge somehow survives.

I am not ready to accept this fantastic theory, and must leave the question open for each reader's speculation. But how about the more obvious, everyday antipathies? As I write, the other half of my Pullman section is occupied by a Norwegian sailor on his way to New Orleans to join his ship; for in these days, when brawn wins the chief prizes, a Norwegian sailor can afford Pullmans better than a mere poor writer.

My seat mate is a man of great expectorations. A constant yellow flood from his mouth flows into a convenient receptacle, which stands midway between his legs and mine. Why should I cringe away from him in disgust? Why is a tobacco chewer, next to a girl gumchewer, the most disgusting creature to some of us? Why should a fifty cent cigar, smoked by a dandy, seem more decent than a quid of black rat tail chewed by a Norwegian foremast hand? It is the same weed in either case. The sailor does not poison the air around him as the smoking dandy does. On the whole, he is less disagreeable as a seat mate; but it is hard to make myself believe it, until I remember his calling. When I think of him in the crow's nest in a cracking gale, or swarming up the ratlines to shake out the sheet, occasions when, naturally, he cannot smoke, but thinks he must have the good cheer of my lady Nicotine in some form, &mdashl I can forgive him for his habit, even though I have to guard my shoes and trousers from his spatterings.

There are also certain words and phrases from which I cringe as I do from the super abundant expectorations. I do not object to split infinitives (I split too many of them myself), or to first class or even second class slang; but there are certain profane or semi-profane expressions which hurt like a slap in the face. The man who habitually uses them I would not count among my list of friends, any more than I would that man who seems to have been a certain poet's pet aversion, 'who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.'

That Damn Y, the title of a book which filled a publisher's windows recently, struck me as in shocking bad taste, to say the least, even though I believe it defends a very excellent institution; and I wanted to draw the curtain and shut that pile of books from public view.

I do not know that I am more squeamish than others concerning such words; if so, I suppose it is the result of early Puritan education; but there is in me an instant repulsion to the man or book that lightly uses words of serious and awful, if not profane, import. I can excuse such a man to myself only on the ground of his early upbringing, like that of the little girl whom I once found on a canoe trip in the Maine woods, who had only heard of God 'when daddy damned him.'

More common still is the revulsion most of us feel toward the excessively painted and powdered female who makes herself look like a corpse, with a hectic flush on either cheek. 'Poor thing, she does doesn't know how ugly she is,' is the only mitigation of our antipathy, until we can picture to ourselves an intellectually two by four damsel in a seven by nine hail bedroom, who cares nothing for books, and has few or no kindly family ties, living chiefly for beaux and movies. Then our contempt and condescension are transformed into pity.

There, too, is the conceited, top lofty individual, the most repellent of all humans. How we long inwardly to take him down. It would be worth a dollar, yea, several dollars, to pierce his carapace of conceit; but it is no use, there is no joint in his armor, - and we take refuge in the conventional cold shoulder or icy stare, which he takes as complacently as he would a glass of icewater on a hot day.

But, very likely, in his history or environment would be found much to excuse him. I think his father was a Joey Bagstock, and his mother a Mrs. Proudie before she married Bagstock. He couldn't help having such parents, poor fellow. They laughed at all his 'cunning' ways, when little. 'Ain't he cute?' was constantly on their lips. His first tooth, the first time he spelled c a t, the first time he gave a pert and saucy answer, the first time he made faces at the minister when he called how wonderful those events were! They went down into history, and were repeated over and over again. When he bossed the kitchen maid and gave six year old, orders to the hired man, he was 'too sweet for anything.' If we knew all this early history, we would certainly excuse young Lofty.

I acknowledge that, in all this consideration of our antipathies, there is always a danger of the holier than thou attitude on our own part. 'Lord, I thank thee that I am not as this colored man, or this Jew, this boor, this painted girl, or even young Lofty.' Even while we seek to excuse them, we may be folding our own togas around us with an exclusive swing; yet an honest effort to understand our antipathies will often dispel many fears and many dislikes.

Like the man who was not afraid of ghosts because he had seen so many of them, the more we see of our antipathies, as a rule, the less we shall fear them, and the more we shall like them. And very likely, in the mirrors of our own minds and hearts, we shall see a strangely familiar reflection. Can it be that same evil thing that we saw in our pet antipathy?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1921/02/our-dearest-antipathies/308777/