The existence of innate race prejudices has been asserted or tacitly assumed by many writers who have had to deal with questions involving the relations of distinct branches of the human family to each other. Of late there has been a disposition among certain publicists to deny that there is any such thing as an instinctive hatred of one kind of man towards another. So far as I am aware, this question has never been submitted to a discussion. It is desirable that we should know whether this notion is true or false, for it has a very important bearing on the matter of the future relations of the African and European peoples on this continent. If race prejudice has to be reckoned with, as we reckon with illness or old age, then our problem is more complicated than it would otherwise be.
It is now clear that in the discussion of human motives we must begin our inquiry among the lower animals; there alone we can see how the foundations of the human mind were laid. It is not necessary to assume that man is the direct descendant of any of these existing animals: on the contrary, it is almost certain that none of the ancestors of man are any longer on the earth. But many of these lower forms are close kinsmen of our remoter progenitors: they show us something of our ancestral state; they enable us to picture the conditions of that low estate in which the intellect of man has spent by far the greater part of its existence. Draw a line a hundred paces long; measure on it the length of a single pace. This pace will represent in a rude way the life of man as man; the remaining ninety-nine, the duration of his life in the lower stages of animal existence.
Although perhaps not the hundredth part of man’s life has been spent in the conditions of man, we seem to see that the greater part of the human intelligence is that which belongs to the man, and not to his lower kindred. This is doubtless true of that element of the mental process in which distinct ideas are involved; but the fundamental motives, the blind impulses which drive men to actions in which reason takes little or no part, these are not, properly speaking, human qualities at all. They took their shape and attained their power before the human stage of our life began; they have been to a certain extent modified in their action by the development of the higher qualities of the mind, by the growth of the intellect and the expansion of the sympathies, but from their very antiquity they are far more firm-set and self-determined in their action than the higher acquisitions of the mind. They are also the strong members of that curious association of almost personally different elements. Sexual passion, hunger, rage, the wild impulses of flight and chase, are motives which in the mass of men differ from those which tend them to ratiocination or to sympathy as the whirlwind from the zephyr.
It is easily seen that these old and lower members of the composite man, that copartnership of angels and devils, are not only stronger, but more quick to action, than the higher. They are the brutal gate-keepers of the castle, always ready to sally forth; while the more elevated motives may be compared to the women and the other non-combatants. Let us not despise them; to their strength we owe the support of the higher life. Let us reckon with them, and see that while they do their duty they stay where they belong.
Turning, then, to the lower mammals for evidence as to the history of antipathies, we find a wide field of inquiry lies before us. At the outset we have to notice that the only way in which we can determine the motives of a lower animal is by its acts; the only way in which we can trace a kinship between the dumb creatures’ motives and those which move us is by the likeness of their actions. In the case of a fellow-man we are surer that his motives are like our own, because he can describe his state to us by means of speech. This difficulty in the interpretation of animal motives is clearly insurpassable; the only way in which we can approach their mental states is by the assumption that because their behavior is like our own, their state of mind which tends to the behavior is likewise closely related to our own. For my own part, after carefully examining the theory that animals are automatons, that in a word they have no sense of their own states of being, I have been driven to reject it altogether. The reader should know, however, that the same persons who advocate this theory believe that animals may act much as our eyes act when they close at a threat of a blow. Assuming that the lower animals feel their states, we may conclude that their emotions are closely comparable with our own.
Taking this view of the evidence, we find that among the lower animals instinctive hatreds are conspicuous in almost every part of the field where the mental activity is great enough to give any distinct character to their actions. Next after the sexual passion, the instinct for food, and the parental instinct we must place the hatred of the neighbor, provided that neighbor in any way trespasses on their privileges. In the struggle for mates and in the combat for food, selfish impulses taking the shape of rage against the neighbor are seen in almost all the higher animals. Most commonly this hatred is exhibited against the individuals of the same species, because they are the most effective enemies: they alone enter into the contest for mates; generally they are the rivals in the effort to get food. But in cases it extends to a general hatred of other species or tribes which may enter into the contest for the chances which the field of life may afford.
When we come to the animals of higher grade, we find that the family instinct creates some limit on the hatred of the neighbor; for a time, while the young are in need of the parental care, an element of sympathy enters into the life, but this usually passes away with the maturity of the offspring. As we all know, the mother cat becomes indifferent to her children, and will attack them if they cross her desires. Among certain groups of animals the herd instinct is developed. In this form of association there is, especially among the pigs and monkeys, an allegiance to the clan much like that we find among men. In this case the enmity between rival herds or tribes is often seen. They will defend the common interests and make sacrifice for the common weal, but the sympathy does not extend beyond the clan, and is in most cases very imperfect within its limits. When we leave the inferior levels of life through which man passed, and come to man himself, we find in his lower races an almost precise repetition of the conditions of the lower animals; the only variations are the effects of his more discerning mind. The lowest races of man are gathered into small tribes, which are in a state of chronic war with all the tribes about them; sympathy has extended only as far as the narrow tribal limits, and within these it is hardly more than a faint twilight, when compared with the day which is to come thereafter. Gradually, by culture, this sympathy expands, until it makes society possible. Even in the best adjusted states it is only the more cultivated people whose sympathies have so enlarged that they readily extend to unseen men, or to those who differ from them in any important regard. Most people readily sympathize with those of their own social station or of their own occupation, but not with those who are widely separated from them in these or other regards. It is easy to perceive that the capacity of sympathy, the power of loving the fellow-man in a strange aspect, is rare even in our more cultivated people. The other man, provided his otherishness is great, is not even among cultivated people protected by the mantle of sympathy from the outbreak of the hatred which any sudden conflict may engender. The instinctive desire. to crush the contestant, which we inherit from our lower life in man and beast, must have been felt by all ordinary mortals, however refined: it is still very strong in the lower orders of our most civilized societies, and with them the charitable motive is much weaker than among most cultivated people. When aroused, this motive expresses itself in a desire to strike and slay; it is so strong that delicately bred men, who would hardly be able in cold blood to kill a dog, will under its stimulus find a certain joy in driving the sword through the skull of a fellow-man, or in seeing a charging column scattered, like old clothes in the air, before the canister-shot of a battery. Nothing will so well account for the peculiar strength of this strange motive of slaughter as the theory that it is the product of immemorial contest, in which the fiercest won and lived, and sent down to us their accumulated capacity for fury.
It needs little experience or reading to show the observer that this capacity for rage against the opponent everywhere lies below the smooth surface of our modern civilized manner, as the blood beneath the skin. Law and custom may tame it, as it is their function to do; but it abides in the man along with the bodily parts which he derived from the lower life. Let the hold of the social order be broken by any excitement which strongly moves their passion, and a body of people who deem themselves civilized, whose ordinary motives are humane, may become the brutal savages of a mob. Their frail covering of civilization disappears in an instant before the strong ancestral passion of rage. It does not seem necessary further to elaborate this part of our subject, for it seems clear enough that we, in our best estate, inherit a capacity of instinctive rage against those who threaten whatever we hold dear. We will therefore pass to the consideration of some of the actions of this ancient impulse in our modern society. We will first consider the conditions of the sympathies which make head against these brutal motives.
The motive of sympathy is one which we have derived through inheritance from the lower life of man; its intensity and extension are very much less than the motives of rage, though in our higher man they are more continuously active. So far as the sympathy takes the limited form of family affection, it is from its long culture very strong; often, indeed, more powerful than the motive of rage. Within the limits of friendship it is also fairly strong; among a noble few it extends beyond these limits. But its intensity with all but the loftiest spirits diminishes rapidly as we go away from the circle of the family or those known by intimate contact. To promote this extension of the sympathetic motives without limiting their intensity is the great problem of our modern life.
The limitations in the extension of sympathy are very curious. Depending, as it does, on the sense of likeness in the fellow-man to whom it goes out, it is checked by any barriers of speech, demeanor, or aspect which seem to deny the kinship of the being to ourselves. A man may in vain strive to feel sympathy towards a fellow-mortal in a totally different station in the world, and fail to awaken the motive in his breast, until a cry of pain or a look of agony arouses the full sense of fellowship, when at once the fountains of his soul are opened. Those of keen constructive imaginations and great sympathetic power can picture the look of pleading, or their quickened ears can hear the moan from beyond the hills or over the sea; but they have the divinity within them, and, unhappily, do not often walk the earth.
We see in most men that whatever sets them apart creates a boundary to the extension of the sense of sympathy or friendship. To wear a different totem, or to have the tattoo in different lines, will make the bounds in the lower kind of man; speaking a different dialect will serve in a higher station; worshiping God in a peculiar way will make the boundary of sympathy in the more cultivated levels of society.
Of all the circumstances which naturally limit the sympathies, the most effective are physical differences, especially those which change the aspect of the man. We see this in the lower animals as well as in man: if one of a herd sicken his fellows will turn against him. Place sheep of different breeds in a common pasture, and they will gather, like with like, and keep apart. Among low-grade peoples, such as we may still find in many parts of the world, when the folk are amiable enough to each other, the appearance of a stranger arouses a sense of rage because of his peculiarities, which may be inoffensive enough in themselves. The Yorkshire salutation—“There goes a stranger, Bill; ‘eave ‘alf a brick at ‘im”—is a real example of this motive. The psychological process is simple. The stranger, by his novel aspect, excites the mind of the rough man as it excites a hull. The harrier of aspect keeps the sympathies from spontaneously awakening to do their work. Therefore the mind of the common man gives forth the instinctive hatred whenever surprised by novelty in the human kind.
Many may recognize this peculiar feature in the operation of their own minds, even though they are persons who have been so fortunate as to see the need of culture of the sympathies, and have so trained themselves that they are able to feel a sense of brotherhood with the wider minded of their own race. One may make the experiment by trying to enter into a feeling of sympathy with, say, a Chinaman. He will find, if his experience is like that of the present writer, that the utterly foreign look of that sphinx-like creature sets a bar to the current of sympathy which flows easily towards the roughest specimen of one’s own race. Now the Chinaman is a member of a very cultivated race; he is probably more cultivated than the ordinary people of our own kind. It is almost certain that the stolidity of countenance which appears to us is not real, but arises from our incapacity to catch the play of expression, which is doubtless apparent enough to his fellows. But our failure to see in him ourselves, our own motives and trials, makes an end to all feeling of brotherhood as far as that feeling depends on the senses. We may, abstractly and apart from all contact with strange peoples, assume a sense of kinship and act on it. This, indeed, we should do, and all high-minded people will take this course; but such a method cannot be followed by the masses. In their present state of culture, they must depend on the immediate awakening of the sympathies at the moment of contact.
When culture attains the level, when sympathy becomes a duty, when the person is so imaginative and sympathetic that he can consider men abstractly and feel for them as a class, then a part of the work of this emotion can be done, notwithstanding the bar that race peculiarities may raise up against its action. Several persons who have been devoted friends of the negro, ready at all times to make sacrifices to his well-being, moved thereto by their power of quickening the sympathy through the constructive imagination, have, when closely questioned, confessed to me that they abhorred the sight of him; that his black face and other peculiarities of countenance made the most painful impression on their minds. Abstractly considered, there is nothing in the negro countenance to arouse such feelings. In most cases, his features, when one is accustomed to them for a lifetime, are, if anything, more pleasing than those of the laboring classes of the white race. Especially in his calm look is his face agreeable to the eye, and his features, though differing in mould, have a dignity and beauty of their own. But to those who rarely see the negro these charms are altogether hidden by the intense effect which the color makes upon the eye. Such observers often complain that the negroes all look alike. To me, and, I believe, to other observers, there seems to be more variety in the negro face than in that of the whites. In the effect which such an eminent peculiarity as the color of the negro race makes upon the eye, we see strikingly displayed the action of the unaccustomed, in setting a bar to the operation of the sympathies. From this instance we may judge the danger there may be of awakening the rage against the rival in classes where we cannot reckon on any effective imaginative sympathy.
The foregoing considerations, though too briefly stated, may enable us to undertake a definition of race hatreds or prejudices, which definition we may take with us into the practical part of our work.
Race hatred is one form of the hatred of the rival which is common to all animals which have intelligence enough to observe rivalry in the creatures about them. This hatred of the rival is qualified in man by the development of the sympathies which normally extend to all who are clearly united with us in the bond of friendship. Those of other races, because they are not immediately perceived to be akin to us, and yet compete with us for the valuable things of the world, are apt to receive the full effect of the deeply ingrained hatred without the qualification of sympathy. Races allied by circumstance to our own, as the Chinese or the negro, are far more likely to prove rivals than wild animals, and are, unhappily, as likely to be unprotected by sympathy as the beasts of the field. The higher few may by their imaginations be able to bridge the gulf which separates them from their alien brethren, but the mass cannot.
Thus defined, race hatred is seen to be not a thing in itself, but the remnant of the old hatred against the antagonistic fellow-man when not modified by human sympathy.
We now turn to consider for a moment the place of sympathy in a social organization, in order that we may better see the dangers which arise from its absence. It would be easy to picture an ideal society, wherein sympathy should be so pervading that the divisions which circumstances make in the estate of man should be healed by the altruistic motive; unhappily, such an ideal picture would have long to wait for the reality. Still it cannot be doubted that even in our American life, especially in rural conditions or in the lesser villages, society is cemented by a sympathetic bond; men feel themselves to be fellows of their neighbors. Though their callings may separate them, there is a bond of union which makes anything like class hatreds impossible. The strength of these communities, their power to accomplish the ordinary duties of civil life, and especially their ability to meet calamities of any description depend upon the solidarity which this sympathy and accord give to the society.
At their outset, at least, states are bound together by the sympathy of the masses with some central authority, fellow-subjects or fellow-worshipers, sharers in the strength of some strong arm or in the shelter of some league. But the community, as the origin of the name implies, demands a closer relation; it requires personal contact with the almost infinite adjustment of relations in which the active sense of fellowship is ever needful. An Austrian emperor may have Slaves and Germans, Huns and Jews, united in a common allegiance to a throne. A weak ideal, which may not affect the men once a year, will serve for this passive form of union. But in the village the bond must be a more vigorous and constant motive. The closer the contact, the stronger the tie of sympathy must be. It must be greatest among those who dwell beneath the same roof, for there the hatreds bred of contact most often arise and are the most dangerous. We know full well that it needs all the strength of marital, parental, and filial affection to resist the development of hatreds in the household. In the neighborhood the rivalries are only less accented than in the household. These two forms of association are indeed closely akin in the dangers which social rivalry brings: interferences of interest calculated to awaken passion must certainly arise in any community where the people are brought closely enough together to have any life at all. It is indeed possible to have extreme diversities of people quietly coexisting on the same lot of ground, as in our cities. This is accomplished by a stratification of classes, each bound together by its class sympathies. This is doubtless the only form of life which can exist in our large cities, but we recognize its great evils. In such a life the least unusual strain shows that these separate parts have no coherence, and that class hatreds are unmodified by sympathy.
In the rural community we often have, especially in old countries, something of the separation of classes which exists in cities, where the people are of one race, and where there is a bond of allegiance inherited from the past. This condition may lead to little division of sympathy; but given a decided difference of race without the memory of any old wrongs, and we have the state which invites the outbreak of social revolutions. If the reader desires to see what may be the influence of caste distinctions in the social state, he can find it in the history of the French Revolution. Circumstances had divided the people of rural France much as the people of our cities are now divided, into a lower class of half-starved toilers, and an upper class which drew their sustenance from the very lives of the oppressed mass. Hatreds grew to a point where a revolt which began in the cities swiftly spread through all the land. The conditions preceding the French Revolution cannot well be repeated in this or any other civilized country; still the history of that revolt shows us the general social effects of having classes so widely separated from each other throughout a whole state.
Although we may have no longer a great revolution to fear from the association of classes separated by an unsympathetic line, we have a chance of serious trouble before us wherever the people of a wide region are parted from each other by any permanent break. The work of any communal life, above all in our modern entangled societies, demands for its effective doing a close accord between the men who are engaged in it. If a community is to rise in the scale of existence, it must have a high degree of social unity. Every permanent hatred, even between individuals, is a hindrance to the process of advance. When the hatred is between classes we may have the conditions of an Ireland, where a people of great natural capacities have been kept for centuries in retard by the antagonisms which have existed between the upper and lower classes of that unhappy land.
We may now turn to the matter of race prejudices in the Southern States. Our aim will be not so much to ascertain the measure of the evils which exist as the extent of the ills which the future may be expected to develop, and the means whereby these difficulties may best be controlled.
The one condition in which very diverse races may be brought into close social relations without much danger of hatred, destructive to the social order, is where an inferior race is enslaved by a superior. This form of union is stronger than it has appeared to those who have allowed their justifiable dislike of the relation to prejudice them as to its consequences. In the first place, in this condition of slavery all rivalry between the races is made impossible. The gulf between master and servant appears in the nature of things. The slave, whose race has never known a better condition, is bent by his birth to the yoke. Then the sense of possession which the mastering race has in the slave awakens a new avenue for sympathy. We all prize the things which we absolutely possess; the more human they are, the stronger their hold on the affections. The sense of possession enters in a strong way into the family bond, and it naturally extends in somewhat the same way into the relation of master to slave. There were cruel masters, and the slave was the victim of many outbreaks of passion; but there are cruel fathers and husbands, and yet we do not denounce the households of slave-owners as the abodes of any singular inhumanities. I am not apologizing for slavery; to me it has always been detestable, but on other grounds than the cruelty it brought upon the slave. I only wish the reader to feel that the common notion that slavery was cruel in the way it is often supposed to have been is a grave error. So far from this being the case, the negro, during the period of slavery, was less driven to excessive labor and suffered less from the hatred of the superior race than is likely to be the case in time to come. This reconciliation of the races was accomplished at great cost to society, — a cost of all chance of attaining a high social order; but it was effective in the prevention of race hatreds. It did even more than this: it gave the whites a chance to become thoroughly accustomed to the blacks, to see that they were human and trustworthy as far as their humanity and trustworthiness could be shown under the limiting influences of slavery. Moreover, it brought the two races into a position where there was no longer any instinctive repugnance to each other, derived from the striking differences of color or of form. If the negroes had been cast upon this shore under any other conditions than those of slavery, they would have been unable to obtain this relation with the whites which their condition of bondage gave.
In this view, the failure of the South to secure any considerable accessions of population by immigration has been very fortunate. If the old slave-holding States had been rapidly filled up with people to whom the negro was totally strange, his position would be more unhappy than it is at present. Now he is with a people who have pretty well gone by the bar which his color makes to the sympathies of persons not accustomed to him from youth, and so one grave danger is avoided. Prejudice to color exists in the South, but it is greatly modified by sympathies in all save the lower class of whites, and it is nothing like as bitter as that which is shown to the Chinese among even fairly cultivated people in the far West. This softening towards the negro is doubtless due to his long-continued presence, his essential adoption into the social system of the South.
It remains to be seen whether the race hatred, which was essentially lost during the period of slavery, will return in the conditions of freedom. It is perhaps too soon to determine as to the issue. At present we have the old slave-holders still in the control of the society of that region, and there are few large cities of which the conditions would greatly intensify the caste divisions and diminish the sympathies which serve to ameliorate the effect of such class restrictions. The greater part of the negroes are in some sense still domesticated with the whites, and the evils likely to arise from their massing into large settlements, where they are parted by circumstances from all sympathetic relations with their sometime masters, are not yet serious. In a short time these conditions will be greatly changed: those who have been in the relation of masters to these black people will have passed away, and with them all who have had a very keen personal interest in the negro. Their place will be taken by those who have had but little personal relation with him, except the contacts of business intercourse. Great cities are arising in the South, in which negroes will form the proletariat class, absolutely cut off from the upper levels of society, as the poor of all great cities are. Unhappily, all human experience leads to the conclusion that there will be a progressive tendency towards the future development of class distinctions in this population, and to a loss of the original accord inherited from the state of slavery. This ancient accord was strong enough to carry the races through the very serious trials incident to the change from slavery to freedom. It was strong enough absolutely to prevent the revolt of the slaves during the civil war.
At present there are many indications that the old harmony, based in good part on the utter subjection of the slave’s will, is disappearing, and that new relations are being created. The change is being accomplished with little friction, and in some regards success is fairly well secured. The most important, because the most constant, of these relations are those established in the conduct of business. To this class of contacts, although sympathy plays a relatively small part in their action, we must look for the closest uniting of the two peoples together. As far as these new contacts exist between the manufacturer and the laborer, they are of little worth, for they are the least sympathetic of relations. Fortunately, the relation most common in the South is that between the domestic servant and the master, or that between the agricultural laborer and the farmer; both these are relatively sympathetic, inasmuch as they involve more or less communal lives, while the relation of manufacturer to mechanic may be, and generally is, destitute of other than the most arbitrary contact. In the circumstances of the farm or the household, the really good accord of the old conditions is preserved and continued; in these states of life the races are preserved in positions in which there is an exchange of sympathies. The only objection to these lines of life is that they afford but little chance for the negroes to show their innate capacities or to attain any higher intellectual development.
There is another direction in which sympathetic relations may be advantageously developed: this is in political life. There is now great reason to hope that in politics the lines of separation may no longer be by color. The greatest boon that we could hope for would be that better people of the South would come once again to be separated into the natural divisions of Whig and Democrat, and that the negroes should intelligently array themselves in a tolerably even share in these associations. In wholesome politics we find the greatest contribution to the stimulants to sympathy which modern life has invented. The fact that the negro vote is no longer “solid” should be a matter of gratification to all who wish well for our American Africans.
It is earnestly to be desired that the negro should be admitted to share in the functions of our courts. The jury-box is one of the most precious schools of the citizen. As Mr. Cable has justly pointed out in his Silent South, the negro has been to a certain extent debarred from this important source of training. From what I know of the negro I feel that he will discharge the duties of any trust which he can comprehend with exemplary fidelity, for the reason that his soul rejoices greatly in any function which has an honorable distinction. I think that in most cases he has the power to grasp the class of considerations which ordinarily come before a jury, at least as well as the ordinary white. It must be long before he can generally be trusted with the duties of the magistrate, for such demand a singular continuity of intellectual life, but in the lesser work of the jury he will probably be found trustworthy. At the close of the war there was a general prejudice against admitting negroes even to the witness-box, in cases where white men were in jeopardy of life or property. This has been proved to be an unfounded fear. It is the opinion of those best fitted to judge that the negro proves to be a very trustworthy witness. I believe that most persons will agree that this fact seems to show that he is likely to be a good juryman.
The greatest need of all, however, is that the negro shall be put under such conditions of training as shall open to the abler members of the race higher places in life than they now have a chance to fill. Now and then we find one who has decided talent for some work which will give him a place among men. If an able musician, or a good architect, or a man with capacity as a merchant, could be raised up even in a large community, the life of such a person would be a most valuable bond of union between the races.
It is hardly too much to say that the future of the relation between the races depends on the possibility of securing this result. If we can unite the races in the common work of the state, bringing them to share in the most important parts of its work, we may be sure that we shall secure a substantial unity to the societies in which they dwell together.
If every intelligent negro and white of this country could be brought to see that the reconciliation of the races is the greatest work before us, we would have a better chance of attaining to the accord we seek. Let them see that the task is as difficult as it is noble; let them feel that the work to be well done demands the best efforts of every one who can lift his soul to the level of high duty. In this way we may accumulate forces which will work to the desired end. It is of course folly to expect such views to find a place among the masses of either race. But if in each community there could be even one man or woman who would enter upon the work in a true spirit, it would be well begun.
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