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Black Power

In response to:

What We Want from the September 22, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

In his essay defending “black power,” Stokely Carmichael writes [Sept. 22]: “It was for example the exploitation of Jewish landlords and merchants which first created black resentment toward Jews—not Judaism.” I suppose the sentence is meant to be reassuring; actually, it is appalling.

Exploitative landlords who happen to be Jewish should be condemned, but condemned as landlords, not Jews. They exploit in their social—not religious—capacity, and the same holds true for Christian or Buddhist or Black Muslim landlords. No fair-minded person objects, for example, to demonstrations against such landlords. What is at stake—and what Mr. Carmichael himself indulges in—is the identification of social oppressors by their religious origin. What is troubling is that the justifiable resentment against slumlords should be diverted, as it sometimes seems to have been, into Jew-baiting.

That a depressed and ill-educated Negro should indulge in this may be understandable. But that Mr. Carmichael, who sets himself up as an authority on the nature of freedom, should write so unnerving a sentence is unforgivable.

Let me suggest to him a simple comparison. Negroes have long objected to newspaper reporting which identifies the color of criminals, so that a drug-addict becomes a “Negro drug-addict.” They rightly feel that this is a way of smearing Negroes. Does not Mr. Carmichael see that to speak of “Jewish landlords” is also a way of smearing Jews—even though there are no doubt rotten landlords who happen to be Jews just as there are dope-addicts who happen to be Negroes?

The point is elementary. But Mr. Carmichael’s indulgence in the painful rhetoric I have quoted makes it necessary to repeat. And these days, when white intellectuals indulge themselves in a vicarious verbal extremism which replaces effective action and is in reality the opposite of any serious radical politics, there is a special need to keep repeating.

Irving Howe

New York City