Crisis in Black and White
The New Equality
White and Black: Test of a Nation
Why We Can’t Wait
To Be Equal
Here are five books on the race crisis in the United States. None of these books will make a man turn over and sink his head into the pilow. Crisis in Black and White, by Charles E. Silberman, a trained social scientist and an editor of Fortune Magazine, and The New Equality, by Nat Hentoff, an expert on jazz and a staff writer for The New Yorker, are remarkably good books, deeply thought and deeply felt, informed, wideranging, candid, sometimes witty, written with flair. Both books have the rare virtue of detachment, but neither writer would see detachment as an antithesis, logical or emotional, of commitment. Both would hold that integration is, in Silberman’s phrase, “the greatest moral imperative of our time.” Both books are careful studies of the meaning of the Negro Revolution, and as such may serve as a natural backdrop for the more specialized books which are appearing almost daily.
Both Silberman and Hentoff usually focus on the same questions, but there are important differences in temperament and method. Though providing much pungent documentation, Silberman works primarily at a theoretical level. He undertakes, very gracefully, to give a historical, psychological, social, and economic context for each main topic, to place it on a series of charts. Hentoff is much more anecdotal and inductive. He is concerned with the feel of things, the attempt to grasp, by imagination, what it is like to be in the other fellow’s skin. His concern with the immediacy of things, implies, too, a more immediate concern with action.
Silberman, with no reservation, is committed to action, but he sees action as effective only when based on thoroughgoing analysis. He understands that integration involves real changes in social attitudes and will cost money, a lot of money, but I detect no sign that he envisages the radical reordering of society that Hentoff takes to be the inevitable result of the Negro Revolution. Hentoff quotes Whitney Young, of the Urban League: “The Negro is in revolt today, not to change the fabric of our society or to seek a special place in it, but to enter into partnership in that society.” But Hentoff quotes this merely to challenge it: “What is inexorably happening, even among the majority who want to ‘enter into partnership’ rather than ‘change the fabric of our society,’ is a recognition that partnership cannot be achieved without also altering the fabric.” I suppose that Hentoff sees here another instance of the old principle that in fundamental social change the inner nature of the change is not divulged until well along in the process. If that is true, we may look back on the Negro Revolution as a mere stage in another, broader, and more complex revolution in which the “Movement” was preliminary street trouble, and the first fumbling formulation of a philosophy.
Though both Silberman and Hentoff very early come to the question of the Negro’s new image of himself, and see this as important, there is a …
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Letters November 5, 1964