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Radical Chic

In response to:

Journal du Voyeur from the December 17, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

Jason Epstein’s response to Tom Wolfe and radical chic [NYR, December 17] was to the point, and I have no quarrel with it. Something very serious is at work, much too serious to be measured solely according to Wolfe’s own very special sensibilities. However, Epstein does not draw the point strongly enough.

I am not referring to fund-raising for the New York Panthers’ bail. Epstein rightly labels that a civil liberties issue, and as with all such issues it contains within it the certain knowledge that what can be done now to the immediate victims can be done to all of us in time. I am referring to the obscenities we see in the Hamptons, well-publicized gatherings to aid Indians in New Mexico, migrants in California, although there are both Indians and migrants within minutes from the parties’ sites. While Epstein rightly supplied “obscenity” himself, I do not think he fully gauged its depth. We who work for radical change on Long Island observe these parties taking place, while, simultaneously, we recall the fight last year when the White affluent majority successfully changed the route of a proposed major highway from one somewhat equitable to all to another which will conveniently wind its way through the Hamptons’ miserable Black ghetto. We see these parties and know that those fashionably in attendance give not one damn for both Indians and migrants within minutes from them who live under conditions as miserable as anything in California or New Mexico.

It is an obscenity, and I for one don’t apply to it an argument about well-intentioned people seeking to express serious concerns. We are not into revolution on Long Island; there’s nothing for the editors of Commentary to worry about. We are years behind the urban scene, simply trying to get people organized for their own interests, dealing over-all with very limited expectations. And every summer we see the parties. We see the glamorous causes glamorously espoused, and we see nothing done about the same things right next door.

So we find it all an obscenity, and there appears to be nothing in Epstein’s argument—valid enough, no doubt, for the New York Panthers—to explain this recurring obscenity of ours. Until someone comes up with better, I have to think the old saw is operative—let ‘em go as high as they can so long as they don’t come close—which, of course, is one of the depthless obscenities.

Ronald J. Stone

Patchogue, N.Y.

Jason Epstein replies:

I agree.

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