George S. Schuyler, a black cultural critic, was among the greatest popular writers that twentieth centuryAmerica had produced. A particularly astute observer of political circumstances generally and race relations in particular, a staggering array of the nation’s most well known publications from across the ideological and racial spectrums eagerly sought his services for over five decades.
Yet today, Schuyler is scarcely mentioned at all. Those who either weren’t around from the 1920’s through the 1970’s (when he died) or whose memory span is short wouldn’t even know his name.
While this is a tragedy, it is no mystery.
Schuyler pitted himself against those of his contemporaries, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, who have since achieved iconic status. This, in large measure, is what accounts for the painful fact that the self-appointed guardians of our Politically Correct orthodoxy have sought to erase them from their official histories.
But while Schuyler’s relentless criticism of such famed “racially correct” heroes as King and Malcolm X accounts for the treatment that he has been accorded, it is crucial to grasp that his critiques were informed by his conservatism.
In fact, so unabashed was Schuyler regarding his politics that he entitled his autobiography Black and Conservative.
Schuyler opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The previous year, he penned his case against it. “A proliferation of largely unenforceable legislation has everywhere been characteristic of political immaturity,” Schuyler wrote. Being a relatively “young nation,”America particularly has been disposed toward “enacting laws regulating social conduct,” legislation that is more a function of “politics” than “statesmanship.” Politicians pass laws “without too much attention to consideration of how and at what cost they are to be enforced [.]”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would prove to be but the latest attempt to “make people better by force” (emphasis original). This enterprise, however, “has been the cause of much misery and injustice throughout the ages.”
Schuyler is quick to condemn the attitude of the white majority toward “the so-called Negro” as “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust”; still, he is just as quick to note, the fact of the matter is that this position “remains the majority attitude” (emphasis original).
Schuyler’s condemnation of whites’ view of blacks is not unqualified, though. “Anybody who has observed race relations during the past quarter of a century,” he remarks, “knows” that the white majority’s view of blacks “has been progressively modified [.]” And while “changes have been very slow since 1865,” there can be no denying that they have been “marked [.]” Moreover, “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with it,” for legislation has “been enforced and accepted only when the dominant majority acquiesced….” Otherwise, it has “generally lain dormant in the law books.”
In short, it is “custom,” most decidedly not law, that “has dictated the pace” of improving race relations.
Unlike his leftist rivals, the Kings and the Malcolms, Schuyler resolutely eschews the ideology of Blackism, an ideology according to which racial “reality” begins and ends with a severely truncated—and politicized—version of American history. Central to Blackism is a meta-narrative of perpetual White Oppression and Black Suffering. Schuyler, recognizing this “history” for the useful political fiction that it is, rejects it in favor of a genuinely historical—and global—perspective.
American whites should not be judged along the lines of some perfectionist—and, thus, wholly unattainable—standard. They should, rather, be judged against the backdrop of other flesh and blood beings. And when they are judged by this standard, they look pretty damn commendable.
“It might be said here parenthetically that nowhere else on earth has the progress of a dissimilar racial minority been so marked in education, housing, health, voting and economic well-being” as that of blacks in whiteAmerica. “Not one of the foreign countries whose spokesmen criticize and excoriate the United States can equal its record in dealing with a minority group,” Schuyler declares.
All of this notwithstanding, in the concluding paragraph of his brief against the Civil Rights bill, Schuyler clarifies that his “principal case against” it is an argument from liberty. The law would be but “another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.” He asserts: “Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be opened to enslave the rest of the populace.”
This is no stretch.
“Under such a law the individual everywhere” will be “told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community” (emphasis added). Yet “this is a blow at the very basis of American society,” a society “founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.”
Schuyler concludes: “We are fifty separate countries, as it were, joined together for mutual advantage, security, advancement, and protection. It was never intended that we should be bossed by a monarch, elected or born. When this happens, the United States as a free land will cease to exist.”
The rhetoric of other “civil rights ‘leaders’” aside, the honest person, black or white—but especially white—can’t help but suspect that in far too many instances, such activists want to advance the interests of blacks—particularly themselves—at the expense of racial good will.
With Schuyler, such suspicions could never arise. He was not only a great black American, but a great American, a real apostle of liberty.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.