COLOR PREJUDICE—Incidentally throughout this study the prejudice against the Negro has been again and again mentioned. It is time now to reduce this somewhat indefinite term to something tangible. Everybody speaks of the matter, everybody knows that it exists, but in just what form it shows itself or how influential it is few agree. In the Negro’s mind, color prejudice in Philadelphia is that widespread feeling of dislike for his blood, which keeps him and his children out of decent employment, from certain public conveniences and amusements, from hiring houses in many sections, and in general, from being recognized as a man. Negroes regard this prejudice as the chief cause of their present unfortunate condition. On the other hand most white people are quite unconscious of any such powerful and vindictive feeling; they regard color prejudice as the easily explicable feeling that intimate social intercourse with a lower race is not only undesirable but impracticable if our present standards of culture are to be maintained; and although they are aware that some people feel the aversion more intensely than others, they cannot see how such a feeling has much influence on the real situation or alters the social condition of the mass of Negroes.
As a matter of fact, color prejudice in this city is something between these two extreme views: it is not to-day responsible for all, or perhaps the greater part of the Negro problems, or of the disabilities under which the race labors; on the other hand it is a far more powerful social force than most Philadelphians realize. The practical results of the attitude of most of the inhabitants of Philadelphia toward persons of Negro decent are as follows:
1. As to getting work:
No matter how well trained a Negro may be, or how fitted for work of any kind, he cannot in the ordinary course of competition hope to be much more than a menial servant.
He cannot get clerical or supervisory work to do save in exceptional cases.
He cannot teach save in a few of the remaining Negro schools.
He cannot become a mechanic except for small transient jobs, and cannot join a trades union.
A Negro woman has but three careers open to her in this city: domestic service, sewing, or married life.
2. As to keeping work:
The Negro suffers in competition more severely than white men.
Change in fashion is causing him to be replaced by whites in the better paid positions of domestic service.
Whim and accident will cause him to lose a hard-earned place more quickly than the same things would affect a white man.
Being few in number compared with the whites the crime or carelessness of a few of his race is easily imputed to all, and the reputations of the good, industrious and reliable suffer thereby.
Because Negro workmen may not often work side by side with white workmen, the individual black workman is rated not by his own efficiency, but by the efficiency of a whole group of black fellow workmen which may often be low.
Because of these difficulties which virtually increase competition in his case, he is forced to take lower wages for the same work than white workmen.
3. As to entering new lines of work:
Men are used to seeing Negroes in inferior positions; when, therefore, by any change a Negro gets in a better position, most men immediately conclude that he is not fitted for it, even before he has a chance to show his fitness.
If, therefore, he set up a store, men will not patronize him;
If he is put into public position men will complain.
If he gain a position in the commercial world, men will quietly secure his dismissal or see that a white man succeeds him.
4. As to his expenditure:
The comparative smallness of the patronage of the Negro, and the dislike of other customers makes it usual to increase the charges or difficulties in certain directions in which a Negro must spend money.
He must pay more house-rent for worse houses than most white people pay.
He is sometimes liable to insult or reluctant service in some restaurants, hotels and stores, at public resorts, theaters and places of recreation; and at nearly all barber shops.
5. As to his children:
The Negro finds it extremely difficult to rear children in such an atmosphere and not have them either cringing or impudent: if he impresses upon them patience with their lot, they may grow up satisfied with their condition; if he inspires them with ambition to rise, they may grow to despise their own people, hate the whites and become embittered with the world.
His children are discriminated against, often in public schools.
They are advised when seeking employment to become waiters and maids.
They are liable to species of insult and temptation peculiarly trying to children.
6. As to social intercourse:
In all walks of life the Negro is liable to meet some objection to his presence or some discourteous treatment; and the ties of friendship or memory seldom are strong enough to hold across the color line.
If an invitation is issued to the public for any occasion, the Negro can never know whether he would be welcomed or not; if he goes he is liable to have his feelings hurt and get into unpleasant altercation; if he stays away, he is blamed for indifference.
If he meet a lifelong white friend on the street, he is in a dilemma; if he does not greet the friend he is put down as boorish and impolite; if he does greet the friend he is liable to be flatly snubbed.
If by chance he is introduced to a white woman or man, he expects to be ignored on the next meeting, and usually is.
White friends may call on him, but he is scarcely expected to call on them, save for strictly business matters.
If he gain the affections of a white woman and marry her he may invariably expect that slurs will be thrown on her reputation and on his, and that both his and her race will shun their company.
When he dies he cannot be buried beside white corpses.
7. The result:
Any one of these things happening now and then would not be remarkable or call for especial comment; but when one group of people suffer all these little differences of treatment and discriminations and insults continually, the result is either discouragement, or bitterness, or over sensitiveness, or recklessness. And a people feeling thus cannot do their best.
Presumably the first impulse of the average Philadelphian would be emphatically to deny any such marked and blighting discrimination as the above against a group of citizens in this metropolis. Every one knows that in the past color prejudice in the city was deep and passionate; living men can remember when a Negro could not sit in a street car or walk many streets in peace. These times have passed, however, and may imagine that active discrimination against the Negro has passed with them. Careful inquiry will convince any such one of his error. To be sure a colored man to-day can walk the street of Philadelphia without personal insult; he can go to theaters, parks and some places of amusement without meeting more than stares and discourtesy; he can be accommodated at most hotels and restaurants, although his treatment in some would not be pleasant. All this is a vast advance and augurs much for the future. An yet all that has been said of the remaining discrimination is but too true....