Prejudice (1927)

Prejudice (1927)

We have received from Mrs. Helen D. Pecu of Vashon Islands, Washington, the following letter:

It have hesitated many months in writing you but each time I read your editorials the impulse comes to protest, not because I am white, but for the sake of those whose skin pigment only has set them apart in an unjust world—a world of unreasoning prejudice—that men like you have built up—for you are as violently prejudiced against all whites as the most intolerant white man is against you. It is deplorable that so excellent a magazine as The Crisis should have at its head a man who sneers at all forms of government—save the Soviet government in Russia—who can but intimidate the budding courage and genius of his people by his own big stick of Prejudice. In strong contrast, how fine is the character of Allison Davis, whose article ‘On Misgivings’ appears in the August Crisis. What influence could he not wield between the two races! What respect would his cause not command. When we who regard the colored race with the same respect we feel for our own are assailed and derided because we are white, we begin to wonder if there might not have been in some age past a basic reason for this separation of the races, that reason now continuing in the form of prejudice on both sides between minds incapable of growth.

I do not refer to the publication of crimes or acts of injustice. They are facts that both races should gravely consider, but as any friend, white or colored, who has the interest of your race at heart, I ask you to withhold your private political and prejudiced rancor. It is improper material in your magazine and detracts from its constructive purpose.

There is no doubt but that colored people are prejudiced against white people, and that the Editor of The Crisis is one of the greatest of sinners in this respect. From long experience he has gotten into the habit of expecting certain actions, certain thoughts, certain treatment from the majority of white people. He is sometimes pleasantly disappointed. In most cases he is not. In most cases he gets just what he has been looking for, and it is quite possible that, in some of these instances, he gets it because he has been expecting it!

But in any case, the worse fruit of prejudice is retaliatory prejudice; because white Americans have reasons based on slavery, poverty and ignorance in the past and on thoughtlessness and lack of information in our own day, they have gotten into the habit of treating black folk in certain ways. Black folk have gradually adopted the reciprocal habit of hating white skins, of being suspicious of every white action, and particularly of talking and acting as though even those white people who are not prejudiced, or who earnestly desire not to be, belonged to the unfortunate majority.

What Mrs. Pecu and others must learn is that this is the natural fruit of race prejudice. Just as no ordinary white man born and bred in the South can be expected to treat Negroes decently, in the same way, no Negro born in America can be expected to be sweet-tempered, charitable and broadminded toward white people.

The Editor of a magazine like The Crisis should nevertheless try to achieve such an attitude. He does try. If he fails, do not lay the fault entirely at his door. Lay it to the last lynching, or to the last time he was insulted in the theater, or to the last time he went hungry because all available hotels and restaurants were closed against him. It is all a mess, he admits and that is precisely what The Crisis has been trying to say for many years.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1927. “Prejudice.” The Crisis. 34(9):311.