Rare , indeed , is the Harlem citizen , from the most circumspect church member to the most shiftless adolescent , who does not have a long tale to tell of police incompetence , injustice , or brutality .
I myself have witnessed and endured it more than once .
The businessmen and racketeers also have a story .
And so do the prostitutes .
( And this is not , perhaps , the place to discuss Harlem's very complex attitude toward black policemen , nor the reasons , according to Harlem , that they are nearly all downtown .
It is hard , on the other hand , to blame the policeman , blank , good-natured , thoughtless , and insuperably innocent , for being such a perfect representative of the people he serves .
He , too , believes in good intentions and is astounded and offended when they are not taken for the deed .
He has never , himself , done anything for which to be hated -- which of us has ? ?
-- and yet he is facing , daily and nightly , people who would gladly see him dead , and he knows it .
There is no way for him not to know it : there are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent , accumulating contempt and hatred of a people .
He moves through Harlem , therefore , like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country ; ;
which is precisely what , and where , he is , and is the reason he walks in twos and threes .
And he is not the only one who knows why he is always in company : the people who are watching him know why , too .
Any street meeting , sacred or secular , which he and his colleagues uneasily cover has as its explicit or implicit burden the cruelty and injustice of the white domination .
And these days , of course , in terms increasingly vivid and jubilant , it speaks of the end of that domination .
The white policeman standing on a Harlem street corner finds himself at the very center of the revolution now occurring in the world .
He is not prepared for it -- naturally , nobody is -- and , what is possibly much more to the point , he is exposed , as few white people are , to the anguish of the black people around him .
Even if he is gifted with the merest mustard grain of imagination , something must seep in .
He cannot avoid observing that some of the children , in spite of their color , remind him of children he has known and loved , perhaps even of his own children .
He knows that he certainly does not want his children living this way .
He can retreat from his uneasiness in only one direction : into a callousness which very shortly becomes second nature .
He becomes more callous , the population becomes more hostile , the situation grows more tense , and the police force is increased .
One day , to everyone's astonishment , someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up .
Before the dust has settled or the blood congealed , editorials , speeches , and civil-rights commissions are loud in the land , demanding to know what happened .
What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like men .
Negroes want to be treated like men : a perfectly straightforward statement , containing only seven words .
People who have mastered Kant , Hegel , Shakespeare , Marx , Freud , and the Bible find this statement utterly impenetrable .
The idea seems to threaten profound , barely conscious assumptions .
A kind of panic paralyzes their features , as though they found themselves trapped on the edge of a steep place .
I once tried to describe to a very well-known American intellectual the conditions among Negroes in the South .
My recital disturbed him and made him indignant ; ;
and he asked me in perfect innocence , `` Why don't all the Negroes in the South move North '' ? ?
I tried to explain what has happened , unfailingly , whenever a significant body of Negroes move North .
They do not escape Jim Crow : they merely encounter another , not-less-deadly variety .
They do not move to Chicago , they move to the South Side ; ;
they do not move to New York , they move to Harlem .
The pressure within the ghetto causes the ghetto walls to expand , and this expansion is always violent .
White people hold the line as long as they can , and in as many ways as they can , from verbal intimidation to physical violence .
But inevitably the border which has divided the ghetto from the rest of the world falls into the hands of the ghetto .
The white people fall back bitterly before the black horde ; ;
the landlords make a tidy profit by raising the rent , chopping up the rooms , and all but dispensing with the upkeep ; ;
and what has once been a neighborhood turns into a `` turf '' .
This is precisely what happened when the Puerto Ricans arrived in their thousands -- and the bitterness thus caused is , as I write , being fought out all up and down those streets .
Northerners indulge in an extremely dangerous luxury .
They seem to feel that because they fought on the right side during the Civil War , and won , they have earned the right merely to deplore what is going on in the South , without taking any responsibility for it ; ;
and that they can ignore what is happening in Northern cities because what is happening in Little Rock or Birmingham is worse .
Well , in the first place , it is not possible for anyone who has not endured both to know which is `` worse '' .
I know Negroes who prefer the South and white Southerners , because `` At least there , you haven't got to play any guessing games '' ! !
The guessing games referred to have driven more than one Negro into the narcotics ward , the madhouse , or the river .
I know another Negro , a man very dear to me , who says , with conviction and with truth , `` The spirit of the South is the spirit of America '' .
He was born in the North and did his military training in the South .
He did not , as far as I can gather , find the South `` worse '' ; ;
he found it , if anything , all too familiar .
In the second place , though , even if Birmingham is worse , no doubt Johannesburg , South Africa , beats it by several miles , and Buchenwald was one of the worst things that ever happened in the entire history of the world .
The world has never lacked for horrifying examples ; ;
but I do not believe that these examples are meant to be used as justification for our own crimes .
This perpetual justification empties the heart of all human feeling .
The emptier our hearts become , the greater will be our crimes .
Thirdly , the South is not merely an embarrassingly backward region , but a part of this country , and what happens there concerns every one of us .
As far as the color problem is concerned , there is but one great difference between the Southern white and the Northerner : the Southerner remembers , historically and in his own psyche , a kind of Eden in which he loved black people and they loved him .
Historically , the flaming sword laid across this Eden is the Civil War .
Personally , it is the Southerner's sexual coming of age , when , without any warning , unbreakable taboos are set up between himself and his past .
Everything , thereafter , is permitted him except the love he remembers and has never ceased to need .
The resulting , indescribable torment affects every Southern mind and is the basis of the Southern hysteria .
None of this is true for the Northerner .
Negroes represent nothing to him personally , except , perhaps , the dangers of carnality .
He never sees Negroes .
Southerners see them all the time .
Northerners never think about them whereas Southerners are never really thinking of anything else .
Negroes are , therefore , ignored in the North and are under surveillance in the South , and suffer hideously in both places .
Neither the Southerner nor the Northerner is able to look on the Negro simply as a man .
It seems to be indispensable to the national self-esteem that the Negro be considered either as a kind of ward ( in which case we are told how many Negroes , comparatively , bought Cadillacs last year and how few , comparatively , were lynched ) , or as a victim ( in which case we are promised that he will never vote in our assemblies or go to school with our kids ) .
They are two sides of the same coin and the South will not change -- cannot change -- until the North changes .
The country will not change until it re-examines itself and discovers what it really means by freedom .
In the meantime , generations keep being born , bitterness is increased by incompetence , pride , and folly , and the world shrinks around us .
It is a terrible , an inexorable , law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one's own : in the face of one's victim , one sees oneself .
Walk through the streets of Harlem and see what we , this nation , have become .
East River , downtown : postscript to a letter from Harlem
the fact that American Negroes rioted in the U.N. while Adlai Stevenson was addressing the Assembly shocked and baffled most white Americans .
Stevenson's speech , and the spectacular disturbance in the gallery , were both touched off by the death , in Katanga , the day before , of Patrice Lumumba .
Stevenson stated , in the course of his address , that the United States was `` against '' colonialism .
God knows what the African nations , who hold 25 per cent of the voting stock in the U.N. were thinking -- they may , for example , have been thinking of the U.S. abstention when the vote on Algerian freedom was before the Assembly -- but I think I have a fairly accurate notion of what the Negroes in the gallery were thinking .
I had intended to be there myself .
It was my first reaction upon hearing of Lumumba's death .
I was curious about the impact of this political assassination on Negroes in Harlem , for Lumumba had -- has -- captured the popular imagination there .
I was curious to know if Lumumba's death , which is surely among the most sinister of recent events , would elicit from `` our '' side anything more than the usual , well-meaning rhetoric .
And I was curious about the African reaction .
However , the chaos on my desk prevented my being in the U.N. gallery .
Had I been there , I , too , in the eyes of most Americans , would have been merely a pawn in the hands of the Communists .
The climate and the events of the last decade , and the steady pressure of the `` cold '' war , have given Americans yet another means of avoiding self-examination , and so it has been decided that the riots were `` Communist '' inspired .
Nor was it long , naturally , before prominent Negroes rushed forward to assure the republic that the U.N. rioters do not represent the real feeling of the Negro community .
According , then , to what I take to be the prevailing view , these rioters were merely a handful of irresponsible , Stalinist-corrupted provocateurs .
I find this view amazing .
It is a view which even a minimal effort at observation would immediately contradict .
One has only , for example , to walk through Harlem and ask oneself two questions .
The first question is : Would I like to live here ? ?
And the second question is : Why don't those who now live here move out ? ?
The answer to both questions is immediately obvious .
Unless one takes refuge in the theory -- however disguised -- that Negroes are , somehow , different from white people , I do not see how one can escape the conclusion that the Negro's status in this country is not only a cruel injustice but a grave national liability .
Now , I do not doubt that , among the people at the U.N. that day , there were Stalinist and professional revolutionists acting out of the most cynical motives .
Wherever there is great social discontent , these people are , sooner or later , to be found .
Their presence is not as frightening as the discontent which creates their opportunity .
What I find appalling -- and really dangerous -- is the American assumption that the Negro is so contented with his lot here that only the cynical agents of a foreign power can rouse him to protest .
It is a notion which contains a gratuitous insult , implying , as it does , that Negroes can make no move unless they are manipulated .