Lothrop Stoddard and the Color Line

American Renaissance, January 16, 2015.

Lothrop Stoddard (1883 – 1950) was a strong advocate for maintaining the European character of the United States. Best known for his book, The Rising Tide of Color, he worked with Madison Grant in support of the immigration act of 1924 that was designed to maintain a white majority. 

In 1927, Stoddard debated Alain Locke, a black intellectual who argued for gradual social equality for blacks. Stoddard’s reply is a classic statement of the need for white racial consciousness. The entire debate is available here.

THE IMPASSE AT THE COLOR LINE: Lothrop Stoddard

More than half a century after emancipation, the color line (that oldest of American social policies) remains in full force. The Negro continues to be a distinct racial element. In the South, where dwells the bulk of the race, a social system based upon the color line is firmly established. In every phase of Southern life the races are clearly segregated.

And to this system the Negroes have, on the whole, adjusted themselves. A full-fledged Negro society has been evolved, with its own middle and professional classes. This has afforded social satisfactions and has enabled gifted individuals to attain reward and leadership within their own racial group. Generally speaking, Southern Negrodom tacitly accepts this biracial arrangement as part of the natural order of things. Most Negroes seek to better their condition along existing lines, rather than to assail the biracial principle as intolerable and untenable.

Yet a minority remains actively dissatisfied. The strength of this minority is in the North. For this there are good reasons. The Northern Negroes have always been in an unfortunate situation. Until the recent mass migration from the South, the Northern Negroes were too few in numbers to evolve a real society like that of their Southern brethren and hence were unable to enjoy the social satisfactions and individual opportunities afforded by Southern conditions. The Northern Negroes, therefore, continued to pin their faith on the illusory hope of social equality and amalgamation.…

An educated class has arisen, some of whose members display literacy and artistic talent. This Negro intelligentsia rejects the biracial system of the South, inveighs against the color line, and threatens our social order with their embittered enmity unless white America admits them to full equality, with its logical implication–racial amalgamation. Of this insurgent Negro intelligentsia, Alain Locke–the writer of the preceding paper–is a good example. Mr. Locke’s line of argument is not novel; it is the thesis today expounded by the entire group which he typifies. In many Negro minds a new hope is being born–a hope more alluring than any which has arisen since the ill-founded aspirations of half a century ago. Therefore, for the Negro’s own sake, as well as in the interests of social peace, he ought to be told–tolerantly yet unequivocally–that this new hope is a delusion, which, if persisted in, will lead to unnecessary disappointments and misfortunes.

For let there be no mistake: white America will not abolish the color line, will not admit the Negro to social equality, will not open the door to racial amalgamation. That is the meat of the matter. If this spells trouble, then trouble there must be. But the best way to minimize the trouble is to speak frankly at the start, thus checking the spread of false hopes and limiting the resultant bitterness of disillusion.… The basic reason for white America’s attitude and policy toward the Negro is not a belief in the Negro’s inferiority, but the fact of his difference. True, most whites today believe the Negro to be their inferior. Yet this belief is, in itself, no mere arbitrary prejudice. On the contrary, it springs largely from realization of racial difference and all that that connotes. White Americans feel that to incorporate the many millions of this widely differing stock into our racial life would profoundly change our national character, temperament, and ideals. And since these matters are supremely cherished, we do not propose to jeopardize them, either for ourselves or for unborn generations who have an indefeasible right to their racial heritage.

Here, at last, we are getting down to bedrock realities. For, surely, no sane person can deny that the Negro does differ from the white man. Furthermore, our knowledge of these differences, whose existence is self-evident from ordinary observation and common sense, is being steadily deepened by the discoveries of modern science, especially in the fields of biology, psychology, and sociology. Today, as never before, we possess a clear appreciation of racial realities. We are, therefore, in a much better position to deal wisely and constructively with the problem of racial relations. Even a general knowledge of historical and scientific facts suffices to show the need for a racial basis to our national life–as it has been, and as we intend that it shall be. We know that our America is a white America. “America,” in the traditional sense of the word, was founded by white men, who evolved institutions, ideals, and cultural manifestations which were spontaneous expressions of their racial temperament and tendencies. And the overwhelming weight of both historical and scientific evidence shows that only so long as the American people remains white will its institutions, ideals, and culture continue to fit the temperament of its inhabitants–and hence continue to endure.

Therefore, if we desire to perpetuate our America, we White Americans must absolutely refuse to countenance the spread through our stock of racial strains so different and so numerous that they would undermine our ethnic foundations. In other words, we are dealing, not with opinions concerning relative racial merits or demerits, but with an imperative urge of self-preservation. And self-preservation is the first law of nature.…

I have stressed the underlying racial factor precisely because Mr. Locke makes it a capital issue. To him, “cultural equality” means a complete reversal of our traditional attitude and policy toward the Negro, the abolition of the color line, “the conscious scrapping of the mood and creed of ‘white supremacy’.” To be sure, Mr. Locke tries to sugar the pill. For the present, he demands that we receive only such Negroes as measure up to a certain level of culture and good manners, in other words, those who are Zahlungsfäbig, [able to pay their own way] to use an expressive German term. Again, he rather cleverly juggles his words in different parts of his paper, sometimes restricting himself to a plea for “cultural recognition” –obviously something very different from his larger demands. Lastly, Mr. Locke puts forward the singular argument that if the Negro elite be granted social equality, this will hinder racial mixture on the lower levels. As if, forsooth, concessions on the principle of white race integrity by the white race leaders would not be tantamount to a surrender of the racial citadel itself! Such dialectics should deceive no one. Here are the plain facts of the case: Since the Negroes form nearly one-tenth of the population of the United States, we are statistically light mulattos. In the last analysis, the only thing which keeps us from being biologically mulattos is the color line. Therefore, once the principle of the color line is abandoned, white America is doomed, and a mulatto America stands on the threshold. Under Mr. Locke’s formula it might take several generations. Yet it would be inevitable in the long run.

Such is the road which Mr. Locke would have us travel. But it cannot be too promptly or emphatically stated that athwart that road we plant the sign: No Thoroughfare! White America intends at all costs to remain white, and every attack on the color line will merely cause it to be applied more strictly and will hinder any feasible adjustment of race relations based upon a recognition of existing realities.

Another point should be clearly understood. If Mr. Locke’s arguments do not convince us, still less do his threats intimidate us. For Mr. Locke does threaten in no uncertain voice. He tells us that unless we accede to his demands, the insurgent Negro intelligentsia which he represents will either quit the country or will remain here as apostles of race war and social revolution. That is not a pleasant prospect, but it will not make us “capitulate”–gracefully or otherwise. For we white Americans are quite ready to risk possible ills from racial strife or revolutionary agitation, rather than endure the certain ills that would ensue from the loss of our race identity.…

The attitude of the insurgent intelligentsia voiced by Mr. Locke–however eloquent and militant–does not represent the whole of American Negrodom. Another school of thought exists, typified by the late Booker Washington and today represented by Dr. Moton and other influential leaders, who frankly recognize the white attitude and who believe that the American Negro’s hope for the future lies in an amicable understanding between the moderate, sensible minds of both races, who should gradually evolve a workable system of racial adjustment. Men like Dr. Moton neither threaten nor cajole. They believe in their race and they are satisfied to develop their special attributes within the medium of their own group life. Finally, they realize that cultural recognition for Negro talent will grow spontaneously in the genial atmosphere of friendly understanding, but will merely be retarded by imperious demands and bitter hostility.…

The basis of interracial cooperation has been so soundly laid that it seems as though the time were ripe for a further step. Why should not the best minds of both races attempt to arrive at a frank understanding about the fundamentals of racial relations and try to formulate a definite policy which will have their mutual assent and support?

To the writer, such an attempt seems highly desirable–even urgently necessary. Furthermore, it seems to me that the only policy which will have a real chance of success is that which may best be termed biracialism–a parallel evolution of white and Negro race lives, biologically distinct, yet linked by mutual interests and cooperating for common ends. To enlist the support of the best elements of both races for an equitable biracial system, mutual concessions will be needed. Yet, provided the two groups agree on the basic principle of racial separation, such a system can be worked out with substantial fairness to both.

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