17 JANUARY 1964, Page 30


By ALAN BRIEN THE scientific evidence for the equality of man is no longer as clear-cut and incontrovertible as old- fashioned progressives used to think even twenty years ago. There are, for instance, diseases which only Negroes contract. There are ailments which bypass Jews and are rarely found in the wives of Jewish husbands. Blood is not the simple fluid which can flow in any vein. Temperament and personality do have racial characteristics which are recognisable despite variations in upbringing and education. Those of us who proclaim our opposition to any discrimination by colour or religion or nationality must rest our argument on commonsense experience rather than on genetic principles. Personally, I prefer this method of judging and evaluating my fellow beings. It is simply not true that you cannot change human nature. Mankind is almost infinitely malleable— and the more we learn about our psychic and physiological make-up, the more we realise that monsters or saints can be manufactured accord- ing to any recipe.

People, in essence, are what we make them. Every case that has been constructed to prove the inferiority of the Negro has been in its time used to prove the inferiority of the white slave by the Romans, the White Jew by the Church, the white worker by the Victorian. Colour is an unhappy accident; colour hatred is simply a way of coding our own insecurities. The rationalisa- tions of our fears today tend to be sociological rather than theological,- an appeal to statistics rather than to emotions. The best antidote is a generous application of historical insight.

The rearguard action against the Negro advance in America is now conducted by those white intellectuals who purport to prove that Negroes are incapable of adapting to a mechanised, commercial society. Every instance of exploitation is used as an example of incapaci- tation. If the slum landlords of Harlem are mainly white, then why has the black not learned how to extort rent from his neighbours? Where are all the black pawnbrokers, the black bookmakers, - the black ward-bosses, the black moneylenders, the black press tycoons, the black lynch mobs? (Of course, when a Negro is identified as a pimp, a crook or a murderer—occupations which know no segregation—then this, too, is proof of their natural tendency to sink with the dregs, rather than rise with the scum, in the free-enterprise melting-pot.) But how many prosperous middle-class pundits today would have admitted that the depraved and depressed proletariat of a hundred years ago could ever have been raised to political equality in a democracy?

Even Frederick Engels in his Condition of the Working Class in England (written in 1844 when he was the same age that David Frost is now) speaks of the submerged Mancunians in terms which might seem intolerably sensational about the subterranean Negroes of 1964. In the hovels of Salford, he complains, 'only a physically degenerate race, robbed of all humanity, de- graded, reduced morally and physically to bestiality, could feel comfortable and at home.' Just as in modern America the enterprise of the immigrant Puerto Ricans is contrasted with the

sloth of the native Negro, so then the ambition of the immigrant Jew was held up as an example beside the apathy of the native working man. But even in these low depths, a lower pit yet gaped. The English poor in Manchester (like the Southern poor whites) were still superior to the Irish poor who had arrived in their midst.

Thomas Carlyle, writing in 1840, also noted this phenomenon. His description of the Irishman (whom he calls the Milesian, probably for the same reason that many genteel bigots call Jews the Chosen Race) has a distinct racialist bias: He is the sorest evil this country has to strive with. In his rags and laughing savagery, he is there to undertake all work that can be done by mere strength of hand and back—for wages which will purchase him potatoes. He needs only salt for his condiment, he lodges to his mind in any pig-hutch or dog-hutch, roosts in out-houses, and wears a suit of tatters. . . . The uncivilised Irishman, not by his strength, but by the opposite of strength, drives the Saxon native out, takes possession of his room. There abides he, in his squalor and unreason, in his falsity and drunken violence, as the ready-made nucleus of degradation and disorder.

And Engels also uses something very near the language of the Aryan supremacist about these second-class Celtic coons:

The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble, so long as it holds together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond these needs they spend upon drink. . . The southern facile character of the Irishman, his crudity, which places him little above the savage, his contempt for all humane enjoyments, in which his very crudeness makes him incapable of sharing, his filth and poverty, all favour drunkenness. . . . And even if the Irish should become more civilised, enough of the old habits would cling to them, to have a strong degrading influence upon their English companions in toil.

Would you like your daughter to marry a Milesian? Must we share schoolroom, bus, underground, cafe and even lavatory seats with them? Shall our grandchildren eat chips with everything, live in cellars and sleep with the family pig? Surely such primitives would be happier, segregated in ghettoes and confined in compounds, isolated from the temptations of a complex civilisation they can never understand.

Such attitudes seemed commonplace and reasonable, even to social reformers and socialist revolutionaries like Carlyle and Engels, in the Hungry Forties of the last century. The prejudices linger on today among their neighbours in the Little Irelands of Camden Town, Paddington and Liverpool. But now the Irish, too, have been infected with the germ. They look down upon the West Indian immigrants as the English work- ing class once condescended to the Irish immi- grants, and as the English middle class once patronised the English working class. The need for a pecking-order of superiority appears to be as basic among men as among hens.

Historically, the belief in the sacred rights of race or colour or class cannot be substantiated. The Roman Empire was built by Wops and the Egyptian by Wogs. Dagoes once ruled the waves. Christ was a Yid—and so were Freud, Mari and Einstein. The new supermen of the West are the mongrel race of Americans. By the year 2000, it may be the turn of Niggers and Chinks to dispute the ownership of the world. A coal-black Carlyle and a slant-eyed Engels could then be drawing the attention of their prosperous fellow citizens to the disgraceful Condition of the White Races in Europe. I hope they will show equally indignant compassion for our sufferings and Miseries.