How To Fight Race Prejudice
30th October 1946
The following is the text of a speech delivered at a "Justice for Palestine” demonstration on the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall. It is reprinted from the New York Daily Worker.
I KNOW that I'm supposed to begin a speech like this by saying that I'm happy to be here. Frankly, I'm NOT happy to be here, I wish there were no need for this meeting.
Since there is a need, and a very vital one, I can only wish that I might speak with more authority than is commonly vested in what is known, in my trade, as a broken-down comic.
I mentioned this matter to the people who asked me to appear here. I told them I didn't think this was the proper occasion for a funny-man. They agreed. And they added, a little too heartily, I thought, that they didn't think I was at all funny.
As a matter of fact, my being asked to come here does have something to do with comedy. I've devoted quite a lot of time lately to public attacks against the ' stereotyping of various groups of Americans by my fellow actors and writers on the stage, screen and radio. I'm referring to those performances we've all seen and heard in which the American Negro is pictured as a chicken-stealing, crap - shooting, booze – guzzling vagabond; or the American Jew’s portrayed as a crafty charlatan who worships nothing but gold and is unable to speak his native tongue without a ludicrous and revealing accent; or the Latin-American is characterised as a shiftless, ignorant ne'er-do-well, or the thousand and one other slanders that have cast a shadow at some time or other over virtually every racial and religious group that makes our nation into the great, unified power that it is.
Of course, I am painfully aware of the irony that any of my performances are given by members are given by members of the very race or religion that suffers from it. That’s why I am in favour of the resolution being advanced here today recommending legislation against prejudice. I'm all for education, I also know that education alone is not enough.
Many of those actors and writers who are constantly and quite unintentionally prejudicing public opinion against races and religions have been educated. They know that no special group has a monopoly on money, crime cowardice or evil.
What they don't know is that the little social differentiations are used scientifically by ruthless men who know the dollars and cents value of fomenting inter racial and inter religious strife.
Adolph Hitler was able to achieve power in what was one of the most enlightened countries in the world, by singling out a scape-goat. He could not have succeeded had there been laws, and enforcement of those laws, against prejudice.
YES, education is important, but too much of it is being disseminated on a full-time basis by those who peddle the wrong kind of education, by those who for their own shady self-interest are trying to set one American against another, one European against another European, one Asiatic against another Asiatic—and all against each other.
The way to deal with these men is the way civilisation has always dealt with criminal activity—by due process of law.
Racial and religious prejudice is no longer a vague unsporting indiscreet social error, gradually dissolving as the good-will of mankind progresses. A way has been found to make it a political weapon against all of us.
The creation in the world of an atmosphere free from racial and religious antagonism is not merely an abstract ideal to be achieved by abstract education. It is an absolute necessity for all of us; regardless of whether we are or are not personally suffering from discrimination at the moment. It is plain self-interest, plain common sense, for every human being who loves peace, security and freedom and I believe that includes most of us.
I think that point is best illustrated by a dream related to me not long ago by a priest with whom I was discussing this subject. He dreamed that all the Jews in the world began to believe the rumour and superstition and propaganda that has been circulated against them. They became convinced they were responsible for all of the world's troubles, and they were so mortified that they decided to remove themselves from the world. They committed mass suicide— all but one lone American Jew who had been unconvinced.
THIS one American Jew was gratified to discover, after all his brothers had vanished, that the world was pretty much in the same spot that it had been in when the Jews were in it. There still seemed to be plenty of trouble to go around.
But then people began saying it was because this one American Jew' was left. And they began saying it so often, and in so many different ways, and believing it so desperately, that even he began to wonder. It seemed to him that the only sporting thing for him to do was to commit suicide and give the world a chance. So he left town, went out into the country to a mountain he knew, and began trudging up the steep slope to a cliff from which he proposed to leap.
On his way up, however, he passed two men coming the other way engaged in a very violent conversation. It seems that one of the men was saying to the others: "Don't get me wrong, Joe—some of my best friends are Catholics! "
……. My friend, the priest, tells' me that he doesn't know whether the Jew jumped off the cliff or went back down the hill, because when the priest heard that crack about Catholics—he woke up.
Daily Worker, December 9th 1946