Vance Packard(first published, April 1959)
The Status Seekers
"An explosive exploration of class behavior in America and the hidden barriers that affect you, your community, and your future."
| CONTENTS |
ONE OF THE PERSISTENT PUZZLES OF AMERICAN LIFE IS THE tendency in thousands of communities to erect barriers against Jews. Jewish people are singled out more than any other white ethnic category for such fence building."Do you know the Levinsons? We like them very much. They are charming, but Jewish, so you can't mix everyone with them." -- A HOSTESS who was organizing a party in Northeast City.
The Cornell study of social discrimination in 248 United States communities found, for example, that in the majority of middle-sized cities Jews were discriminated against in all three of the tests of social acceptability used by the investigators. Those tests were admission to the country or city club, the exclusive residential area, and the Junior League. In only one out of fifty middle-sized cities were Jews accepted in all three categories.
Why is it that, in 49 out of 50 middle-sized cities, the Jew is considered as not meeting all three tests of social acceptance? In the average city, the higher-level Jews meet all the existing eligibility standards in terms of business or professional success and education. If the Jew meets all the eligibility requirements, why isn't he accepted? Why do the barriers persist against him all across the American landscape, in both business and social life? Is the exclusiveness of elite non-Jews related to their own status-seeking activities?
This persistent treatment of the Jews in America as a group apart has become a question of mounting economic urgency. With the great growth of bigness in business organization, the Jew is seeing his world of opportunity shrinking. In the past, the Jews have survived by being able, in many cases, to prosper in their own enterprises. This assured them that they would not be at the mercy of a prejudiced Gentile employer. Now, however, many Jews face the economic necessity of working within the hierarchy of the large corporations. The individual entrepreneur, at the producing level at least, is becoming more and more the lonely exception. Bigness is the mode of the era. And it is the rare large corporation that considers Jews on their qualifications alone in filling all its ranks. Some corporations shun Jews almost entirely. This is particularly true in insurance, banking, automobile making, utilities, oil, steel, heavy industry. Others profess hospitality to Jews; but then it often turns out that Jews are really welcomed only in the "inside" jobs requiring high intellectual capacity such as research, creativity, actuarial skill, etc. The "outside" jobs, calling for contact with clients or the public or with stockholders, are primarily reserved for Gentiles.
Another problem facing the Jew in the corporation is the five-o'clock shadow. Jew and Gentile may work amiably together all day in the corporate hierarchy, but, come five o'clock, the Gentile may go off to one of the city's elite clubs, and the Jew cannot follow. Or the Jew may have his own firm and see his biggest rival go into the town's elite club at five o'clock. And the elite social club, as we have noted, is becoming more and more the place where important business decisions often tend to jell. You will recall that, in Chapter 13, Mr. Thompson, one of Northeast City's biggest bankers, said, "An active banker belongs to every damned club in town. It is part of the game." The elite clubs, by excluding Jews, thus in effect severely handicap any Jews trying to play the "game". For these and other reasons, many thoughtful Jews are trying to understand just what it is that causes the barriers to be erected against them.
It is hoped that what follows may offer both Jews and Gentiles some illumination on this curious aspect of our community life.
While I was in Northeast City talking with people who were identified as the "real powers" of the community, my primary, announced purpose was to study the elite structure of their city. I went into this quite thoroughly with each of them; and they were most co-operative and informative. I also had a second, unannounced purpose, and that was to draw them out, spontaneously and confidentially, on the subject of Jews. In this I was looking for insights that might explain why the lines were drawn against Jews at many points in the city's social and business life, especially at the elite or upper- class level. I was curious to know, in the face of the frequently stated great respect for Jews, why few Jewish names appeared among the officers of most of the banks, utilities and large industrial firms. (Mostly, the leading Jews were merchants, lawyers, or textile- plant operators.) Also, why were there either no Jewish names or few Jewish names listed as members of the elite men's club (Pioneer's), the elite women's club (Martha Washington), and the three leading country clubs? And why was it, I wondered, that Jews and non-Jews worked wholeheartedly together on civic fund-raising projects, but went their separate ways socially? (All names of clubs and individuals cited in Northeast City, I should add, have been altered and are fictitious.)
I did not ask any of these questions directly and bluntly. That would have endangered the free flow of communication. Instead, I sought to lead my informants -- after they had become relaxed by talking about the city's elite clubs, churches etc. -- into a general discussion of the role of Jews in American life and in the city's life. Subsequently I guided them into the desired areas. I made it clear I was simply trying to unravel a situation that reappears in city after city, and was not peculiar to Northeast City, which is a representative middle-sized United States metropolis. And I sought to create a permissive atmosphere by expressing keen interest in what- ever they said about Jews. In a few cases I experimentally raised, arguments against their viewpoints. This, invariably, drove them into a more cautious, proper tone. Typically, they became quite voluble on the subject of Jews. The only one who was ill at ease throughout was a man on the membership committee of the most elite country club (Gentry). (Since conducting these interviews, which took place in November and December, 1957, I have conducted similar but less intensive probings with a score of upper-class individuals in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and the later findings have illuminated but not modified the impressions I gained in Northeast City. Altogether, I have sounded out forty-five upper-class nonJews, confidentially and with seeming casualness, on the subject of Jews.)
I suppose I should declare at this point that I am a Gentile. That puts me in what Jerome Weidman calls "the enemy camp." On the other hand -- to declare my biases as far as I know them -- I have had the conviction, based on my personal encounters with Jews as neighbors and colleagues, that it is a pity more non-Jews don't get to know Jews as friends.
The elite informants in Northeast City were certainly not as hostile to Jews in their conversations as you would assume from all the barriers that have been put up against Jews in their city. In fact, several seemed a little ashamed of the barriers as hardly worthy of as civilized a community as they liked to think Northeast City is. An industrial president, Mr. Ross, said, "The Jews I know are very able people, very strong people." A leading banker, Mr. Thompson, said, "Jews have a delightful family life." And various informants spoke of individual Jewish leaders as being "a wonderful man" or "an awfully nice man." Some Jewish families have local roots going back more than a century. An official of the city's largest corporation said, "You don't find people nowadays at lunch cussing the Jews." Mr. Wallace, a realtor who, I was told, had a reputation some years ago of being hostile to Jews, apparently had changed or else my informant was misinformed. At any rate, Mr. Wallace told me, "I've had far better business treatment, in selling real estate, from Jews than from Gentiles. I've taken my worst gyppings from Gentiles."
In the social life of Northeast City, at least at the upper level, there is virtually no intermingling between Gentile and Jew. When I asked Mrs. Smyth, a First Family socialite, about the degree to which Jewish families take part in the city's club life, she said:
"They have their own lovely club." With that, she gave me a broad wink.
The only city club where there is much intermingling is the Downtown Club. And, as I've noted, several of my informants repeatedly made the point that it was a "business- man's club." The more restrictive Pioneer's Club, in contrast, was considered a "social" or "community" club. Even at the Downtown Club, I was told by two informants, the Jewish membership has been "under control." A former official (Gentile) of the club revealed how this "control" came about during his term of office. He was explaining to me that Jews constituted 7 per cent of the population of Northeast City, and related why he knew. He said the club had been receiving quite a few applications from Jews and Italians. At that point, he said, about 15 per cent of the club's membership was Jewish. (A large number of the downtown merchants are Jewish.) If all the applicants were accepted, the proportion of Jews would have risen to 20 per cent (still far short of their representation in downtown business enterprises). It was at this point, he said, "that we hit upon the idea" of finding the percentage of Jews in the total population of Northeast City (and also of the Italians) "so that the Jews and Italians would not overrun the place."
This man, in commenting on one quite elite club's exclusion of Jews, said: "That is more of a tradition than anything else. The club is just as well off without them...." A great many of the city's civic organizations hold dinners and meetings at this particular elite and exclusionary club. In these organizations and civic drives, Jews often play an active, and occasionally a leading, part; and so they come, often unhappily, to this Gentile club to attend the functions. The city's leading fund raiser, commenting on this awkward situation, said: "I don't know how to justify the fact that Jews are excluded from this particular club. We are in everything together except socially. I'd hate to have to get up in front of anybody and try to explain it."
One well-known sociological force at work in causing many Gentiles to isolate Jews undoubtedly is that of status striving through exclusiveness. As the early sociologist, Max Weber put it: "Status honor always rests upon distance and exclusiveness." To be exclusive, you must build fences to exclude those you like to think are not as elite as yourself. You can do this on personal worth, but it is much easier to exclude whole categories of people, such as Jews. A sales executive in Northeast City, while describing one local club in unadmiring terms, said: "Everybody can join that club, and I mean every body."
Another sociological factor at work in Northeast City and elsewhere is status protection in the face of threat. Entrenched old guarders need a mechanism to put challengers in their place. Jews, being perhaps the most enterprising of all American ethnic groups, are commonly viewed as most challenging. The influential Gentiles I consulted in Northeast City offered a great variety of explanations for the local social and business barriers. Some of the explanations, undoubtedly, are rationalizations. They have been developed to explain a situation that violates the American Creed and so is embarrassing.
Several of the explanations that turned up appear to represent fairly widespread "pictures in the mind," to use Walter Lippmann's phrase, which non-Jews have of Jews. All such pictures tend to become exaggerated over-generalizations. I some cases, traits attributed by my informants to Jews were inherently contradictory.
And in some cases the traits cited undoubtedly represented the non- Jew's own inner need for a scapegoat or whipping boy rather than objective fact. Psychologist P. H. Mussen studied the personalities and before-and-after prejudices of one hundred white boys who spent a month at a camp that Negro boys also attended. It was found that the youngsters who had few aggressive needs and were well adjusted to their home, to their parents, and to their camp underwent a notable drop in their prejudices toward Negroes as a result of this first- hand contact. On the other hand, boys who showed strong needs for aggressiveness and dominance and who felt anxious or hostile toward their parents underwent some increase in prejudice toward Negroes during the month at camp.
Even if the "pictures in the mind" about Jews found among the influential Gentiles of Northeast City are rationalizations or distorted stereotypes, they do indicate a state of mind a typical city that both Jews and non-Jews of good will must seek to modify if the barriers are to be reduced. It is for that reason that I feel they should be brought into the open and inspected. It should be remembered that they represent only the derogatory aspect of my informants' attitude toward Jews, the explanations they mustered in order to account for undemocratic barriers.
In shifting through the explanations offered for the barriers, these ten contentions stand out. I will list them in the order of frequency with which they were raised.
1. *The alleged "clannishness" of Jewish people*.
This assumed clannishness, of course, where it exists, is quite probably the Jews" response to discrimination, Anyone who is being discriminated against feels better if he is among others in the same boat. No one likes to face discrimination alone. At any rate, ten Gentile informants in Northeast City cited this clannishness as an explanation for the fact that there was little social intermingling with Jews.
Mr. Wallace, the realtor, said: "Jews are the most clannish, integrated people there are. They've always been segregated so they stick together now." Two-informants cited a situation at a local high school to support this point. It seems that school authorities became concerned because fraternities and sororities were developing along religious lines, and formally banned them. The Gentile sororities and fraternities, according to my informants were disbanded, but the Jewish ones have continued underground with strong support from Jewish parents, who reportedly do not want their children seriously dating Gentiles.
For whatever reason, Jews in many communities do not seem to socialize much outside their own group. John P. Dean found, in his study of Jewish socializing in Elmira, New York, that Jewish couples who were in social cliques overwhelmingly were in all-Jewish cliques. While I was in Northeast City, a Jewish couple invited me out to a Saturday-night supper. There were twelve other people there. It was a delightful group. Since the problem of Jewish apartness was very much on my mind then, I could not escape noticing the fact that all twelve people present were Jewish. You do not encounter this kind of 100 per cent grouping together of Gentile and Jew in many other communities, including my own in Fairfield County, Connecticut. In my neighborhood, Jew and Gentile alike seem to think in terms of individual interest, and give no thought to religious homogeneity in preparing invitation lists.
This alleged clannishness of Jewish people, to the minds of my Gentile informants, not only helps explain the apartness that exists, but is a factor in convincing them that the apartness should continue as long as Jews lead their own social life. In Northeast City, they felt the assumed clannishness posed an inundation threat to any Gentile club that lowered its barriers. Mr. Ross, an industrialist, said: "When they clan up within a club it is not good."
There is no good evidence that modern Jews are any more clannish than Gentiles. Studies among children, in fact, indicate that Gentile children are more clannish than Jewish children. More to the point, perhaps, is the discovery that the same people who accuse the Jews of being standoffish also accuse them of trying to be too eager to integrate with non-Jews. One group of investigators devised a scale of traits sometimes credited to Jews. On one scale were traits indicating "seclusiveness." On the other scale were traits indicating "intrusiveness." To a very large extent (correlation of .74) people who accused Jews of being intrusive also accused them of being seclusive. The same people who agreed emphatically that Jews tend to resist the American way of life agreed with the paired statement that Jews go too far in trying to hide their Jewishness by changing their names and taking on Gentile manners and customs. In other paired statements, people agreed both with the statement that Jews keep apart in their social life and that they try too hard to gain social recognition from non-Jews. Some Gentiles argue that these traits are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In general, however, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is a vast amount of irrationality in the Gentile attitudes. Many Jews feel, with good reason, that they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Whatever the precise situation is in this area, beclouded with irrationality, it seems clear that any easing of the barriers would be aided by a reduction of the self-segregating tendencies of both groups.
Historian Max Lerner feels that the cohesiveness of Jews may have intensified during the thirties and forties as an instinctive response to news of Hitler's persecution of the Jews and of the trials of Jewish people abroad in building their new Israeli state. He states that the "emphasis within the American Jewish group shifted away from assimilation toward a sometimes overmilitant assertion of their uniqueness and separateness as a historical community." Apparently, however, the trend has now been reversed. The American Jewish Committee made a study of a community called "Riverton. This reveals that younger Jews are twice as eager to participate socially in their general community as older Jews.
2 . *The alleged assertiveness of Jewish people*.
This sometimes came up, from Northeast City in back-handed references such as: "He's not aggressive like some Jews." A highly admired Jewish lawyer was referred to as being "aggressive, but not in a way that bothers." Among the elite Gentile informants, nine made some comment that assumed that assertiveness was a Jewish trait.
Mr. Potter, one of the city's leading bankers, said: "I know the feeling of one or two clubs. The fear is that some might be the pushy type." Mrs. Fox, a socialite, said of one local Jew: "He is not as grabby as most Jews." Her college-age daughter had been dating a Jewish boy whom she liked very much, and she said that the Jews she knew personally "are just as nice as you could wish." Later she made this remark: "Gentiles can be just as grabby -- but don't have the reputation."
This image of assertiveness, psychologists find, is the kind of stereotyped nurtured by a great deal of selective remembering and selective forgetting. A non-Jew will remember the assertive Jew and not think of the modest, self-effacing Jew in terms of Jewishness. Similarly, he may encounter brashness in dozens of Gentiles without thinking of brashness as being a Gentile trait.
3. *Jewish people are seen as different*.
This feeling, frequently expressed, probably reflects the "consciousness of kind" factor at work. Many people apparently can't rise above their primitive birds-of-a-feather flocking impulse. Mr. Green, partner in one of the city's most elite law firms, said many of the city's leading Jews didn't seem to catch the Northeast City "spirit." He wasn't able to explain what that "spirit" was, with any clarity.
Partly, the sensing of differentness in Jewish people probably has a religious basis. Partly, it may spring from the physiognomy of some Jews. One bank president in Northeast City, Mr. Williams, talked at length about facial differences, real or imaginary, he had perceived in German Jews as distinguished from East European Jews. He mentioned a prominent, widely respected Jewish lawyer in town and said, as if in wonderment, "To look at him you wouldn't know he was Jewish." And, partly, the sensing of differentness may spring from the fact that traditionally Jews have been city people and are identified in people's minds with the cosmopolitanism of the city. (They were long excluded from owning land.) Harvard psychologist Gordon W. Allport suggests that people who felt hostile toward cities may unwittingly have transferred their hostility to Jews. In some small American towns where there isn't a single Jewish resident, anti-Semitism has been found to run high.
4. *Jewish people are "smart."*
Six of the prominent Northeast City Gentiles made references to this in one form or another; and it is difficult to assess how much of this is admiration and how much of it is envy or apprehension.
Mr. Potter, the banker, said of Jews: "They are so damned much smarter than the rest of us. They have intelligence. They go for education. They do everything so well."
I mentioned this allegation of brightness to a Jewish acquaintance. I assumed he would be flattered by this allegation. Instead, he went to his library to produce some charts proving that Jews aren't any brighter than anybody else. The facts seem to be that any difference between Jewish intelligence and the United States average is slight, and could be accounted for by the fact that few Jews are in the lower or working class and the fact that Jews have long cherished scholarship and intellectual attainment.
5. *Some Jewish people behave in ways that bother some Gentiles.*
The reverse also, of course, is true.
Mr. Potter, the banker, in talking of the exclusionary policies of clubs, said: "Anyone would want Joe Goldstein in the club. He is soft-spoken. The fact is, however, that a percentage of Jewish people are considered to be noisy. They don't have the good fortune I have of having a weak voice." And another banker, Mr. Williams -- who has no Jews in his organization -- said: "Certain traits stick out. They have a certain manner of speech, they are argumentative and wave their arms."
There may be a differentness between Gentile and Jew in temperament that has some basis in fact, as generalizations go. The Jewish home builder in Chicago, in talking of his Jewish homeowners, described them as "explosive" and eager for new experiences. He attributed this to the pressures under which they live. A sociologist in Chicago, in talking of Jews said they tend to be more "volatile" than Gentiles. The wife of a playwright mentioned that predominantly Jewish audiences tend to be more excitable than Gentile audiences. She attributed this to the fact that many "are geared so high."
6. *Jewish people tend to be individualists*.
This was usually cited by Northeast Gentiles to explain why Jews were not found among the executives of the major corporations in town. Individualism is a trait traditionally cherished in America, but in the modern era of corporate "team playing" we are seeing a conflict between ideal and practicality. Mr. Smith, head of a machinery company, said he used to have a Jewish sales director, but that he had not worked out well. He explained: "He suffered a lack of team- ability -- you've got to have that these days." And an executive of one of the city's largest corporations said, in accounting for the dearth of Jewish people in its management ranks: "My personal impression is that Jewish people by inclination and by training like to run their own businesses. A lot of this is in their upbringing." And Mr. Kelly, a top executive, said "Jews don't care to work for the big organization. They want to establish their own business. We have very few applications from Jews." (Knowing his hostility, if I were a Jew I certainly wouldn't apply!)
7. *In business, Jewish people are bold and impatient*.
Mr. Whitcomb, head of one of the city's larger corporation and a civic leader, said: "The bright Jewish fellow isn't temperamentally inclined to take the long haul of working twenty five years to get to the top of a company. Sidney Klein and were good friends. [Sidney Klein was for long the city's most successful Jew.] Sid worked in a cigar store as a lad. He couldn't see it when I went to work for Consolidated Corporation. He said he would rather get in a small company and get there faster. He would chide me about my $2 raises, while he was already making big money. The Jews know you can make it faster in a small company." And Mr. Johnson, a banker, asserted that commercial banking doesn't really appeal to Jew because they are interested in "something a little more speculative. Their viewpoint is: If you see a good chance to make a good profit, go after it even if it is a long chance." In short, this is the old-fashioned American spirit of-risktaking so insistently glorified in public statements by our Gentile Industrial statesmen, who cautiously manage their own corporations by committee, with the counsel of survey makers and Univac machines.
8. *Some-Gentiles feel Jewish businessmen are impersonal and not "fair-minded."*
Several Northeast City businessmen said they would feel uneasy if they got in a jam and had to deal with Jews. One asked: "If this plant got into trouble, would Jews back us up as much as non-Jews if they saw a loss coming up?"
This attitude of the Gentiles would appear to be merely an illustration of "consciousness of kind" again at work. If a person gets into a jam, he feels he will receive a better break from his "own kind" of person, who should feel a group loyalty to be nice to him. Jews presumably feel the same way. (Very often, it should be added, the treatment one gets, in a showdown, from his "own kind" leaves him wishing he had left his fate to an objective outsider.)
9. *Many Jewish businessmen are felt to be money-minded*.
When I reviewed the notes of my interviews on the Jewish situation in Northeast City, I was struck by the frequent use the Gentile informants made of the words "money" or "dollars" in talking of Jews. This was so common that I suspect the word "money" has become imbedded in the Gentile's image of Jews. Other earlier investigators have come upon this same "money" image. A business leader, who was briefing me on the leading citizens of Northeast City, described eighteen or twenty in detail. Virtually all were obviously men of wealth. But only when he mentioned a Jewish man did he use the word "money." He said of this Jewish businessman: "He is very successful -- made a lot of money." Mrs. Smyth, the socialite, said of Jews: "They have money."
Here again we appear to be in the misty area of stereotype and projection. According to a study by Dorothy T. Spoerl, Jewish students being tested showed no more preoccupation with "economic value" than did Protestant or Catholic students. Another study showed that the same people who deplored the money-mindedness of Jews were the ones who agreed overwhelmingly with the questionnaire statement "financial success is an important measure of the man" a that "every child should learn the value of money early." As for the widespread image of Jews as "international bankers and "Wall Street brokers," this amuses even the Wall Street folks. The truth is that there are relatively few Jews in either category.
10. *The wives of Gentile and Jew often create the barrier.*
Mr. Ross, the industrialist, felt that Gentile wives are often more likely to be "petty and narrow" about Jews than their husbands. He said the wives are more concerned "about social status, and more apt to become intense about the Jew." And Mr. Kyle, the contractor, said, in trying to explain why most of his clubs excluded Jews: "In choosing new members for a club, you scrutinize not only the man but his wife man may be fine, but his wife may not get along with other women. Women are more isolated. And there is bound to be some jealousy on the part of our women if the Jewish women have mink coats and our women do not."
In many communities, there is far more self-segregation of both Gentiles and Jews at the wife level than at the husband level. And, significantly, it is the wife, rather than the husband, who makes most of the social arrangements a family. Dean found, in his study of Elmira, New York, Jews, that the women were much more likely to be self-segregating than their husbands. He found that while only 12 per cent of the Jewish men confined their community activities to purely Jewish organizations, 48 per cent of the wives did. Whatever the reason for this greater isolation, it would indicate that the wives have fewer personal, friendly contracts with Gentiles than their husbands do.
The foregoing seems to represent the broad outlines of the barrier in Gentile outlook separating the higher-status Gentile and Jew in a representative American city. Much of it, as indicated, is evidently just a picture in the minds of Gentiles produced by lack of personal contact with real-life Jewish people that might correct the distortions.
The Northeast-City businessman who seemed to have had the most first- hand contact with Jewish people was Mr. Wallace, the realtor. And he made what was perhaps the most accurate summary of the situation. He said: "Jews are just like everybody else -- good, bad, and stinking." Perhaps I should add that I talked with three leading Jewish businessmen in Northeast City. What particularly impressed me, in view of what I had been hearing, was that all three men were the complete reverse of the stereotypes. They appeared to be restrained, responsible, soft-spoken, fair-minded, patient, subdued in their tastes, and very proud of their city. They acknowledged the barriers. In fact, they seemed philosophically - almost good-humoredly -- resigned to them as handicaps that had to be accepted. Still more interesting, they spoke with warm respect of several of the Gentile leaders who had, when pressed to account for the barriers, uttered derogatory stereotype comments about Jewish people.
The kind of Gentile attitudes I have cited, whatever their substance, seem to represent the state of mind that must be modified before any effort to produce substantially more intermingling between Gentiles and Jews will be really successful. This state of mind seems to stand as a challenge to both Gentiles and Jews of good will.
The Gentile informants, I should stress, were far from unanimous in their support of the barriers or in being critical of Jewish people. Several, during the long and frank talks, never once uttered a remark that could be construed as critical of Jewish people. They seemed to feel the barriers were archaic hangovers.
I estimate that 60 per cent of my Gentile informants of Northeast City were at heart persons of good will. It was the older informants who were inclined to be *least* interested in reducing the business and social barriers against Jews. The 60 per cent who might reasonably be classified as persons of good will seemed uneasy about their local situation, and expressed a wish that it be different.
Mr. Ross, the young industrialist, said he favored "a good representation" of Jews in the community's clubs. He said "It irritates me when Jews are eliminated." Mr. Johnson, the banker, mentioned approvingly the fact that the local yacht club had begun taking in a few Jewish members. He related that before this policy change, "they wanted me to serve on the board, but they had a fast rule against Jewish people. I said to them, 'Look, I can't do it. Your rules are not compatible with my philosophy.'" Later, the rule was changed, and Mr. Johnson is now on the board. Mr. Johnson was perhaps the Jews' warmest friend among the Northeast city business leaders I consulted. When he was asked what was required to reduce the barriers, he replied: "A peaceful climate. I believe that people are naturally gregarious and interested in knowing their fellow man better. They want to associate, but don't want to be forced. It would be fine to live without arbitrary barriers between Christian and Jew, if they can blend in gradually and very naturally. What interrupts this blending is the forced situation. When mixing is forced, you only have hard feelings and defiant announcements that 'Our club will never have Jews.' But when the pressure is off, club members having good Jewish friends -- who are willing to be accepted as individuals -- can win backing."
It is my impression that the most important step to be taken in any community to reduce business and social barriers between Gentile and Jew is to develop a broader base of informal, friendly intermingling. Successful Jews who would like to belong to elite clubs now dominated by exclusionary Gentiles should examine their own socializing habits for selfsegregating tendencies. They can't expect to be comfortable in a club with Gentiles if they haven't gotten to know these people first, through informal home entertaining and friendly intermingling in community affairs. And the latter typically don't require invitation. The same applies to Gentiles who would like to see a reduction of barriers.
It was a woman in Northeast City, the socialite Mrs. Carlson, who seemed to offer the best insight on how to reduce barriers. A lovely, gracious young mother, she is a former national officer of the Junior League. When I asked her what the Junior League practice was on barring Jewish women, she said: "Some clubs do, and some don't. I found that the local policy is usually determined by the local pattern of socializing. Jewish members will be found in those towns where the young Jewish and Gentile women travel back and forth a good deal in each other's homes, where they have gone to school together, have many things in common, and actually know each other as friends. This genuine basis of friendship seems to be the most important factor."
In the few cases I encountered where Gentile informants in Northeast City were sponsoring Jewish individuals for membership in their clubs, there was already established a genuine basis of friendship. They had come to have a high regard for each other as a result of working together on community or business projects and had entertained each other's families often in their homes. Personal friendship appears to be a more powerful motive than any abstract sense of justice in getting barriers removed.
And friendship can take root only where there is informal intermingling. Gentile families might well think back over their entertaining of the past year. If they have a number of Jewish acquaintances and did not include any of them in their home entertaining, it is quite probably not an accident. They have probably been accepting, wittingly or unwittingly, their Jewish neighbors as a segregated group.
Jewish families, too, might well scrutinize their home entertaining of the past year. They have perhaps confined themselves entirely to other Jewish families because they did not wish to take the risk of creating embarrassment by inviting someone who is possibly hostile to Jews. Such an apprehension is becoming more and more unrealistic. The barriers that persist today persist more out of habit than hostility. There has been a notable drop in hostility in the past decade. An official of the American Jewish Committee made the point, in a recent chat, that the protective shells Jewish people have acquired in the past are today much thicker than necessary.
He pointed out that in a number of American communities, large and small, Jews and Gentiles have established excellent relations. A half dozen tat he cited in particular are these: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Norfolk, Virginia; St. Paul, Minnesota; Seattle, Washington.
In any community, the prevailing climate of segregation or intermingling is largely the total of what individual families are doing in their socializing.
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:01 EDT