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Black on White

It was for himself rather than for the rest of us around his opulent dinner table that R. F. was analyzing his human contacts. We listened and argued and got snagged on side issues, as is the way with dinner conversation, yet his words struck home. Those who disputed his conclusions, in fact, were in their hearts most vitally touched. Their opposition was a defense of cherished illusions now threatened by a breach of reality.

A series of jolts in the last few years has made R. F., if anything, abnormally sensitive to his status as a Jew. In his lusty and adventurous climb to success he had been obliged to negotiate plenty of anti-Semitic obstacles. But he had taken those in his stride as part of the earnest fun and gloried in every advance against handicaps. Once at the top, he felt, he would be able to thumb his nose at racial discrimination.

But curiously, now that he is safely at the apex, rich and among the most influential men in the country, his preoccupation with the Jewish problem is sharpened rather than eliminated. For one, his eminence makes him a natural target for anti-Semitic arrows. For another, his very success deprives him of any uotlet—he can no longer fight back and pile up triumphs, he can no longer wipe out insult by new victory. He has become aware of his uniqueness as a Jew as something static, impersonal almost, and, terribly pervasive.

“I suppose,” he said, smilingly “that I can count about a thousand acquaintances, perhaps a hundred or so friends, and three or four really intimate chums, all of whom are in this room now. The acquaintances are a fairly accurate cross-section of American business and cultural life on its more successful levels. They include many Jews, of course, but roughly in proportion to Jewish participation in business and cultural matters. The collection of a hundred or so friends, now that I think of it, is a lot more Jewish in its complexion—perhaps half of them Jewish and half Gentile. But the few in mates, as you see, are all Jewish.

“Now, remember, I didn’t at any time decide to cultivate Jewish friends. In fact, unconsciously for the sake of business and politics, I may even have put more effort into cultivating the non-Jews. Yet somehow, without my being aware of it, the friends who stuck in my life were Jewish while the others drifted in and out again. With some exceptions, of course; I’m not trying to elaborate a hard and fast law about this.

“The simple fact is that I have a lot more in common with a Jew, almost any Jew, in a profound psychological sense, than I can possibly have with a non-Jew. To the American public I may look like a run-of-the-mill American business executive. The write-ups that get into the national magazines about me occasionally treat me as a typical self-made American.

“That’s the surface picture and ### doesn’t hold water in more personal contacts. Just as soon as human intercourse goes beyond the limits of a specific commercial

political problem to be solved, I am a Jew with the characteristic Jewish mental and emotional slants

“I am neither proud of this nor distressed by it. I merely recognize it as an inescapable fact, to be accepted and lived with in peace and amity. The pretense of Johnnie here that he’s an American like all other Americans is nothing but a pretense. He is, in fact, member of a minority race with special racial problems, whether he likes it or not.”

What is set down here as a ###nologue was, of course, noth### of the sort. It was punctuated objections and reenforcements. Someone quoted a passage in the recently published autobiography of H. G. Wells. Wells cannot get interested in the Jewish problem, he writes, because he is convinced that there should be no such problem. He rests his personal philosophy on the highest common denominator of the human being as a human being.

“That’s all very well for H. G. Wells,” R. F. said. “But it was not so simple for his friend Low who was a Jew. Is it really sheer accident that the group of us here all happen to be Jews? I’m a business man, you’re a doctor, Gene’s a newspaper man, all of us have different major interests. I certainly did not decide to invite Jews only. Yet here we are. It just happened…

“Or is it really an accident that everyone of us has a Jewish wife? Certainly some of us met more attractive and possibly more companionable girls and most of us have no deep convictions on the subject. Again it just happens … And should any of our children want to marry someone who is not a Jew, we shall be worried. We may not do anything about it — though personally I would try to prevent it if I could—but we should by aware of a discordant note.

“Johnnie insists that this is all poppycock. Now look here, you were with me the other night at Dr. W.’s house party. He has a national reputation in his field and his reading public is much too extensive to be purely Jewish. Maybe there were two or three Gentiles in that crowd at his house, but the rest of us were Jews. I am sure Dr. W. wanted a ‘representative’ gathering. The worlds of commerce, art, literature, science, politics were all represented—and all represented by Jews. Again, it just happened …

“Well, it will continue to happen, because we attract one another and understand one another, even in our quarrels and rivalries. We have a common language of the spirit … I know, spirit sounds funny in the mouth of a successful financier. I wouldn’t use it with some of my colleagues and underlings. But we’re Jews together and even if you smile at it, you know what I am driving at.”

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