Behind the Headlines: Study Finds Black Anti-semitism Not As Widespread As is Believed

The popular perception that anti-Semitism among black Americans is widespread may be unfounded, according to a study of the attitudes of black churchgoers.

In a soon-to-be-published book, entitled “Black Protestantism and Anti-Semitism,” Rev. Hubert Locke, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, studies the prevalent views of a sample group of religious blacks living in three American cities.

He gave a preview of his findings at a recent forum here on “The Future of the Jewish Past: The Jewish People in a Post-Holocaust World,” sponsored by the American Friends of Hebrew University.

“If one steps back from the volatile, localized conflicts that have marred black-Jewish relations in a few cities, there is strong evidence to suggest that the claim of anti-Semitism as a prevalent attitude among black Americans is greatly overdrawn,” Locke told the approximately 250 people in attendance.

Locke admitted there had been a “deterioration in attitudes and interactions” between Jews and blacks in the late 1960s, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

He said stumbling blocks to black-Jewish harmony included battles over such contentious issues as affirmative action and the emergence of the black consciousness movement.

But he said that the souring of relations was primarily at the level of leadership and that it occurred in specific urban locales.

NEW YORK AND CHICAGO EXCLUDED

“These qualifications are important,” said Locke, “for while, a generation later, they came to be generalized as a characteristic of black-Jewish relations across the nation, very few studies sought to assess what, in fact, were the attitudes of black citizens toward Jewish people as a general proposition.”

In an attempt to fill the vacuum, Locke, under a grant from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, undertook a study in 1987 of the attitudes of black Protestant churchgoers toward Jewish Americans in St. Louis, Seattle and Buffalo, N.Y., cities considered neutral in the black-Jewish conflict.

Locke said that he specifically chose to stay away from New York and Chicago, where “local events and personages have tended to exacerbate the issue of black-Jewish relationships.”

In the study, Locke asked respondents to evaluate various statements about Jews on a six-point scale, with 1 being strongest disapproval and 6 being strongest approval. The responses to the statements were as follows:

* “A major fault of the Jews is their conceit, overbearing pride and their idea that they are the chosen race” received a rating of 2.3, indicating moderate disapproval.

* “The true Christian can never forgive the Jews for their crucifixion of Christ” received a strong disapproval rating of 1.8.

* “Jews should stop complaining about the Holocaust,” got a 2.6 disapproval rating.

* “Jews are more willing to combat discrimination,” got a 3.6 approval rating.

* “Jews are more helpful than harmful in the civil rights struggle,” got a 3.4 approval rating.

Locke extrapolates from the data that the general black middle-class American view of Jews is benign.

MORE PREVALENT AMONG YOUNG

He did concede, however, that the attitudes of black Protestant churchgoers is only one of several profiles of black America, suggesting that a sample of younger black respondents would have responded differently.

“If, in fact, there is a set of my kinspeople about whom I would register concern with respect to the general issue of black-Jewish relations, it would be young black Americans,” he said.

“Their ties to their religious roots may be weak, (their) knowledge of and participation in the area of the civil rights struggle are limited, and (their) views of the era of the grand alliance between black and Jewish organizations and leaders are likely to be distorted.”

But in the question-and-answer period, Locke also discounted the effect on young blacks of leaders such as Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who has made various strongly anti-Semitic public statements.

He denies that such leaders represent a set of attitudes that can be ascribed to a majority or even a significant portion of the 28 million black Americans in the United States.

“Farrakhan’s media coverage totes him as a leader, but the numbers do not,” said Locke. “Only 200,000 to 250,000 black Americans are members of the Nation of Islam; that’s 1 percent of the American black population.”

“The effort to peddle black anti-Semitism simply hasn’t sold, and I don’t think it will in the future,” he said.

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