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Wendell L. Willkie
Our Imperialisms at Home
Excerpt from One World, From the Chapter “Our Imperialisms At Home"
 Simon & Schuster Publishers, 1943, pp. 79 –80.

Editors Note: The following bring the problems of racial prejudice somewhat up to date....Wendell Willkie was republican candidate for president in 1940...his remarks are germane today....Leo

 

It has been a long while since the United States had any imperialistic designs toward the outside world. But we have practiced within our own boundaries something that amounts to race imperialism. The attitude of the white citizens of this country toward the Negroes has undeniably had some of the unlovely characteristics of an alien imperialism – a smug racial superiority, a willingness to exploit an unprotected people. We have justified it by telling ourselves that its end is benevolent. And sometimes it has been. But so sometimes have been the ends of imperialism. And the moral atmosphere in which it has existed is identical with that in which men – well-meaning men – talk of  “the white man’s burden.”

But that atmosphere is changing. Today it is becoming increasingly apparent to thoughtful Americans that we cannot fight the forces and ideas of imperialism abroad and maintains any form of imperialism at home. The war has done this to our thinking.

Emancipation came to the colored race in America as a war measure. It was an act of military necessity. Manifestly it would have come without war, in the slower process of humanitarian reform and social enlightenment. But it required a disastrous, internecine war to bring this question of human freedom to a crisis, and the process of striking the shackles from the slave was accomplished in a single hour. We are finding under the pressure of this present conflict that long-standing barriers and prejudices are breaking down. The defense of our democracy against the forces that threaten it from without has made some of its failures to function at home glaringly apparent.

Our very proclamations of what we are fighting for have rendered our own inequities self-evident. When we talk of freedom and opportunity for all nations, the mocking paradoxes in our own society become so clear they can no longer be ignored. If we want to talk about freedom, we must mean freedom for others as well as ourselves, and we must mean freedom for everyone inside our frontiers as well as outside. During a war, this is especially important.

The threat to racial and religious, even to political, minority groups springs in wartime from two things -= an overzealous mass insistence upon general conformity to majority standards, and the revival under emotional strains of age-old racial and religious distrusts. Minorities then are apt to be charged with responsibility for the war itself, and all the dislocations and discomforts arising from it. They are jealously subjected to scrutiny to determine if they are the recipient s of special advantages.

We are all familiar with the process by which, in a war psychology, the unusual is distrusted and anything unorthodox is associated by some people with enemy intriguing. Chauvinists are likely to spring up in any community. There is the instance in our War of 1812 of a young man arrested and held for espionage on the suspicious circumstances that “he carried a long whip and wore and unusual number of buttons on his pantaloons.” When affairs go wrong the public, by ancient custom, demands a scapegoat, and the first place to seek one is from a minority.

All this would appear ridiculous in our modern age were it not for the examples of bigotry and persecution we see in countries once presumed to be enlightened and, even more seriously, were it not for the fact that we are already witnessing a crawling, insidious anti-Semitism in our own country. It will be well to bear in mind continuously that we are fighting today against intolerance and oppression, and that we shall get them in abundance if we lose. If we allow them to develop at home while we are engaging the enemy abroad, we shall have immeasurably weakened our fighting arm.

Our nation is composed of no one race, faith, or cultural heritage. It is a grouping of some thirty people possessing varying religious concepts, philosophies, and historical backgrounds. They are linked together by their confidence in our democratic institutions as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution for themselves and for their children.

   

 


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