From the February 4, 1985 issue of New York Magazine.
In 1978, on his first visit as mayor to Harlem’s Convent Avenue Baptist Church to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., Ed Koch heard a heckler shouting, “Don’t let him speak. Send the Jew back to the synagogues.” Koch was the only white present that day, and, by his account, none of the blacks, including one of his own deputy mayors, bothered to scream back. The mayor’s version of events has been disputed, but the important point is that a fortnight ago, at the same church, Koch was heckled as a “racist,” and the blacks on the stage were falling all over themselves to rise in his defense. “He’s not the mayor of downtown,” said the Reverend William Gardener, president of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Greater New York. “He’s the mayor of everybody… . This man has more black folk downtown than any previous mayor. Nobody’s all bad all of the time.”
Such is progress—and Koch is delighted. “In ‘78, people who should have stood up didn’t,” he says. “This time, I asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to hear my message, and it was most of the congregation. In ‘78, nobody helped me. In ‘85, lots helped. I say that is a huge change.”
Huge, also, at least on the surface, is the difference between the earlier, anti-Semitic remark and the latest charge of racism—especially since Ed Koch has again provoked New York’s blacks with his observation that “amongst substantial numbers” of black leaders “there is a lot of anti-Semitism.”
One can argue, and many have, that no public official should talk like that, even if he has the truth on his side. Koch, of course, doesn’t hold that view. In fact, the mayor believes that skirting the truth becomes pandering when the subject is race, and that it is always best for one to say what he thinks.
What makes Koch’s problem with blacks and the sorry state of black-Jewish relations generally so urgent is the coming mayoral campaign. For a time, it appeared that blacks might field a candidate of their own and that the city’s Hispanics might rally round. That’s not going to happen, but there is a good chance that the Democratic party might nominate its first all-Jewish ticket for mayor, comptroller, and City Council president. This would leave blacks to contest some borough presidencies—the same position they were in 25 years ago. Today, New York is the last of the five largest American cities without a minority mayor, and it isn’t difficult to understand black frustration or to conjure up an abrasive campaign.
Nowhere else in the world do blacks and Jews interact so pervasively as in New York. There are 1.1 million Jews in the city and 1.8 million blacks. In no other city outside Israel are Jews such a dominant ethnic group—and some say New York is even more Jewish, at least in feel, than Israel. Conversely, in no other city are blacks in such huge numbers consigned to the back of the political bus. But the times—and the numbers—are changing. Despite their lesser population, Jews used to account for approximately 40 percent of the Democratic-primary vote. Today, blacks and Jews make up a roughly equal quarter each of the Democratic electorate. The rub is occurring now, today, in New York.
Is Koch right about blacks, and conversely, are Jews anti-black? Is the entire question miscast? Is the problem one of black-white rather than black-Jewish relations? Is it a problem for the average black and Jew, or merely part of a battle for political power waged among leaders?
Trying to assess the current state of black-Jewish relations, both here and throughout the United States, one encounters a bewildering mix of often contradictory statistical and anecdotal evidence, all of it purportedly “proving” that blacks and Jews are either farther apart than ever before or on the verge of a new closeness. At first look, there is enough disquieting survey research to prompt legitimate concern. In 1978, for example, Louis Harris found that while anti-Semitism was declining slightly in America “blacks tend to be more anti-Jewish than any other group.” Harris also reported a higher degree of anti-Jewish prejudice among black leaders than among leaders of any other group—although one wonders if this particular result is really part of a larger problem of anti-Jewish feeling among all leaders: Harris discovered that a majority of corporate leaders feel that “Jews are irritating because they are too aggressive.”
Other, more recent studies have confirmed Harris’s findings and have uncovered a higher incidence of anti-Semitism among younger, educated blacks than among younger, educated whites.
Some have argued that relations on the street between blacks and Jews, never terrific, are no worse than ever. The real rift, by this analysis, is among the leaders, who once had common goals but now find their interests in conflict. However, Harris’s research, and that of other pollsters, finds that the traditional stereotypes endure among black leaders and followers: A plurality of blacks believe most slumlords are Jewish; by two to one, the general population disagrees. By 56 percent to 14 percent, blacks say that given a choice between money and people, Jews will choose money; again, the general population disagrees. While the majority of Americans feel otherwise, a plurality of blacks believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America. And while a majority of the public (by 60 percent to 22 percent) deny the charge that Jewish businessmen will usually try to pull a shady deal on a customer, a narrow plurality of blacks tend to believe it. For their part, Jews are more resistant to integrated neighborhoods than other Americans and are generally less willing than whites to send their children to schools with blacks.
On the flip side, Harris reports that Jews are “more sympathetic than other non-black Americans with the aspiration of blacks to achieve equality.” Jews and blacks often vote alike—they were the only two groups to heavily support Walter Mondale for president—and often enough, Jewish support for black candidates far exceeds the support of other whites.
The survey evidence is disquieting. Polls have found that large numbers of blacks still believe in the age-old stereotypes of Jews.
Across a range of social-policy issues, blacks and Jews hold nearly identical views. In Washington, this reality has its expression in joint efforts by blacks and Jews to lobby the federal government—and in the increasing willingness of Jews to join the black-led protest against apartheid in South Africa. In Congress, members of the Black Caucus are strong supporters of Soviet Jewry and aid to Israel, and they unanimously opposed the sale of AWAC’s to Saudi Arabia.
How does one weigh these contradictory signals? Should Jews and blacks worry only about articulated prejudice and ignore other signs of intolerance? Major Owens, a black congressman from Brooklyn, says, “The failure to stamp out the present rising tensions [between blacks and Jews] can be catastrophic.” Jack Greenberg, a hero of the civil-rights movement as director of the NAACP legal-defense fund, believes that black-Jewish tensions are no worse than before and should cause no particular alarm. Ed Koch agrees. He believes there is greater tension between blacks and white Gentiles. Who’s correct?
A good deal has changed in the past twenty years. The black-Jewish civil-rights coalition of the 1950s and ‘60s is no more. And it is of no value to blacks or Jews, or, for that matter, to the truth, to pretend otherwise. The history is instructive because it is both recent and keenly felt.
For many years, Jews provided the money and many of the skills the civil-rights movement needed to function. Nothing could have been easier. The goals were clear-cut, the injustice far away. “Moral struggles are always simpler,” says Bayard Rustin, the veteran black civil-rights activist. “At first, the black agenda was just asking for things all whites had, like the right to vote and to use public bathrooms. There wasn’t any rub because we weren’t talking about dividing the economic pie. We just wanted basic rights written into law.”
But even during the easy days, the basis for tension between Jews and blacks—proximity—was always there. Two quite different observers saw the problem similarly—and in a way that tends to support the black stereotypes of Jews. Here is Ed Koch, in his 1984 book, Mayor: “Jews are people who remain a presence in the ghetto even after they have moved out as residents. They still own the businesses there, and the blacks move in and the Jews still continue to do business, and they are the landlords to a great extent, and the blacks … dislike the Jews because everybody would like to have a scapegoat.” And here is Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967: “The urban Negro has a special and unique relationship to Jews. On the one hand, he is associated with Jews as some of his most committed and generous partners in the civil rights struggle. On the other hand, he meets them daily as some of his most direct exploiters in the ghetto as slum landlords and gouging shopkeepers… . A great number of Negro ghettos were formerly Jewish neighborhoods; some storekeepers and landlords remained as population changes occurred. They operate with the ethics of marginal business entrepreneurs, not Jewish ethics, but the distinction is lost on some Negroes who are maltreated by them.”
By the mid-sixties, with the great legislation in place, the civil-rights movement began to give way to the black revolution. A new generation of black leaders emerged. Many believed King was an Uncle Tom; many were separatists. In some organizations, the Jews who had helped for decades were dumped unceremoniously. “A good many Jews were simply devastated psychologically,” says Albert Vorspan, vice-president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. “They couldn’t take the personal rejection, and they couldn’t even understand, at least in theory, that even in the best organizations, blacks simply wanted to run their own show. They lost whatever ability they had had to distinguish between the shit-heads and the hotheads.”
“The new guys,” says Bill Tatum, editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, “were creatures of the six o’clock news. The Stokely Carmichaels and Rap Browns got all the attention because they were willing to say whatever awful thing was required to get on the air.” “This was entirely new to us,” says Bayard Rustin. “We’d spent years being careful and responsible and now all the ink was going to the upstarts. I remember Martin [Luther King] and I going to see the editors of the New York Times to complain about Stokely’s getting all the attention. We were told that he made the paper because he was unique and that we had to understand that the George Washington Bridge standing up is not news.”
Much of the change was to be expected. “The dynamic of protest politics,” says Diane Ravitch, a perceptive historian of American education, “makes compromise appear as weakness. Leadership either moves to an extreme position or is replaced by new leaders who are more militant and less willing to compromise. Those who accept compromise are made to appear compromised themselves and are quickly eclipsed.”
With the new leaders came a new literature. In The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, a “hot” book in 1967, Harold Cruse attacked Jewish “political and ideological power over Negroes… . Among the many myths life and history have imposed on Negroes (such as that of Lincoln ‘freeing’ the slaves) is the myth that the Negro’s best friend is the Jew.” In the autobiography that became must reading for many Americans, Malcolm X wrote: “All I held against Jews was that so many Jews actually were hypocrites in their claim to be friends of the American black man… . At the same time I knew that the Jews played these roles for a very careful strategic reason: the more prejudice in America could be focused upon the Negro, then the more the white Gentiles’ prejudice would keep … off the Jew.” Far from decrying such obvious garbage, white intellectuals, many of them Jews, took a dive. In The New York Review of Books, Christopher Lasch wrote that Cruse’s book was a “monument of historical analysis.” Richard Gilman, in The New Republic,, called for a moratorium on literary judgments of black writers because “in the present phase of interracial existence in America, moral and intellectual ‘truths’ have not the same reality for Negroes and whites.”
Along with the new black leadership’s more militant domestic agenda came a first-ever interest in foreign affairs. The 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arabs provided a rallying point. No matter how black congressmen voted in Washington, the new black leaders were foursquare behind Palestinian rights. Israel was always wrong. A cartoon in the newsletter of Carmichael’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee depicted Moshe Dayan with a Jewish star on his jacket and dollar signs for epaulets. The Reverend Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, toured the Middle East and sang “We Shall Overcome” with Yasir Arafat in his Beirut bunker. The Reverend Hosea Williams, head of the SCLC’s Atlanta chapter, conferred “the Decoration of Martin Luther King” on Colonel Muammar Qaddafi just before Libyan troops began killing black Christians in Chad. “Brother Qaddafi,” said Williams, “expressed a great desire to ally with the black American in eliminating racism and Zionism internationally.” Why all this? Surely, in part, there was a legitimate sympathy for the problems of less fortunate people everywhere. But there was something else too. As Williams said of the Arabs, “They’ve got the money.” That’s right, echoed Jesse Jackson in a 1979 meeting with Arab businessmen in Chicago: “I can help your cause, but you have to help my cause.” According to the New York Times, Jackson’s pitch netted a cool $10,000.
The single incident in foreign affairs that most upset American Jews occurred in 1979. Andrew Young, then Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, violated administration policy and met with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Almost immediately, Young was gone. By most accounts, he was asked to resign because he had deceived the State Department—but black leaders saw a Jewish conspiracy. Young’s dismissal, said Jesse Jackson, was a “capitulation” to Jews. For over a month, while blacks castigated Jews, President Carter remained silent—”a pure and simple exploitation of anti-Semitism for political purposes,” says Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
In New York, the great domestic battle had begun a decade earlier with the school strike of 1968. A fight for community control of the city’s school system dissolved into a black-Jewish confrontation simply because the teachers’ union was run by Jews. No matter that the union’s position was supported by the likes of Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph, the patriarch of the civil-rights movement. A black schoolteacher read a poem dedicated to the teachers’ union president, Albert Shanker, over the radio. It began: “Hey, Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head / You pale-faced Jew boy—I wish you were dead.” The African-American Teachers Association, run by Albert Vann, now a Brooklyn assemblyman leading the opposition to Mayor Koch, issued a newsletter that read, in part: “And the Jew… He keeps [black] women and men from becoming teachers and principals and keeps our children ignorant.” An AATA press release said, “Jews would like us to become what they were in Hitler’s Germany: spineless jellyfish.”
Bound up in the school strike’s subsidiary issues—and the glaring flash point for blacks and Jews ever since—was the matter of quotas and affirmative action. Throughout history, Jews have suffered quotas that kept them out. Present-day black demands for quotas to get in are viewed by many Jews, and some others, as more of the same. “If ethnic quotas are to be imposed…,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1968, “the Jews will almost be driven out… . There is a whiff of anti-Semitism in many of these demands.” The best reason to oppose quotas, says Morris Abram, a prominent Jewish leader, “is not because of the past but because of what would come if you quotaized America. The United States is relatively free of religious strife because the government is neutral. If this were not the case, America would become Lebanonized. The country would fracture.”
Technically, affirmative action is a different matter, but the numerical goals and timetables that invariably attend such proposals are seen by some Jews, including Ed Koch, simply as quotas by another name. Others, like Al Vorspan, contend that affirmative action “is not the main threat to Jews, and to believe that it is is to be hysterical and to contribute to the overall black-Jewish problem.” “It is the rare black,” says Jack Greenberg, “who has achieved without benefit of affirmative action. So Jewish opposition is viewed as anti-black and has contributed to anti-Israel sentiment among blacks.”
The civil-rights alliance ended bitterly. Many Jews fear tranquility disrupted morethan justice denied, says a Jewish leader.
While other points can be dismissed as passing troubles, the dispute over affirmative action will remain. “On quotas, at least,” says Howard Squadron, former president of the American Jewish Congress, “there will not be agreement.” What to do? “The very best we can hope for,” says Alexander Schindler, “is to reach an agreement to disagree. Jews need to understand that affirmative action is the Israel of the black movement, that centuries of slavery and second-class citizenship cannot, in their view, be overcome merely by enacting a set of laws forbidding discrimination.”
“Increasingly,” Al Vorspan has written, “Jewish attitudes toward Blacks are influenced by the view that Blacks have turned against Jews. The perception of Black anti-Semitism is a powerful barrier to improved relations… . Jews, in large measure, have lost their empathy for Blacks. They see the results of social disorder, but seldom the causes. Many are more concerned with tranquility shattered than justice denied… . We have grown edgy and impatient with each other. Bleak silences stretch between us. New bridges must be erected. The demagogues in both groups demur, why bother?”
The question, again, is one of degree. Nathan Perlmutter, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, takes solace from a 1984 election result in Berkeley, California. “They had a referendum to curtail aid to Israel,” says Perlmutter. “The black precincts overwhelmingly defeated it—at the same time that they voted overwhelmingly for Jesse Jackson.” “Blacks are sophisticated,” says Bill Tatum. “They say, ‘Who is my friend?’ How many Arab dollars have gone to rebuild Harlem? The answer is none. How many Arab dollars have been deposited in New York’s two black banks? Zilch, zero. Their money is in the banks that do business with South Africa.” Of greatest significance to Tatum is a lesson he draws from a 26-week strike at his newspaper, the Amsterdam News, two years ago. “I was accused of being a Zionist and a supporter of Israel” says Tatum. “A black paper had a headline that said ZIONIST TATUM KILLS ARAB BABIES. I firmly believe that if there was truly a deep well of anti-Semitism among blacks that the strike would have succeeded in killing the Amsterdam News.”
“Where I grew up, in Chicago,” says Gordon Davis, a former New York City parks commissioner, “when blacks were finally able to move out of the ghetto, the fact was that it was safe to move to the Jewish neighborhoods. At worst, the Jews would simply move away. If we went to the white ethnic neighborhoods like Cicero, there was real fear that we’d be stoned or killed or driven out. That’s a big difference.”
The white politician identified most closely with the proposition that whites should shout back is Ed Koch. The mayor of New York insists that he treats all people equally. He is rightfully proud of a record that includes more minority appointments to a mayoral administration than ever before—although he refuses to sanction affirmative-action programs with specific timetables because he believes such actions reinforce inequality by pandering to minorities. This, says Koch, “is to my credit.”
Still, since he refuses to acknowledge that rhetoric is often reality, Koch is in trouble with New York’s blacks. “A great number of whites are afraid to tell blacks what they feel,” says Bayard Rustin. “Koch doesn’t get in that jam, and blacks simply aren’t used to it. On the other hand, Koch is too readily an exacerbater. He’s not anti-black. He’s a bigmouth. And politically, he is destructive to the city because he creates an atmosphere that causes distrust on both sides. He does this by attempting to make political hay by attracting those who don’t want minorities to get away with things anymore.”
The latest flaps concern Koch’s remarks about anti-Semitism among black leaders and his relationship with a black-Jewish coalition designed to further racial harmony. Koch correctly points to the presence of anti-Koch leaders in the coalition and then only sees a “cabal” out for his hide. The Jewish reaction to Koch’s statements has been heated—and mixed. Al Vorspan lashed out at the mayor; Nate Perlmutter said Vorspan was “contributing to black-Jewish abrasions, rather than soothing them.”
For most of the established black political leadership, Representative Charles Rangel answered a year ago: “Anyone else who would say and do what Ed Koch says and does, people would refer them to a psychiatrist.”
Well before Koch hits the couch, and especially if an all-Jewish ticket actually materializes, the mayor will have company in crying “cabal.” For no matter how unpremeditated an all-Jewish slate might be, blacks know as well as anyone that the balanced ticket was practically invented in New York. No one else believes in coincidences. Why should they?
Facing electoral arithmetic that says he cannot win re-election without capturing a decent share of the city’s minority vote, the mayor is now arranging meetings to repair his image. “I’m trying very hard,” says Koch, “to deal with some leaders who I don’t like… . I’m someone who is not going to be punched without punching back.” The point, though, says one of the mayor’s closest friends, is that “Ed too often stages a preemptive strike.”
Koch’s true feelings about most of the established black leadership are not unlike President Reagan’s. “I have come to the conclusion,” said the president recently, “that maybe some of those leaders are protecting some rather good [political] positions that they have, and they can protect them better if they can keep their constituency aggrieved and believing that they have a legitimate complaint.” “I’m sure,” says the mayor, “that some people in the [minority] community probably say to themselves, ‘If we meet with him and he’s able to resolve problems in a reasonable way, what have we got? We’ve got no issue.’ So then you have how they react now” — a reference to the refusal of some black leaders to dine informally with him at Gracie Mansion in favor of a more structured meeting—” ‘We’ll meet, but we won’t eat.’”
It is right for blacks to wonder about a political system that might well fill the Democratic slate with Jews this fall. One reason for an all-Jewish ticket is simple: The mayor and Comptroller Harrison Goldin are incumbents, and the leading candidates for City Council president—Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein and Deputy Mayor Kenneth Lipper—just happen to be Jewish. Another, more complex reason involves the failure of New York’s black leadership to produce a candidate capable of capturing white support. Two who might command white backing, Charlie Rangel and Gordon Davis, aren’t interested. A third, Basil Paterson, seemed ready to run but pulled back at the last minute.
But even if New York had a black mayor, the fundamental problems would remain. Psychology aside, the life of blacks hasn’t improved noticeably in the American cities that have chosen black leaders. “A black mayor,” says Bayard Rustin, “is not Nirvana. The problems are deeper.”
One problem that separates blacks and Jews as never before is class. Jews have always had more money than blacks, but a generation ago, in the early days of the civil-rights movement, many Jews felt closer to the era of their own economic and class oppression. Blacks have not kept pace, and as the black agenda has moved from equality in law to equality in fact, Jewish empathy has waned.
To be sure, there is compelling statistical evidence of black progress. Ben Wattenberg has assembled some of it in his new book, The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong: The number of blacks living in the suburbs has increased almost 100 percent in twenty years. Forty-four percent of all blacks own their own homes. The number of blacks enrolled in college in 1960 was 227,000. In 1982, that figure had risen to 1,127,000. The list is nearly endless, the conclusion obvious: For those blacks eager and able to advance, few institutional barriers remain.
But the indexes of distress are equally staggering, proof of a pathology deeply rooted among less fortunate or less motivated blacks. In recent years, for example, black unemployment in America has been twice the white rate. And Harvard’s James Q. Wilson reports that blacks are “ten times as likely to commit a murder and eight times as likely to commit an assault as whites.”
Class divisions drive both groups apart. For all their noisy differences over the last few years, blacks and Jews both tend to support the traditional, liberal-Democratic social agenda.
The disintegration of black families is a national crisis. In 1960, 21 percent of black families were headed by females. In 1983, the figure was 48 percent. In 1980, 55 percent of black births were illegitimate. The figure for whites was 11 percent. In New York City, 85 percent of all babies born to black teenagers are illegitimate. It is “family disintegration” that most worries experts like Pat Moynihan: “From the wild Irish slums of the nineteenth-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder—most particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable.”
Some, like Gordon Davis, perceive an ironic and perverse side effect of integration, a decline in close-at-hand role models for young blacks. “When I grew up in the ghetto,” says Davis, “it was strictly a racial ghetto. My father was a professor. Next door was a numbers runner. Across the street was a dentist. In a basement apartment nearby was a family on welfare. One could take his cues from any of these. When integrated housing came, the achievers moved out. Today, the ghetto consists solely of the economically deprived. The cues are all bad. Who can the poor black look up to where it counts, right there on his block?”
In recent years, as traditional liberals like Senator Edward Kennedy have cast about for people and programs to blame, America’s welfare system has come in for a good deal of deserved abuse: “We say to this child,” said Kennedy in 1978, “wait, there is a way, one way you can be somebody to someone. We will give you an apartment, and furniture to fill it. We will give you a TV set and a telephone. We will give you clothing, and cheap food, and free medical care, and some spending money besides. And in return, you only have to do one thing: just go out and have a baby. And faced with such an offer, it is no surprise that hundreds of thousands have been caught in the trap that our welfare system has become.”
Ed Koch’s view is similar to Ted Kennedy’s. “Early in my career as mayor,” says Koch, “I said that if we’d given to the poor directly all the money we’ve appropriated for them over the years—billions—the poor would be rich. Obviously, the programs haven’t done what they were intended to do.” To Koch, a version of workfare offers promise. “The purpose isn’t to keep people on welfare,” says the mayor. “The purpose is to make it possible for the poor to enter the private sector. I believe it is helpful to require persons to work—during hours when the kids are in school—and that they should receive no extra remuneration except carfare and lunch money… . There are now some 14,000 people in our program… . Some critics,” notes Koch with disdain, “have said that our program is oppressive, that it is slavery. [But] a maintenance check is a salary check… . I’m going to keep trying.”
“Recent history,” says Ben Wattenberg, “teaches that minorities are often harmed by liberal attitudes, while they are helped by liberal programs.” In The New Republic, Charles Murray, author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980, sketches a “new racism” growing out of preferential treatment for blacks. “The new racists,” writes Murray, “do not think blacks are inferior. They are typically longtime supporters of civil rights. But they exhibit the classic behavioral symptom of racism: they treat blacks differently from whites, because of their race.” The result, says Murray, is that blacks are denied the right to compete as equals. In Murray’s view, and as a result of well-meaning affirmative-action programs, “the new racists … think of blacks as a commodity. The office must have a sufficient supply of blacks, who must be treated with special delicacy.”
Murray sees a malign spiral. It is well known that despite the promising education statistics Wattenberg cites, blacks score dramatically below whites on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the basic yardstick for college admission (although the gap is narrowing somewhat). In 1983, for example, a math score that would put a black student midway in the ranks of other black students would place him behind 84 percent of all whites. During that same year, only 66 blacks in the entire country scored above 700 in the verbal section of the SAT’s; only 205 in the math part. The number of blacks in the 600s in math was 1,531. In contrast, 31,704 non-black students in 1983 scored in the 700s in math; 121,640 in the 600s.
Despite the shortage of well-prepared black students, the nation’s best colleges regularly war with one another to recruit them. Once these students are admitted to the elite schools, they do less well than whites, and sometimes, says Murray, “group pressure” causes them to give up. An excuse is born: “We could do better if we wanted to, but we don’t.” At Harvard, says Murray, “the current term among black students for a black who studies like a white is ‘incognegro.’”
As measured by the Graduate Record Examination, the black-white gap is greater at the end of college than at the beginning. Still, graduate schools and then the real world reach out. Especially at the most prestigious white-collar places of employment, Murray finds that paternalism shields blacks from the normal (and usually more grinding) work experience. Invariably, and often simply because they are not permitted to participate in a normal apprenticeship, many blacks fail to perform. They are kept on nonetheless—”the mascot syndrome,” to use Murray’s phrase. “Everybody pretends that nothing is wrong—but the black’s career is at an end.”
It may be impossible to rebuild a consensus to deal with these problems—at least before the end of the century. The historical alliance of forces that led to the civil-rights victories of the 1960s and the affirmative-action initiatives of the 1970s took decades to develop. Now that energy is dissipated. Indeed, the whole thrust of the Reagan administration and much public opinion is running the opposite way. Still, for cultural and other reasons, Jews feel a greater stake in black progress than many other white ethnic groups. The polls continue to show that both groups support the liberal domestic social agenda that is the legacy of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. So the ligature of the old alliance remains intact. Putting flesh on the old bones is something else.
No one seriously suggests that the 1985 mayoral campaign in New York City can be anything but a footnote in the long saga of black-Jewish relations. But because New York is in many respects the capital of the world in the 1980s, even parochial struggles can have outsize impact. Both black and Jewish politicians in New York have contributed to today’s climate of bad feelings. Yet if the campaign deals with some of these issues without hysteria—for a change—the race might serve a larger purpose than seems possible today.