Santa Cruz Sentinel/June 18, 1942
New York, June 18. I should like to challenge one of the premises on which the Negro press of our country operates and from which it addresses its appeal to Negro people. That is the premise that the white newspapers of our daily press are unfair to the negro in their treatment of news stories, if not actually hostile to the colored man.
I say the white papers are not anti-negro but, on the contrary, are scrupulously fair and sympathetic and even sometimes play down news for fear that by the slightest overemphasis they may provide some Communist group or some reckless hotheads of either race with an opportunity to touch off a tragedy. Our white editors feel a grave responsibility and, while it may be, strictly speaking, a mistake to play down news beneath its due degree of emphasis, it is, if so, a mistake made in a good cause and out of good motives.
In the last few months there have been two disturbances in the eastern area in which crowds of negro civilians broke into public disorder. In both cases I watched carefully the handling of the news in the white papers and decided that they had been guided by a strong desire not to be responsible for any aggravation of situations which were potentially troublesome. In another case there was a row and some shooting at a military camp involving American soldiers, both white and colored, and here, again, the white press trod with the most patriotic and conscientious care, passing no judgment as to guilt or responsibility but leaving that to the Army.
It is true that it is our custom to identify a negro in the news as a negro, or a Chinese or an Indian as such, and that is a point of much complaint by negro political leaders and publicists who insist that it is enough to say that the man or woman concerned is a man or woman. But they are inconsistent when they then appeal to the Supreme Court to set aside verdicts in criminal cases on the ground that there were no negroes on the jury lists. Moreover, there is never any objection to pointed mention of the fact that Marian Anderson or Joe Louis is a negro. I think the colored leaders are as badly puzzled and as inconsistent as the white journalist for certainly they do plead on racial grounds in the case of the all-white jury trying a negro defendant just as vehemently as they object to the distinction between white and colored in the news of some small crime.
But, allowing for the fact that the negro press exists in the interest of the negro people and waiving for the moment the fact that they constantly tend to maintain his segregation, these papers bear their responsibility with much less skill and care than the average white paper. Our white papers do not carry on agitation against negroes. On the contrary, our handling of the news in which the color question arises is done with the greatest delicacy, whereas the negro editors constantly make sharp distinctions between white and colored men in cases of friction and take the side of the colored persons involved, often with injustice to the white man and the truth, and to the damage of inter-racial understanding. It is not right, it is not good journalism and it is not good Americanism to print a deliberate deception, thus arousing in the colored reader a feeling that a racial brother has been wronged, if the racial brother, in fact, was in the wrong.
It is not supercilious to say that the negro press is inferior to the white press. Its inferiority is recognized by many negro leaders who cite the obvious reason that colored men have come to journalism only recently and have lacked opportunity, experience and encouragement. But lack of cultivated skill and grace does not entirely justify the hostile tone toward the white people of some negro publications which say they are striving for friendly, prosperous relations between the races but incessantly are guilty of a hostility to white men which is never expressed toward negroes in our white press.
Our white press is friendly to the negro. It is a large order but I defy any colored editor to cite a single paragraph of anti-negro copy in a New York paper in the last 10 years. But we are busily occupied with many concerns and do not concentrate constantly on the aspirations of the colored man, which is the special mission of the negro press. And inspection of parallel stories on a given event, such as the housing trouble in Detroit, will show that the white press spoke with restraint and a sense of responsibility not to upset the peace while some negro papers expressed themselves in tones of anger and racial hostility.