Pearl Buck, a member of the NAACP who won a Nobel Prize for “The Good Earth” (1931), wrote an “Open Letter to the Colored People of America”, which appeared in Black newspapers across the US in early March 1942. Three months later she gave a commencement speech at Howard University. This was just months after Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbour, bringing it into the Second World War.
She believed the war propaganda that the US was fighting for freedom and democracy. But she also understood that for Blacks, the US was hardly a democracy:
“Faulty as our democracy is, the United States must be the leader in this war for the right of peoples to be free – there is no other leader to whom we can look.”
She divided US Whites into three groups, listed here from smallest to largest:
- Those who have no racial prejudice and are on the side of Blacks in their fight for freedom and equality.
- Those who have strong racial prejudice and are against Blacks.
- Those in the middle. They suspect racial prejudice may be wrong, but do not know what to do about it.
Most Whites are in the middle. If Hitler and Japan win, the first group will be shot and the second one will be put in charge.
She sees Blacks as a nation within a nation, a subject people. They have suffered for hundreds of years. That has led some to be bitter, but has made most wiser and more mature in spirit than Whites. Because of their position in the democracy, Blacks have become its moral conscience. But they are weak. All their great leaders are in the past. She fears Blacks will withdraw behind the walls Whites have set up – instead of breaking them down and taking part in the US and the world as a whole.
Blacks need to break down those walls now more than ever: not just because it is the right thing to do, not just because it would make life better for them in the long run, but because it would be better for everyone, of all races, both in the US and across the world. If the US wins, it will determine what democracy means for the world, whether it is just for White people or for everyone regardless of race.
To gain the most support, Blacks should:
- Cast their fight in universal human terms of freedom, democracy and equality, not in terms of race. For that reason they should:
- Take an interest in and make common cause with non-Blacks, like Chinese immigrants in the US.
- Not hate Whites but judge them as individuals. Some are on the side of Blacks.
If Blacks do nothing or just go through the motions of joining the army and buying war bonds, then it will make it far too easy for Japan to persuade millions of Asians that all the US stands for is White rule, that its fine words about freedom and democracy are hollow.
– Abagond, 2016.
- “Justice For All Humanity” (1942) – PDF, a pamphlet that contains both the speech and the open letter as well as Hugh Macbeth’s answer.
- also in this series:
- White racial frame
- Black counter-frame
- What they do not teach you about anti-racism at American high school