Race, Religion and Prejudice
by Eleanor Roosevelt, in New Republic (11 May 1942)
Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s recent articles force us all to realize that one of the phases of this war that we have to face is the question of race discrimination.
We have had a definite policy toward the Chinese and Japanese who wished to enter our country for many years, and I doubt very much if after this war is over we can differentiate between the peoples of Europe, the Near East and the Far East.
Perhaps the simplest way of facing the problem in the future is to say that we are fighting for freedom, and one of the freedoms we must establish is freedom from discrimination among the peoples of the world, either because of race, or of color, or of religion.
The people of the world have suddenly begun to stir and they seem to feel that in the future we should look upon each other as fellow human beings, judged by our acts, by our abilities, by our development, and not by any less fundamental differences.
Here in our own country we have any number of attitudes which have become habits and which constitute our approach to the Jewish people, the Japanese and Chinese people, the Italian people, and above all, to the Negro people in our midst.
Perhaps because the Negroes are our largest minority, our attitude towards them will have to be faced first of all. I keep on repeating that the way to face this situation is by being completely realistic. We cannot force people to accept friends for whom they have no liking, but living in a democracy it is entirely reasonable to demand that every citizen of that democracy enjoy the fundamental rights of a citizen.
Over and over again, I have stressed the rights of every citizen:
Equality before the law.
Equality of education.
Equality to hold a job according to his ability.
Equality of participation through the ballot in the government.
These are inherent rights in a democracy, and I do not see how we can fight this war and deny these rights to any citizen in our own land.
The other relationships will gradually settle themselves once these major things are part of our accepted philosophy.
It seems trite to say to the Negro, you must have patience, when he has had patience so long; you must not expect miracles overnight, when he can look back to the years of slavery and say-how many nights! he has waited for justice. Nevertheless, it is what we must continue to say in the interests of our government as a whole and of the Negro people; but that does not mean that we must sit idle and do nothing. We must keep moving forward steadily, removing restrictions which have no sense, and fighting prejudice. If we are wise we will do this where it is easiest to do it first, and watch it spread gradually to places where the old prejudices are slow to disappear.
There is now a great group of educated Negroes who can become leaders among their people, who can teach them the value of things of the mind and who qualify as the best in any field of endeavor. With these men and women it is impossible to think of any barriers of inferiority, but differences there are and always will be, and that is why on both sides there must be tact and patience and an effort at real understanding. Above everything else, no action must be taken which can cause so much bitterness that the whole liberalizing effort may be set back over a period of many years.
Source: Roosevelt, Eleanor, New Republic 106 (11 May 1942): 630, the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/%7Eerpapers/documents/articles/racereligionprejudice.cfm
[See also Speech and Article File, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York]
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Roosevelt, E. (1942, May 11). Race, religion and prejudice. New Republic. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=13076.