Notes | Back to Main Page
By Gary T. Marx
This paper may be identified as publication number A83 of the Survey Research Center, University of California, Berkeley. I am grateful to Phyllis R. Marx and Erving Goffman for their suggestions.
Note, 2001. This was written as a Berkeley term paper in 1961. For the first time writing became something that was fun to do as an end in itself and as a means of satisfying intellectual curiosity, rather than merely to satisfy an assignment. The realization that the sociological tent was broad enough to encompass work of this nature and the fun of the ironic contrasts put to rest any residual doubts about a career in sociology.
JAMES BALDWIN HAS STATED, "We take our shape, it is true, within and against that cage of reality bequeathed us at our birth; ...black is the color of evil" and Negroes must live with this. This paper is concerned with a segment of those who must live with the stigma of being black. It is also concerned with the behavior of some whites who would perhaps say, "White is the color of evil; must middle-class Caucasians live with this?"
That part of the Negro middle class which Frazier, in his polemical account, has called the black bourgeoisie is in many ways opposed in its behavior to those whites who adhere to a beat philosophy of life. 1 In this paper, I compare these two groups to suggest that in spite of their obvious differences certain important similarities may be noted. One of the most significant is that as groups in transition both have a distorted image of both the group they seek to identify with and the group they seek to leave. The existence of myths and distorted images about other social groups of course gives no cause for surprise. However, what is of interest here is the reversal of both positive and negative reference groups which has taken place. An understanding of either white beats or the black bourgeoisie requires consideration of both the white middle class and the Negro working class.
As has often been noted, the black bourgeoisie take a very positive stand toward middle-class values and are very critical of average Negroes. Frazier has written, "they have accepted unconditionally the values of the white bourgeois world: its morals and its canons of respectability, its standards of beauty and consumption. In fact, they have tended to overemphasize their conformity to white ideals." 2 They have strongly internalized middle-class values emphasizing self-control, deferred gratification, achievement, extreme cleanliness and rigid moral standards. With their strong acceptance of these middle-class values, these Negroes are attempting to separate themselves from the supposed values of the Negro lower class and hipsters, i.e., the stereotyped values with which many whites still would identify them.
Beats, on the other hand, reject middle-class values and take their cues for behavior from working-class Negroes. Norman Mailer, in a much criticized article, has pointed out that Negroes are the source of hip for beats. 3 Beats with a middle-class background attempt to put down their whiteness and adopt what they believe is the carefree, spontaneous, cool life style of Negro hipsters: their manner of speaking and language, their use of milder narcotics, their appreciation of jazz and the blues, and their supposed concern with the good orgasm. 4 Furthermore, with their cultivated irresponsibility, spontaneity, emotionalism, immediate impulse gratification, slovenly and often dirty dress, occasional use of drugs, more liberal and open attitudes toward sex, interracial friendships and the use of four letter words, beats are attempting to separate themselves from the middle-class culture with which they are identified and in which they were brought up. By stretching matters a bit, both groups may be seen to be socially mobile, although their mobility ethos and the actual direction of their mobility are very different. The extreme quest for status of the black bourgeoisie is a central theme of many studies. On the other hand, the perspective of beats is expressed by Ferlinghetti in the following excerpt from his poem, "Junkman's Obligato:"
I wish to descend in the social scale.Beats are from a middle-class background and have been downwardly mobile. 6 Negroes are more likely to be from a working-class background and to have been upwardly mobile. 7 Beats avoid employment while middle-class Negroes seek it. For the black bourgeoisie jobs are seen as an important means of obtaining status and a means to bigger and better conspicuous consumption. A French sociologist has even called this group "colored babbits." 8 Popular mythology suggests that beats will not work, and statements like the following support this: "Me earn money? Never. All you earn the government takes and what you got left? I'll tell you. What the little boy urinated at, that's what. The hole in the fence, man, that's what you got left." 9
High society is low society.
I am a social climber climbing downward
And the dsecent is difficult.
The Upper Middle Class Ideal is for the birds
but the birds have no use for it
having their own kind of pecking order. 5
Middle-class Negroes are constantly engaged in deferring gratification, an activity which beats abhor. For Negroes who are upwardly mobile deferred gratification is of the utmost importance. Obtaining middle-class status requires hard work and often great sacrifices, as well as planning for the future. For beats, on the other hand, what counts is the "here and now"; it makes no sense to defer any satisfaction since world destruction seems so imminent. Means become all important. Thus in On the Road, Dean says, "We Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there." "Where we going, man?" "I don't know but we gotta go. 10 While differing in the direction of their mobility, beats and middle-class Negroes show a similarity with respect to the acceptance they are granted. People who have been upwardly or downwardly mobile often have trouble being accepted. That Negroes who have moved up from a working-class position may experience difficulty being accepted by middle-class whites (and even old middle-class Negroes) because they are both new arrivals and Negroes is well known. The difficulties often faced by this group in attempting to join country clubs, yacht clubs, some professional associations, and in finding places to live outside of the ghetto all suggest this. However, beats, who have been downwardly mobile, may also experience difficulty in being accepted by their working-class neighbors. Ned Polsky notes that in New York many young Italians "make violent efforts to roll back the beat invasion"; 11 they resent the beats because of their extreme behavior, which the beats assume to be typical of Italians. Beats may have difficulty finding employment when they seek it. In a study of one of the original beat communities, in Venice West, Lipton notes, "those who choose manual labor soon find out that so far as the trades are concerned, breaking into the ranks of labor is never easy or cheap. Joining the proletariat is like trying to join an exclusive club and often quite as expensive, what with trade union initiation fees and numerous qualifications' and restrictions." 12 With a change in a few words this quote would be applicable to Negroes attempting to break into the white middle-class world.
The sexual behavior and morality of Negroes differ from those of beats. Some have suggested that the black bourgeoisie take up where the white middle class leaves off. Frazier has called this group the "black puritans." 13
Things of a bohemian, off-beat or unusual nature are steadfastly avoided. A negative attitude is taken publicly toward interracial marriages 14 and many aspects of Negro culture, such as spirituals, blues and jazz, are rejected. 15 The ethical and legal standards of society are accepted as valid and the use of violence and narcotics is strongly condemned. Kenneth Clark reports rigid control of behavior and at times the maintaining of "unrealistically high standards of per- sonal and sexual conduct." 16 Kardiner notes that with respect to "white ideals, the Negro often overshoots the mark. He overdoes the sex mores. ..." 17 And in one case he reports, "the sexual mores were puritanical to such an extent that boys were not even allowed in the house." 18 Family stability and fidelity may often be more pronounced among these individuals than among their white counterparts. In great contrast are the attitudes and behavior of those involved in the beat milieu. Beats reject traditional middle-class morality. For them the search for unconventional and exotic kinds of experience is important whether in the realm of drugs or sex. Homosexual relationships, extra -marital heterosexual relationships, illegitimacy and abortions occur frequently. 19 Beats have idolized the easy relationships which developed in some Negro families as a result of slavery. Beats also value interracial romances and social contact with Negroes as a supreme way of rejecting the middle-class mess. 20 Beats are likely to be cynical and skeptical about what are to them phony bourgeois or square ethics. Violence, at least in theory, is valued as the expression of a primitive life force and assertion of man's individuality.
In the area of personal demeanor the lack of worldly goods, the shabby dress, and often the beard and sandals of beats may be seen as their means of symbolizing their disaffiliation with and rejection of the middle-class world with which they were associated originally. Thus a resident of Venice West comments about his beard, "it's my letter of resignation from the rat [white] race." 21 Similarly, a whitewardly mobile Negro might say, "My straightened hair, my use of skin bleaching creams, and my strong emphasis on middle-class values are signs of my resignation from the Negro race." One observer has noted that many in this group refuse to buy watermelon and are hesitant to be seen purchasing chitterlings and black eyed peas, and the color red, Negro dolls, and "Negro" names (particularly middle names such as Mae or Ann) are strongly avoided. 22 It has often been noted by middle-class liberals that the home of their lone Negro neighbor is always the most meticulously kept, and the Negro children are the cleanest and least likely to be misbehaved.
In their political values beats and middle-class Negroes are again at opposite ends of the pole. Beats are cynical: "elections are rigged and the whole political game is a shuck." 23 However, when beats express their political ideas they are likely to be pacifist and to espouse a philosophy of nonviolence 24, to be strong in their support of civil liberties and civil rights, to be internationalist in outlook, and to be economically on the left. In marked contrast to the radical attitudes of beats are the political values of the black bourgeoisie, whom one might imagine would be driven to a radical view of the existing society given their subordinate racial position. However, excluding civil rights issues, they tend to be a conservative group. 25 While segments of the black middle class have played an important role in the conventional civil rights movement, rarely have they been driven toward radicalism in race matters, as the failure of the Garvey movement, the communist and socialist parties, and the contemporary black nationalists to gain appreciable support from them suggests. Some members of this group, with their vested interest in the status quo, have no doubt impeded civil rights change.
The political beliefs of beats serve to further differentiate them from the middle class, just as the conservative position of the black bourgeoisie is adopted partly to gain their acceptance into the middle class.
While beats and the black bourgeoisie travel in very different circles, when they do come infrequently into contact the reversal of roles in the situation is similar to that seen in the contact of poor whites and the Negro elite in the South. A white girl, who might be termed a fellow traveling beat, told of the conflict that occurred between herself and the high-school educated, property-owning, middle-class Negro woman who took care of the girl's children part time while she was in school. The Negro had rigid ideas about child rearing which conflicted with the more carefree ones of the beat. Conflict developed when the employee attempted to undermine the mother's authority, and the relationship was soon terminated. In this situation the Negro was indignant at the white's behavior patterns, instead of the reverse.
Both the middle-class Negro and the beat had feelings of righteous indignation and subjectively gained status from the behavior of the other. The Negro saw herself as a normal middle-class person and the white as a deviant; the white saw herself as more hip than the Negro, who was seen as the original source of hip, and she gained status through viewing the Negro as very square.
Both beats and middle-class Negroes may arouse the dominant society's hostility, although perhaps for opposite reasons. Beats incur middle-class society's wrath because they do what it often would really like to do, and perhaps would do, were it not restrained by anxiety-producing inhibitions. As in the case of Jews, fastidiously conforming Negroes may draw condemnation because they are often a reflection of what middle-class society "really" should be. Negroes are breaking into the system and are feared, while beats are hated for the opposite reason breaking out of the system. It may be more than coincidental that those rejecting the system the most furiously are those who have thoroughly experienced it, and those so eagerly accepting it are those to whom it is the newest.
Thus far I have been concerned primarily with contrasting these two groups in terms of their very different attitudes toward the values of the white middle class and the Negro working class. In pursuing this contrast further, I note the similarity between them with respect to the distorted image each has of the groups it is oriented toward and away from and the occurrence of behavior which is seen as exaggerated or inauthentic.
The Negro characteristics which Kerouac reverences are clearly stated in a well-known passage from On the Road:
At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness,. music, not enough nights. I passed the dark porches of Mexican and Negro homes; soft voices were there, occasionally the dusky knee of some mysterious sensual gal; and dark faces of the men behind rose arbors. Little children sat like sages in ancient rocking chairs. A gang of colored women came by, and one of the young ones detached herself from the motherlike elders and came to me fast. -'Hello Joe' -and suddenly saw it wasn't Joe, and ran back blushing. I wished I were Joe. I was only myself Sal Paradise, sad, strolling in this violent dark, this unbearably sweet night, wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy true-hearted ecstatic Negroes of America. 26
Mailer shares a similar view of the primitivism and sexuality of Negroes. In their view of Negroes, Mailer and Kerouac draw on a stereotype shared by such noted analysts of human behavior as Rankin, Bilbo, and Eastland. Mailer and Kerouac differ from them only on the emotive dimension of prejudice; they like super-sexed, narcotics-using, primitive, easy-going, spontaneous, irresponsible, violent Negroes, while racists dislike them. Their conception of what it means to be a Negro probably differs greatly from the experience of most black people. 27
In this racial glorification of black men irrespective of their individual attributes, beats seek out Negroes simply because they are black. 28 In observing how readily beats identify with Negroes, use their jargon, assume that they understand what it means to be a black man in America, think that they can even speak for them, and that they are accepted by them (all the while ignoring or being unaware of the hatred many Negroes have for whites at some level of consciousness), we may note the phenomena of misplaced intimacy and identification. Part of the current negative reaction against liberal, and even radical, whites must be understood in these terms. 29 In commenting on his associations with Mailer in Paris, James Baldwin has written, "The Negro jazz musicians among whom we sometimes found ourselves did not for an instant consider him [Mailer] as being remotely 'hip' and Norman didn't know this and I couldn't tell him." 30
A similar phenomenon can be seen in the reverence which some black bourgeoisie hold for everything middle-class and white and their condemnation of things black. Note the following case reported by Kardiner, "She rejects totally her identification with Negroes." This person states, "Ugh, black is dirty, bad, no-good, evil. ...Why do people [Negroes] have to be like this?" Throughout her interview she says, "Negroes are ill-clad, dirty, loud, boisterous, coarse, ill-mannered, odoriferous, drunk and stupid." The assumption here is that whites are completely opposite, just as beats assume that middle-class “respectable” people are selfless mechanized automatons and that Negroes represent all that is good. Kardiner reports, "She is engaged in a ceaseless effort to remake them [her children] in terms of the perfectionist white image she desires for herself." She reports, "I'm supersensitive about things like that [her children giggling]. I don't want them to do anything wrong. I want them to be perfect." She is continuously criticizing her children, "they don't read well, they can't eat properly, they are too loud." 31
In her view she expresses in a marked form traditional stereotypes about Negroes, as well as about "proper" white people. Implicit in her view of whiteness is something which approaches perfection. She ignores the fact that whites are often ill-mannered, loud, drunk, stupid, and that their children often do not read well, do not eat properly and may even occasionally giggle. Even in cases where middle-class ideals are observed in white homes, the behavior falls short of her perfectionist view of these standards. In terms such as exaggerated Americans, over-compensation, and over-assimilation, numerous observers have commented on such aspects of black bourgeois behavior.
The images held by both beats and black bourgeoisie thus tend to be extreme and to some extent they miss the mark in terms of the behavior models they imitate.
The issues of identity and authenticity which emerge in considering these two groups are complex and involve moral evaluations as well as social and psychological factors. My point has certainly not been to suggest that individuals should be bound rigidly to the culture of their hereditary class, ethnic, racial, or religious group. 32 But rather it has been to suggest that in making such changes both beats and black bourgeoisie sometimes behave in an exaggerated fashion relative to the sets of expectations held by the groups they are oriented towards. These distortions emerge partly from their inadequate grasping of the nature of what is being copied. In the case of Negroes in particular there is the failure to differentiate the normative as ideal from the normative as usual or anticipated. In the case of beats there is the lack of experience which gives substance and meaning to the cultural forms emulated. In addition to these cognitive factors, for both groups the social process which Goffman has called deminstrelization is relevant. 33 Deminstrelization occurs when an individual goes out of his way to show that the set of behavioral expectations held for him are the very ones which do not apply to him. Thus a middle-class Negro parent says about her child, "I always tell him he has to behave wherever he goes, because Negro children are expected not to behave." 34 In one sense Negroes are trapped and their behavior is more easily understood than that of beats because they start with a stigma of identity which, by their behavior, they try to overcome. 35 Like Jews, middle-class Negroes are on trial, and although their guilt is often a foregone conclusion, both may attempt to improve their position and to conform more than anyone else, for if they do not they are guilty of being stereotyped Jews or N egroes. 36 While deminstrelization may be a common enough feature of social life, it is interesting to note that in their deminstrelization beats and black bourgeoisie have in a sense switched roles.
Both are initially identified with the values they reject --Negroes as a result of their skin color and frequently lower-class background and beats as a result of their skin color and middle-class background. In their attempt to avoid identification with their presumed past both may go out of their way to show that they are in fact the opposite. Negroes will show how middle-class they are and beats what white Negroes they are. What Negroes embrace wholeheartedly beats reject just as furiously. The hipster behavior patterns which beats embrace and go out of their way to be identified with are the very behavior patterns that middle-class Negroes strongly reject. They have switched drummers and in so doing both may be hearing the beat not quite right, resulting in the misconception by Negroes of what it really means to be middle-class white and the misconception by beats of what it really means to be Negro.
Top | Back to Main Page
1. This paper was originally written when the "beat movement" was at its peak. Since that time the beat movement has dwindled and eventually fused into the contemporary "hippy” scene. Many of the original beats have rejoined conventional society, while others have remained on the scene as elder statesmen. Hippies are not ideologically committed to poverty, are more involved with drugs, have more of a communal love emphasis, and draw from a younger group than did beats. Nevertheless, much of the discussion in this article about beats would apply to the contemporary hippies.
The term beat is used to refer to individuals who willfully disaffiliated and lived together in communities such as those that flourished in Venice West, North Beach, .and the Village some years ago. This distinction is made to separate beats from what one might term fellow traveling beats of college communities who still care enough to go to school. The fellow traveling beats might be said by some to have the best of all possible worlds since they are getting to a few kicks on the side while keeping one a foot in the doorway of the middle class world via their education.
2. E. Franklin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie (Glencoe, 1957), p. 24. The controversy around Frazier's work rages on, partly because there has been little effort at systematic data collection to ascertain how widespread are the patterns he noted. While the civil rights struggle and the related pride in blackness and increased questioning of the nature of white society have no doubt resulted in some changes, many observers have recently noted patterns similar to those reported by Frazier. For example: N. Hare, The Black Anglo-Saxons (New York, 1965); Broadus N. Butler, "The Negro Self-Image" in A. Rose and C. Rose, Minority Problems (New York, 1965); Nat Hentoff, The New Equality (New York, 1964), pp. 85-93; LeRoi Jones, Blues People (New York, 1963); and to a lesser extent some of the cases reported in John H. Rohrer and Munro S. Edmonson (eds.), The Eighth Generation Grows Up, (New York, 1960).
The Negro middle class is of course diverse. Without offering any precise quantitative judgment, the patterns noted by Frazier (particularly the exaggeration of white standards and negative attitudes toward the Negro masses) certainly occur frequently enough to warrant discussion. In addition, some of the issues considered in this paper have relevance for all middle-class Negroes.
3. Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” IV Dissent, (Spring, 1957). While Mailer has popularized the term white Negro, it does not owe its origin to him. The term has been used for several centuries in the West Indies to describe white men who have become submerged among their Negro servants and concubines. A.C. Carmichael, Domestic Manners of the West Indies (London: Whitaker, Treacher & Co., 1833), I, 59 referred to in Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen (New York, 1963), p. 123.
4. Their poverty, unemployment, support by women and welfare are further similarities. However this view of Negroes as the source of hip should not be taken too far. Much of what has come to be identified as Negro behavior patterns may more broadly be related to lower class status.
It should be recalled that while drugs are held by most to be squarely in the domain of Negroes, their use by American bohemians can be traced back at least to Edgar Allen Poe, who took them over from the French. Marijuana and peyote were introduced into this country by Mexicans and Native Americans in the Southwestern United States. Bohemians were showing similar behavior patterns long before the advent of Negroes on the scene, as a look at Albert Parry, Garrets and Pretenders (New York, 1960) will clearly show. Furthermore, as Jean Malaquais has noted Dissent V (Winter, 1960) the equivalent of American beats is found in Russia, Japan, and Sweden, where no Negroes exist. It has been suggested that a characteristic of bohemian movements everywhere is a populist identification with a disinherited folk group (in this instance Negroes). See David Matza, “Subterranean Tradition of Youth,” Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, CCCXXXVIII (November, 1961).
The stance of Negro hipsters further differs from that of beats in that the latter’s life is organized around modes of behavior considered criminal by the dominant society. However, this is done to obtain goals valued by the larger society –such as financial success and high living. If hipsters happen to be poor, this is not voluntary. While both hipsters and beats were cynical about the larger society, hipsters actively tried to manipulate that society and to beat it at its own game, while cynicism among beats simply led to withdrawal. While beats occasionally broke laws, this was not a defining characteristic of their mode of existence and was usually not directed toward obtaining the ends of the larger society. Beats tended to have the means (education and savoir faire) required to obtain legitimately the ends of the larger society, but chose to reject the ends. Their poverty was voluntary. R. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, 1962), pp. 121-94.
5. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Junkman's Obligato," in Coney Island of the Mind (Norfolk, 1958) , pp. 57-58.
6. In their study of the San Francisco North Beach community Rigney and Smith note that beats "came from middle-class backgrounds with a distribution heavily askew in favor of the upper end of the class scale. Many were unemployed and received veterans' pensions, and others were supported by unemployment compensation and welfare." F. Rigney and L. Smith, The Real Bohemia (New York, 1961) , pp. 21-23.
7. In contrast to the backgrounds of beats, Edwards, in his study of Negro professionals, notes that his respondents were much more likely to have come from a lower-class background than their white counterparts, and if they were from a middle-class background this is unlikely to be as many generations old. Franklin Edwards, The Negro Professional Class (Glencoe, 1959) , p. 49.
Using a more refined index of mobility, there is a sense in which middle-class Negro professionals have not been upwardly mobile-at least when compared to working-class Negro beats. In considering mobility we might distinguish between culture-class mobility and racial- ethnic mobility. The former refers to changes in a person's economic position and cultural dowry, while the latter refers to changes in the racial or ethnic group with which an individual interacts socially. Those Negroes who have been upwardly mobile and whose baggage is filled with middle-class equipment are not the Negroes who interact with whites. Negro beats who are working-class economically and certainly not middle-class in their cultural endowment are making it socially with whites and in this sense they have been mobile while middle-class Negroes have not. A similar phenomenon may be seen in the case of Jews. Those Jews who are "nice middle-class people" tend not to be the Jews who interact socially to any meaningful extent with gentiles, while Jewish bohemians who reject much of the bourgeois way of life are making it socially with gentiles. There is irony in the fact that those who fall down the farthest from the dominant group’s ideal cultural package are the very ones who manage to interact with the dominant group on the basis of social equality.
8. Georges Friedman, Ou Va Le Travail Humain? (Paris:Gallimard, 1950), as reported in Frazier, op. cit. p. 106.
9. J. Shock, Life is a Lousy Drag (San Francisco, 1958, p.9.
10. Jack Kerouac, On the Road (New York, 1957), p. 196.
11. Ned Polsky, "The Village Beat Scene” Dissent, VII (Summer, 1960) .
12. Lawrence Lipton, The Holy Barbarians. (New York, 1962), p. 152.
13. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States (New York, 1949).
14. Martin Luther King, although not representative of the black bourgeoise, shows their attitude on this issue when he states that the aim of Negroes is to be “the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” Stride Toward Freedom (New York, 1958), p. 168.
15. This was true even in the 1920s. Note Garvin Bushell's report about New York: "They were trying to forget the traditions of the South; they were trying to emulate the whites. ...You usually weren't allowed to play blues and boogie woogie in the average Negro middle-class home. That music supposedly suggested a low element." "Garvin Bushell and New York Jazz in the 1920s," Jazz Review (January, 1959) , 12, as quoted in Jones, op. cit., p. 128.
16. Kenneth Clark, Prejudice and Your Child (Boston, 1955) , p. 59.
17. Abraham Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey, The Mark of Oppression (Cleveland,1962), p. 316.
18. ibid, p.215.
19. Rigney and Smith, op. cit., pp. 46 and 48. It may be that transgressions of America's murky code of sexual morality do not occur any more frequently among beats than in square society but rather that beats are just more open and honest about what they do. Note Kinsey's findings on the extensiveness of homosexuality and recent studies of sexual morality on the campus.
20. In commenting on mixed marriages a Venice West resident asks, “What’s mixed about two people getting married?” Lipton, op. Cit., p.141.
21. ibid., p. 50.
22. Hare, op. cit.,pp.38,85,91.
23. Lipton, op. cit., p. 306.
24. There is an interesting contrast between the sanctioning of violence as a form of personal expression by beats and their abhorrence of it in its collective forms such as war.
25. Many observers have commented on the conservatism of this group. A study of Negro college graduates notes that "In the popular political terminology of the day, the Negro graduates constitute a conservative rather than a liberal or radical group." Ernest Haverman and Patricia West, They Went to College (New York, 1952), p. 197.
26. Kerouac, op. cit., pp. 148-49. Negroes are not the only symbol of the disinherited urban slum proletariat that beats identify with. Kerouac also states, "I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap." The stereotype involved in the reference to the latter group as well as the use of what is to many the derogatory word Jap is itself worthy of attention. (All italics in the paper are added.)
27. With respect to Kerouac's view of Negro life, Norman Podhoretz "doubts if a more idyllic picture of Negro life has been painted since certain Southern ideologues tried to convince the world that things were just as fine as fine could be for the slaves on the old plantation." "The Know-Nothing Bohemians," Partisan Review. XXV (Fall, 1958) .
28. While the search of whites for blackness may result in their making slight distinctions between Negroes, the same may be true of Negro beats in their search for whiteness. In such relationships mutual exploitation goes on, with whites proving their liberalism, rebelliouness, and wildness by being with a Negro, and Negroes becoming un-Negro through being with a valued white. This can be clearly seen in the following passage, in which a Negro girl is speaking about her experience in meeting her Caucasian boyfriend's father.
'I'll never forget or forgive the look on that old man's face when he opened his hotel room door and saw me. The horror. His inability to believe that it was his son standing there holding my hand. ...Nor can I forget Bob's laugh in the elevator afterwards, the way he kept repeating: 'Did you see his face when he saw you? Did you. ..?' He had used me, you see. I had been the means, the instrument of revenge. And I wasn't any better. I used him. ..trying, you see, through him to get at the white world which had not only denied me, but had turned my own against me. ...I went numb all over when I understood what we were doing to and with each other.' Paule Marshall. "Reena," Harpers, XXIX (October. 1962), 159.
29. For example, note the strained relations between Negroes and whites on the Berkeley campus of the University of California over a conference on Black Power called by a white student group, or the presumptuousness of a poem written by a white entitled "Spade Answers Moderate" that appeared recently in a "radical quarterly." White civil rights workers in a Negro movement of course face many problems. Some whites have reacted like beats in becoming as Negro as possible in their language and dress. They seem to meet with both amusement and resentment. In commenting on this, Carmichael states, "they say things without realizing what they're saying. You know- 'Yeah, man, I really dig that.' They use words out of context." He suggests that they seem to say, 'Look, I'm not like the other whites you know. I dig you.' Snap their fingers out of tune: 'I dig Ray Charles.' The white boy putting on a show was resented. As much as I would be resented if I put on a show to show how white I was." As reported in Robert Penn Warren, "Two for SNCC," Commentary. XXXIX (April, 1965) , 45.
30. James Baldwin, "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy, Norman Mailer," Esquire (May, 1961), 104. However, elsewhere Baldwin sounds a little like the beats. In writing about the "zest and joy" of Negro life he remembers parties "where rage and sorrow sat in the darkness and did not stir, and we ate and drank and talked and laughed and danced and forgot all about 'the man.' We had the liquor, the chicken, the music, and each other. ...This is the freedom that one hears in some gospel songs. ..." The Fire Next Time (New York, 1963), p.56.
Other black writers culturally and economically marginal to the Negro masses occasionally sound like beats. For example, Jones, op. cit.. pp. 122-26 and H. Keil, Urban Blues (Chicago, 1966), p. 192.
31. Kardiner and Oversey, op. cit., pp. 252-54. In noting this group's reference to the lower class as "niggers," Hare reports a frequently heard comment that "you can take a Nigger out of the country, but you can't take the country out of a Nigger." Hare, op. cit., p. 81.
While it is increasingly fashionable to criticize the black bourgeoisie, it is important to note that many attitudes often attributed to them are held to an even greater extent by lower- status Negroes. For example, data from a nation-wide non-Southern metropolitan area sample of Negroes reveal that 68 percent of working-class persons as against 46 percent of those middle-class positions agreed with the statement "Before Negroes are given equal rights, they have to show that they deserve them." The percentages agreeing with the statement "Poor people have no one to blame but themselves" were 33 and 15 respectively. Gary T. Marx, Protest and Prejudice: A Study of Belief in the Black Community (New York: Harper and Row, forthcoming) .
32. Specifically in the case of the black bourgeoisie I do not mean to argue that a glorious African past or the golden tradition of the Southern rural black gentlemen has been betrayed, as some critics implicitly argue.
33. Erving Goffman, Stigma (New York, 1963) , p. 110.
34. Kardiner and Ovesey, op. cit., p. 221. .
35. On the other hand, white middle-class beats with their expressive deviance may be said to be in search of a stigma to differentiate themselves. In attempting to understand the behavior of beats, one must keep in mind the alienation and dehumanization many associate with modern mass society, the boredom and complacency of a welfare state society that is affluent for the majority of its members, rampant social hypocrisy and injustice, and fear of world destruction. In addition, changes in technology and an economy of abundance are conducive to new attitudes toward work, sex and drugs. In this sense in some ways beats and hippies are in the vanguard of social change.
36. Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew (New York, 1961).This behavior of course has been noted on the part of many ethnic groups that have been upwardly mobile. In a more general sense it may be a characteristic response of those in insecure status positions.
Top | Notes | Back to Main Page
You are visitor number to this page since January 10, 2002.