Heinlein and Racism
Sometimes we enjoy linking to some American SF, and we did indeed enjoy coming across this Robert Heinlein letter setting, in no uncertain terms, his views on race, in a letter addressed to F.M. Busby but possibly never sent. It should be noted, note the editors, that “this letter was written before the Civil Rights Movement, already well under way, made its biggest public impact and changed the way we speak and think of race relations in this country [The United States] and so reflects a “hard common sense” approach dating before that cultural watershed.” You can read it, and some other Heinlein letters, here. (PDF).
Some of my best friends:
I have made rather more effort to meet and be friendly with Negroes than with whites, as I am both interested and curious. But the opportunities are slim. I had a Negro boss in the Railway Mail Service years ago. He was a good boss—but he gave me no chance to be friendly. I had a Negro tutor in advanced calculus at uCLA; the closest I ever got to him was to lunch with him a couple of times. I was willing, he was not. Etc. I’ve known a few Negro officers, Fort Carson and elsewhere; I managed to get really friendly with just one, because his wife was a writer and needed some help. Hardly enough data on which to draw a curve. All I’m trying to say is that if I have any prejudice against Negroes, I am not aware of it.
Anyway it wasn’t me:
But I don’t have any prejudice for Negroes, either. I don’t feel any guilt over the fact that slavery existed in this country from 1619 to the Civil War. I didn’t do it. Nor did any of my ancestors to the best of my knowledge (which is pretty complete) own slaves. I had many relatives and one grandfather on the union side during the Civil War, none that I know of on the Southern side other than one cousin we aren’t proud of—Jefferson Davis. But I’m not accepting any guilt on his behalf, either—I didn’t do it.
But really it was good for them:
Nor do I feel responsible for the generally low state of the Negro—as one Negro friend pointed out to me; the lucky Negroes were the ones who were enslaved. Having traveled quite a bit in Africa, I know what she means. One thing is clear: Whether one speaks of technology or social institutions, “civilization” was invented by us, not by the Negroes. As races, as cultures, we are five thousand years, about, ahead of them. Except for the culture, both institutions and technology, that they got from us, they would still be in the stone age, along with its slavery, cannibalism, tyranny, and utter lack of the concept we call “justice.”
And really they’re just not very good at it:
But it seems to me that the American Negroes (through their leaders, at least) are demanding, not “equality before the law,” but equality, period”—everything the whites have whether the Negro has earned it either racially or individually. One hears demands that Boeing or Douglas or General Motors employ at once the same percentage (or higher) of Negroes than we find in the population—and at every level. Well, anyone who has ever tried to hire skilled help knows that this cannot be done. (I tried to hire Negro engineers during the war; we managed to hire one out of about three hundred jobs. He was a real peecutter, a genius. I found one other candidate, an M.E., whom I turned down because he wasn’t qualified.)
And – by golly! – they want to be on TV:
They are demanding such things as a percentage share of the acting jobs on TV—and demanding along with it that they not be shown in menial jobs. In other words they are demanding that a working dramatist (such as myself) put a very distorted picture of American life on the screen. No, thank you.
And are they really equal?
Buz, one of the sacrosanct assumptions is that the two races, white and black, really are “equal” save for environmental handicaps the Negro has unjustly suffered. Is this true? I don’t know, not enough data observed by me, not enough reliable data observed by others, so far as I know. Obviously the two races are different physically, not only in color but in hair, bony structure, and in many other ways—blood types, for example. Must we nevertheless assume that, despite obvious and gross physical differences, these two varieties are nevertheless essentially identical in their nervous systems? I don’t know but I do know that in any other field of science such an assumption would be regarded as just plain silly even as a working hypothesis, more so as a conclusive presumption not even to be questioned.
It’s a free market innit:
However, this question as to whether the two races are “different” or “equal” or what need never come up if we are concerned only with equality under the law—if each man is free to make of himself whatever he is capable of making of himself. When I hire a mechanical engineer I am not concerned with his skin color but I sure as hell am concerned with his grasp of mathematics, his knowledge of strength of materials, of linkages, of power plants, of instrumentation, etc.—and if he can’t cut the buck, I certainly do not want to be forced to hire him because of his color. Nor does it matter to me (at the time of hiring) that he “never had a chance” to learn these things.
It’s always better to be rich anyway:
Nor am I certain that society is obligated to spoon-feed to him such a chance—whether he be white or black. The easiest way for a youngster to have the opportunity to have a broad education is to have rich parents—which a few Negroes have and which most whites do not, even though there are clearly more rich whites than rich Negroes. But most of the really well educated of any color do not have wealthy parents, they scrounged it out somehow. Some Negroes do manage to become number-one engineers—or Congressmen, or scientists, or whatever—and some whites wind up on skid row. Still more whites never amount to anything in particular, just get by, as taxi drivers, or bookkeepers, or suck broom salesmen, or such.
White kids are discriminated against:
I had better shut up or I’ll never finish this letter—I started out in this vein just intending to make a passing comment on your article. “Equality before the law”—Is it right to force white children to ride buses halfway across Manhattan in order that a kid in Harlem can sit next to a white child in second grade? I don’t think so; I think the white child is being discriminated against because of his color.
He does go on for a lot longer, but you can check out the letter in this sampler.