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Written in 1963(40 years ago)

Negro Digest, May, 1963, pp. 26-33

By Dr. Nathan Hare

The Black Think Tank

The "Black Ghetto" Makes a Perfect Target (The Bombs Are Bigger , the Characters Change, but the Dangers Remain the Same.)

"The general notion seems to be that -- in event of a nuclear war -- all Americans face a similar fate, but the fact is that the Negro's probability of being decimated is much higher than that of whites." If we could probe the innermost secrets of some weary Negro sharecropper in the South or a persecuted Black Muslim in a Northern city mosque, we might find him ever so briefly enjoying the wish that Russia and white America would blow each other up and leave Negroes to live on in peace. But the unfortunate and strangely neglected fact is that the Negro's probability of being decimated is much higher than that of whites, although he would hold a number of useful advantages in a nuclear war.

Why, then, has such an important subject been gagged in the barrage of research and verbiage on the Negro and on the nuclear threat? Why would scholars who have studied and bisected the Negro in all of his ramifications, from "The Negro as Seen by the Mulatto," and "The Negro as Seen by Himself," to "The Ecological Distribution of Negroes and Georgia Pines," pass up the glaring question of the Negro's relative exposure and immunity to nuclear annihilation?

Much of the neglect may be a product of the fallacy that, since wars are waged between territorial and political blocs called nations, all persons therein confined are equally subject to a common enemy's destruction. On the contrary, sociologists have found a consistent relationship, for example, between income level and the tendency to die in wartime: the lower and individual's family income the greater his chance of dying in battle. The reason is probably that the lower classes produce more combat soldiers while the higher classes serve rather frequently as officers and as strategists. Then there are the "critical" occupations--not to mention political offices to be filled--which keep more of the higher classes safe in civilian life. However, the question of our concern is not simply a matter of social class; it exists, as we shall see in the racial condition of the Negro, per se. There is, in the first place, the ecological fact that the Negro race is ghettoes in "black belts" (now more properly called--I think--"black corsets") near the centers or bulls-eyes of our big cities.

Bulls-Eyes and Sitting Ducks

Professor Karl Taeuber, of the University of Chicago, and one of the foremost authorities on the concentration ad location of the races in this country, recently discovered that Negroes are less dispersed residentially than even Puerto Ricans, "even though they [Puerto Ricans] haven't been in the city as long and have an inferior economic status." In a speech before the board of directors of the Chicago Urban league, he reported a study financed by the Ford Foundation, which found that five out of every six U.S. cities having more than 5,000 white households in 1960 had indexes of residential segregation above 80 (complete segregation would show an index of 100 and absolute non-segregation an index of 0). This is especially so in large cities. Chicago's segregation index, for example, rose during the past decade from 92.1 to 92.6.

This means that Negroes in our big cities now live in bulls-eyes enclosed by white satellite suburban rings. The U.S. Census for 1060 shows 66 suburbs known to be devoid of a single Negro inhabitant; and likewise, in Washington, D.C., the capital of the nation, for example, whites have dwindled to a numerical minority. Moreover, the concentration of Negroes in these black corsets is on the increase.

My computations from U.S. Census data show Negroes for the first tie in 1960 more urban than whites (72.4 per cent to 60.5), and the change in the Negro' s urban proportion during the decade was more than twice as large as that of whites. In addition, more than nine out of ten of all Negroes living outside the South (West, North Central, North East -- sections more likely to attract enemy warheads and missiles) live in cities. Indeed, the central cities of the 12 largest U.S.. metropolitan areas--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco-Oakland, Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington, Cleveland, Baltimore--now hold three out of five of the Negroes living outside the South and one out of every three in the entire country.

Assuming that such large central cities as the foregoing would be priority targets, let us calculate the relevance of the Negro's distribution to a nuclear attack, as a preface to our treatment of the social psychology of the Negro's survivability.

Say Russia does drop a 10 megaton bomb on Washington, D.C. or Chicago, for example. Up to five miles from ground zero (the point of the explosion), nine out of ten of all inhabitants would be killed instantly and the rest seriously injured or victimized by radiation. All structures would be demolished. From 5 to 9.7 miles out, half of the inhabitants would be killed, a third of them injured, all others dazed, shocked, and sickened by radiation, and all buildings damaged beyond repair.

In other words, this would just about take care of the Negro community. On the other hand, from 9.7 to 14 miles out, only 15 percent of the individuals would be killed, 40 per cent injured seriously, the others slightly or not at all, while buildings would require considerable repairs. Only two per cent of persons more than 14 miles out (largely white areas) and beyond would be killed, while four out of five would go mainly unhurt, and damage to property would be minor.

Although we have assumed that the attack would occur by night, the picture would be much the same if the attack should come during the school hours of the day, as children, for example--the future of a race--are sent to school in relation to their residence. More than half of Philadelphia's 214 elementary schools are either 99 per cent white, on the one hand, or 99 per cent Negro on the other, and 90 per cent of Chicago's Negro pupils attend virtually all-Negro schools.

Persons at work during a daytime attack would offset the pattern considerably, but studies show a tendency for people to try to live as near as possible, all things considered, to their place of work, although this is less true of whites employed in the central district and at the higher income levels. Thus, at any given moment during the 24 hour cycle, the majority of Negroes are in or near the heart of the cities, while the whites predominate in the outer rings of the metropolitan community. This is especially so at night.

"You Can't Hide Here"

In spite of all of the foregoing, "if there are shelters in the black belt, no one knows where they are," says a Chicago Defender editorial (October 25, 1962). With an average income about $2,000 smaller than the average white family's, and with more months per family to care for, the typical Negro couldn't afford a shelter if he wanted to. Not that this makes that much difference; slum dwellings and shelters near the center of the city would amount to incinerators anyway. From the blast itself in part, but also because the trash and debris of the fire-prone buildings would be more subject to fire storms.

True, a few Negroes caught away from the center and shelterless may be admitted to one as a guest. But most prospective shelter-hosts would be white and the Negro intruder probably would not be permitted even to place his feet on the welcome mat. However, with the chaos and the breakdown of social control (the government itself plans itself go underground), it may be a bit too idealistic to expect individuals to obey current laws regarding property rights. People might just fall into any fallout shelter in sight, and it is not hard to imagine a Negro maid or handyman suddenly taking authority and demanding space beside the white boss in his shelter.

But even on the share-your shelter plan, there would not be anywhere near enough. Whites themselves are said to have more swimming pools than they have shelters. Realizing this, the government now is stressing community or mass shelters, but there is no reason to expect that in these tombs of human moles the Negro would receive any more of his share than he does in the serenity of the present day, particularly in prejudiced localities.

There would be no time to stage a hide-in or a shelter-in, no NAACP to take it to the Supreme Court, and no national Guardsmen or U.S. Marshals to call out, even if the Attorney General could be found. Thus, the Negro would find himself with "No place to hide."

Even in the matter o f evacuation there probably would be "no way out." Living in the central city, fenced in by whites, he would have a longer distance to go but a shorter time to travel. Five miles from a 5 megaton explosion, the heavier fallout would reach the ground in half an hour. But twenty miles away, there would be nearly an hour to get ready or evacuate." Also, open country and highways would not be far away from the suburbs, while all through the congested black corsets the narrow, criss-cross, sometimes winding streets would be hopelessly jammed with wrecked autos and frantically honking cars containing by then Negro wrecks. Even a warning signal would have done them little good.

Survivability, Or Postattack Hustling

Some experts have raised the question, "Wouldn't the survivors envy the dead anyway?" They refer to the enduring hazards of fallout and enemy attack, on the one hand, but particularly the emotional shock of emerging lost and separated from the persons and things once held important to face the turmoil and destruction of the post attack environment. Much of the problem--they feel--would revolve around the breakdown of law, order, morality, and the frustrations of extreme social and psychological insecurity.

Thus, notwithstanding the Negro's special exposure to the blast and his narrow chances of escaping or absorbing direct attack, those remaining might prove better equipped to survive in some respects than whites, especially in the psychological sense. The Negro's superiority in psychological survivability is a product of the contrasting experiences and conditioning of the two races in this country.

For example, even in the physical sense of enduring the intense heat likely to prevail in a fallout shelter, many Negroes possess cotton-chopping, cotton-picking backgrounds in the Southern sun and long years of tending ovens and furnaces in white kitchens and factories which, in this case, would be to their advantage. In the social or psychological sense, Negroes are far more conditioned to hard times and suffering. They know what it is to have to hustle from check to check and, in many cases, from one meal to the next. Much of the shock that whites would experience in the post attack environment of deprivation and social inconsistence would seem commonplace to Negroes. For they have known a world of agony from the Middle Passage and plantation slavery down to the present regimes of the South and the "southerny-fied" North.

In contrast to white persons they would not be so prone to suicide, judging by past and present rates, and their ability to stand up under stress and torture also may have been evident in the Korean War. In Korean prisoner-of-war camps it was recorded that Negro POW's were much less likely to defect to the side of the communists--quiet as it is kept.

On the other hand, the Negro's condition would of course present a tremendous handicap to him. Many, for one thing, would find themselves unprepared to follow the fourth key to household safety issued by the Office of Civil Defense. It reads brusquely: "Close all windows and doors and draw the blinds," but many such fixtures in low income Negro homes would be in need of repair with broken and jammed windows and blinds ready to come tumbling down if tugged too hastily. Also, even Negroes who have heard of Geiger counters and such instruments for detecting radioactivity generally cannot afford them. This may be one reason why so many have taken a "return-to-sender" attitude with regard to such pamphlets sent out by the Office of Civil Defense. But that is not the only reason.

Peaceable Race in the Peace Race

Although Negroes are well-noted for their patience and piety, and now boast of their facility in this regard as exhibited in the passive resistance campaign, they have been conspicuously shy of peace movements as such. While professing to be a peaceable race, they have disdained the peace race for fear of seeming "un-American." Thus they have been lured by white super-patriots into the most un-American tendency (in the ideal sense, historically speaking) that this country has ever known.

In the fashion of the typical white citizen of our day, the Negro has become what C. Wright Mills, the late sociologist of Columbia University, called "cheerful robots." Mills wrote this in his book, The Causes of World War III, which was an expansion of his Sidney Hillman Lectures delivered at Howard University in March of 1958. He noted that cheerful robots, white and black, sit back and accept with glee and indifference, without question, anything white leaders present to them as reality regarding international relations.

Indeed, I've observed that some professors lecturing in Negro college classrooms on war and related phenomena, have had to pause midway and ask the students please to arouse some snoozing classmate.

Even the grandiose Negro "leadership conference" on Africa recently held at impressive Columbia University, uniquely bringing together more than 100 Negro representative of some 40 different organizations, had as its theme the integration of Negroes into the existing scheme of things untouched. While these "leaders" justly issued a plea for more Negro diplomats, and demanded that white policymakers let Negroes "know" all about the full details of all U.S. dealings with Africa, the only direct effort they made to improve or contribute to U.S. foreign policy was to try to sic white America on South Africa. They wanted the U.S. to cast the first stone and chastise white South Africa for mistreating local Africans in domestic relations. Thus, in spite of all the picture-taking and speechmaking at the conference, it was no refutation of the sad truth that there is a paucity of concern among those most in jeopardy---Negroes, as we have seen--in the event of a nuclear war.

While it is possible only to speculate on the relative survivability of whites and Negroes in a nuclear war, figures are convincing, and it is hoped that neither will ever face the test. However, there is one thing apparent: Negroes had better go ahead and take over the battle for peace, now bleakly muddled by the whites of the world, before it is too late even to call on St. Peter for help.

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