To the Editor:
There are several observations I would like to add to Charles Abrams’ illuminating article “. . . Only the Very Best Christian Clientele” (January). Mr. Abrams contends that vigorous legal action may help close the yawning gap between the vulgar practices of discrimination and official public policy toward them. At least this can be done, he believes, in the nineteen states which have already enacted anti-discrimination laws.
Mr. Abrams, however, does not discuss the serious difficulties in the way of finding enduring solutions through law enforcement. A major weakness in most prohibitory legislation is its underlying conception of discrimination as a crime. Most of the statutes were enacted in the late 19th century, following the adoption of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Criminal prosecution was provided as a remedy in all nineteen states. But the laws have not been enforced consistently largely because juries—understandably—will simply not return verdicts which may send people to jail for failing to provide accommodations at a vacation resort. The “crime” does not seem to justify so severe a punishment. There have been only two successful prosecutions in New York in the 60-odd years since the law was enacted. Many states also provide the added remedy of permitting claims for damages to be filed by the injured party. But this, too, has not been effective; most victims of discrimination find litigation time-consuming and costly. . . .
More sensible and potentially more useful laws establishing commissions against discrimination have been passed in five states. These modern laws reach the incident and the offender without a formal trial; they make it possible, through a rational and conciliatory approach, to obtain a pledge by the hotel owner against future discrimination. The commissions against discrimination cannot take action, to be sure, until a formal complaint has been filed by an injured party. But Governor Harriman of New York, in whose administration Mr. Abrams now serves, has proposed legislation giving authority to the State Commission to initiate investigation into discriminatory practices without having to wait upon a private complaint. . . .
But law at its best can only be a start toward reaching enduring solutions. We should err grievously if we thought that it is the resort owner’s attitude alone which requires modification. His policy is determined, often commanded, by the attitude of the clientele to whom he caters. When resort literature mentions “nearby churches” or “Jewish cuisine,” the resort owner is seeking to reach prospective guests who respond to this kind of information.
We are confronted, therefore, with the need to modify the attitudes of a large section of the public. Some sense of hospitality—or, at least, a willingness to accept others on the part of the resort-and hotel-visiting public—is essential. Favorably circumstanced contact between groups (as at resorts and places of recreation) generally helps modify hostile attitudes. Another important way of modifying attitudes is through the full use of educational media designed to reach public opinion generally, as well as the resort and hotel trade.
Reliance on law alone would be illusory. Many states, for example, prepare attractive brochures on their vacation spots and facilities—these and other materials can also be used as a means for encouraging a more hospitable public opinion. Community organizations concerned with improving group relations also play an important role, negotiating and conferring to produce an “indifference to irrelevant differences,” and otherwise creating the social situations in which wholesome contacts are stimulated. My point is that change, depending as it does upon a maturing public attitude, can be accelerated appreciably by community as well as governmental action. The government and community acting together, with the support of realistic statutes providing full commission powers, can hasten considerably the necessary process of accommodation of differences leading to the creation of a more hospitable spirit than the one currently prevailing.
Edwin J. Lukas
New York City
To the Editor:
Discrimination is a reprehensible social practice, but I wonder if in its trivial manifestations, like the uppityness of certain resorts, it deserves to be taken as seriously as Charles Abrams does. Mr. Abrams thinks these places should abandon their clannishness, if only to accommodate the “many people who find homogeneity a bore.” Evidently, however, there are also a great many who will rather endure boredom than heterogeneity—particularly during their vacations. Why insist on spoiling their fun, when there are plenty of mixed resorts! . . .
It would probably be a great source of additional pleasure to the snobs and climbers among our co-religionists if the gates of those embattled and hitherto inaccessible enclaves would open for them, but Jewish organizations, in my opinion, can find more worthwhile causes to devote their energy to than shattering the barriers of the “select-clientele” resorts. . . .
J. S. Oestreicher
Bronx, New York