In some ways Harlem is different. It is not the solidest or the best organized Negro community (Negro political representation came to Chicago a full decade before New York). It is not the most depressed, even in the New York area—that honor belongs to BedfordStuyvesant over in Brooklyn. But Harlem is a Negro capital, much as New York is an unofficial American capital. Harlem is big, teeming and brassy. It is where Marcus Garvey established the center of his Empirein-Exile, where Joe Louis was cheered after he knocked out Max Schmeling, where Fidel Castro came after the Cuban Revolution.
Finally, however, Harlem is much the same as any other Negro ghetto. It exists in the midst of a city where liberal rhetoric is required for election to public office. There is no legal segregation; there is a Fair Employment Practices law, a State Commission Against Discrimination, a municipal Open Occupancy law. And nevertheless, as everyone knows, the white man is still way ahead.
To live in Harlem is to be a Negro; to be a Negro is to be subjected to a culture of poverty and fear which cuts far deeper than any law concerning discrimination. In this sense, Harlem could well be a warning: that after the racist statutes.. are all struck down, after legal equality has been achieved in the schools and the courts, there will yet remain the profound, institutionalized and abiding wrong which white America has worked on the Negro for centuries.
Like the young Negroes of The Cool World, Harlem watches all the wonderful movies about America with a certain bitter cynicism.
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