Nannie Helen Burroughs

What is Social Equality? - Undated

Nannie Helen Burroughs
December 31, 1969
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The bold-faced text below was underlined in the original transcript.

Nannie H. Burroughs

Sometime ago a white woman asked me the age-old question - “Do you believe in social equality?” To which I replied, “I will answer your one question by asking you three.

First: Is there such a thing as social equality?

Second: If there is, why should I not believe in what is?

Third: If there is, just what would my disbelief amount to?

She boggled. I knew she was thinking race and thinking white. “Of course, you know,” I said, in an effort to help her recover, “persons of the same race are not necessarily social equals. They must have the same or similar personal tastes, natural affinity or attraction.

There are whites who are not social equals of other whites. Their individual and personal attitudes, likes and dislikes are poles apart.

Persons do not have to belong to the same race to have similar social tastes. This thing that you call social equality is made out of inborn stuff that is entirely alien to one’s color or race. It is not made, sustained, nor protected by blood, birth, tradition, custom, laws, civic regulations, restrictions, nor wealth. It is social reciprocity subject absolutely to individual desire for personal intercourse and association.

Kindred spirits crave and seek their kind. They are strongly attracted toward each other, and desire to share their inner possessions of mind and spirit. These inner urges and desires pave the way for reciprocal social intercourse and affiliation that cannot be controlled by laws. Legislation and other legally conferred rights and restrictions do not make nor keep persons from being social equals.

This woman, like millions of other people confuse social equality with common public privileges or social rights. Though unjust laws and social prejudices regulate and control the common rights of Negro citizens, no laws nor personal prejudices can ever prevent persons in any race from being the social equals of persons in any other race. It makes no difference whether they ever have individual social intercourse, they can be socially equal right on.

Franchise, travel on railroads and in public conveyances, admission to public places of amusement and instruction, and opportunities for employment are purely public rights, and have nothing in the world to do with social equality. Social equality is sentimental and purely personal.. Social or public rights are fundamentally and specifically impersonal, divine in origin, and too vital and sacred to human development and happiness to be confused with social equality which is only an incidental expression of man’s personal likes and dislikes. We are even mixed up on the meaning of eating in the same restaurant. Eating in the same restaurant or riding in the same street care is economic equality.

The false definition and interpretation of social equality have stultified the Negroes self respect and robbed him of practically all the common social rights that belong to him as a man and citizen. The business of denying or abridging the social rights of Negroes under the delusion that the granting of such common general rights is social equality is the height of ignorance.

We are off the trail and we should not waste time talking about Social Equality. We should work everlastingly for Social Rights, and the removal of all municipal restrictions and let morons and social odds and ends discuss the Social Equality bogy to their hearts content.