Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was

by Stetson Kennedy 1959


Chapter XIV - The Dictates of Racist Etiquette

In many sections of the U.S.A. the ordinary rules of etiquette do not apply when you are dealing with persons of another race.

In such circumstances you are supposed to forget what you have been taught is proper behavior in human relations-much of it is altogether taboo in interracial relations.

There exists a special interracial etiquette to govern such relations. You will find it well-nigh inviolate in the Southern states, but no matter where you go in the U.S.A. you may encounter groups and individuals who insist upon its observance to one degree or another.

But on the whole, regional variations in interracial etiquette conform more or less to the institutionalized forms of racial segregation in the area. The dictates of the etiquette are therefore most stringent in the territory long segregated by law, diminishing progressively in the border areas and relatively free territory.

Be advised, however, that there is no nook or cranny anywhere in the U.S.A. where whites and Negroes can commingle in the public view without being made aware of the fact that they form an interracial group.

Even in those sections of the country where it is possible for whites and Negroes to visit each other in the privacy of their homes, you may find, if nonwhite, that it is advisable not to go calling upon white persons without a definite invitation for a specific time; otherwise you might encounter white guests there who would make you uncomfortable, to say the least.

Southerners, whites and Negroes alike, having been steeped for generations in the atmosphere engendered by the interracial etiquette, usually know precisely-almost instinctively-just what is expected of them in all situations.

But in the border areas-where everything is sort of betwixt and between-no one can know for certain what to expect and this uncertainty gives rise to a certain added tension in interracial encounters.