Dale Hemmerdinger has already received more press coverage than one should expect for a potential commissioner of the MTA. The attention he’s generated, however, entirely rests on his association with the Harmonie Club, which critics claim is exclusionary and de-facto racist.
The critics are right insofar as the club does not have an African-American or Latino member. However criticizing current and former members of the Harmonie Club based on one indisputable fact is intellectually soft. The Harmonie Club is a historically Jewish club started by Jews who were not allowed to join all-white social clubs. Jews were being discriminated against, so they started their own thing. That sounds like a triumph over discrimination rather than part of a racial problem.
Now that Jewish members of the Harmonie Club can gain access to all manner of exclusive social groups, does that mean they should ditch their all-Jewish club and join up with the very organizations that discriminated against them until approximately five minutes ago?
Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell has made a big deal about the club’s “discriminatory membership policies.”. Club members predictably claim that they are open to ethnic diversity in their club. Who knows if they’re racially tolerant They can’t prove that they’re open to other ethnicities because, far as anyone can tell, there just aren’t a whole lot of other minorities dying to be a part of a Jewish club. Interpreting the lack of African-American or Latino members as indicative of nothing more than a lack of African-American or Latino interest, also has the virtue of making sense.
Even if we ignore Ockham’s Razor and label the Harmonie Club a racist venture, so what? We have to balance the public interest in making an organization or institution open to all against the private interest of exclusivity, elitism,and generally feeling like you’re better than everybody else. If the Harmonie Club admits only Jewish people, that hurts me as an African American how exactly? Could a Jewish friend of mine go to the Harmonie Club and make a contact that leads to a job that I couldn’t get because I was excluded? Sure, it could happen. In related news, I’ve never been denied an opportunity because of my religion.
I don’t take offense every time somebody receives a benefit that I do not. I take offense when I am denied a benefit to which I am entitled. A bunch of rich Jewish guys sitting around talking about whatever rich people talk about might be discriminatory, but there’s no harm. No harm, no foul.