As I was doing some secondary source reading on black newspapers in the North during slavery, I learned that my expectation—that these newspapers were solely concerned with abolition—was wrong. Indeed, many northern black newspapers were focused on teaching free blacks how to meet white middle class norms of temperance, thrift, genteel attitudes, decorum, etc. These newspapers told their blacks readers that if they met these norms, that is to say if blacks behaved in a way that whites would approve of, the race would receive full citizenship. The thinking was that if blacks proved themselves, whites would have no choice but to grant the Negro equality. These black newspapers, in other words, tried to manage social norms in a way to improve the group’s overall legal interests. Some blacks were really bullish on the possibility for success with this strategy. One black leader of the era, in the 1830s I believe, publically said that if blacks followed this strategy, a black man would become President in a generation or two.
Obviously this strategy failed. But I wonder, was this strategy—managing social norms to maintain an image that whites would approve of—a wise strategy of the time? Do blacks still manage social norms to maintain an image that whites would approve of?
I’m not sure.