Harry Golden, My Father & ‘Entitlements’
By Michael Kaufman
I did a double take the other day when I saw the drawing of a face on the cover of a used book on sale in front of Ye Olde Warwick Bookshop. Only the cigar protruding from the man’s mouth told me it wasn’t the face of my father. The title of the book is You’re Entitle’ and the man smoking the cigar is its author, Harry Golden.
You’re Entitle’, published in 1962, was not nearly as successful as its predecessors, Only in America (1958), For 2¢ Plain (1958) and Enjoy, Enjoy! (1960). Those were his best known works, composed of selections from his writings in The Carolina Israelite, a newsletter he published from Charlotte, N.C., from 1942 to 1968. The newsletter enjoyed a national circulation via mail subscriptions. Golden used its pages to voice his opinions on many issues of the day, most famously his opposition to the segregation laws that still held sway in the southern states.
In the introduction to You’re Entitle’, his son, Harry, Jr., asks, “How many men can say—My father is a brave man?” He describes his father as “this fat little guy, short of breath, with his cigars and ideas in Charlotte; this immigrant and Yankee in the native- born South; this Jew in the citadel of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism; this integrationist in a land of segregation; this happy reformer among the complacent….He is the champion of many causes—some lost—but many, like the cause of the Southern Negro, that will inevitably be won.”
I would have bought the book if only because of the face on the cover that reminded me of my father; not to mention that pop had been an admirer of Golden. I was also intrigued by the title: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “entitlements” and all the recent yammering about “entitlement reform.” Neither my father nor Harry Golden lived to see the election (and re-election!) of the first African-American president, which both would have celebrated. But I doubt either would care much for his willingness to embrace any “entitlement reform” that would entail cuts in funding and benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Golden dedicated the book to his father, who emigrated to America from the Galicean town of Mikulinz. “All his life he spoke a halting English, though he certainly made his ideas clear enough,” wrote Golden. “He was enamored of the phrase, ‘You’re entitle’.’ In his youth, Golden would correct him, saying, “It ends with a d, Poppa.” His father would nod understandingly “but the next time it still came out, ‘You’re entitle’.’
That word, wrote Golden, “was the expression of a free man. No one was entitled in Eastern Europe. You served in the army for 10 years and it entitled you to nothing. Your taxes entitled you to no franchise. But in America men were free and entitled…” Golden wrote those words in 1962. My, how times have changed.
Here is what Golden said in a brief paragraph on foreign relations: “One of our crass stupidities is not realizing the strength of the most potent legislation of our times—social security.” He expresses annoyance that the benefits of social security are not broadcast in Spanish. “Uncle José returns to one of the Latin-American countries after working 30 years in the United States and there he sits every month and Uncle Sam sends him a check—magnifico!” Golden believed that providing social security in this manner would create goodwill towards the United States and diminish the appeal of communism among people in those lands. Today social security itself is under attack by right-wing idealogues, such as Paul Ryan, and it is almost unthinkable for anyone to advocate that it and other benefits, such as health care, be provided to undocumented workers. In a later passage he suggests that both Republicans and Democrats need to change their attitudes towards the peoples of the rest of the world. “We need to accept humanity, and understand that these are people like ourselves.” Disrespecting someone’s homeland by calling it a “banana republic” will only antagonize the people who live there, he explains.
“It was easy to lick Mexico, to send the Marines to Paraguay, to patronize the Panamanians. And we never paid the slightest attention to many Latin Americans of considerable stature we had among our own people. Instead we sent New Englanders as ambassadors, men who had no sympathy for these people. Behind them came the big companies, vast mechanical monsters systematically removing the oil and the sugar and the raw materials. With friendship and a sense of partnership, discarding the ‘banana republic’ attitude, we could have built a tremendous moral force among our neighbors that would have been a model for the world.” We know how that worked out. Our leaders still like to say we are a “model for the world” and we seem to like to hear it. But it hasn’t sold too well to people in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela in recent elections in those countries.
I have a few more things to say about entitlements, but I think I’ll save them for next time. I’ll end this post with a few more words from Harry Golden. Why? Because you’re entitle’ of course!
“All the upheavals and protests around the world have been triggered by one singular need—the need for human dignity. This is true in countries where the most unbelievable poverty exists….where sanitation conditions are as primitive as they were in the 12th century; yet when the students get out on the square to do their snake dance and shout slogans it is not for wages or shorter hours or for increased foreign aid from the United States. In every case it has had to do with their status as human beings, their need for acceptance as part of the open society of mankind, as equals.”
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.