Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

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For ten years, I have been saying that we would not have anywhere near the uproar over illegal immigration in this country if people were sneaking in here from Norway rather than from Latin America. Last week, Donald Trump proved me right.

In a closed meeting, he is reported to have asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He expressed a preference for immigrants from countries such as Norway.

It took until last Friday for the White House communications shop to decide that it was a damn fool thing to have called other nations “shithole countries”. The course of action they selected was to deny Trump ever said it and accuse others in the meeting of lying about what he said. What, you expected him to apologize? Are you new here?

In this article, the New York Times got to the meat of the matter: it might as well be 1918 as far as Trump’s attitude toward immigration is concerned. Historically, nativists did not welcome immigrants from Catholic eastern or southern Europe — Poles, Italians or Irish — much more than they did Hispanics or Asians. The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act restricted immigrants to 2% of the number of persons from the country of origin already living in the US and recorded in the 1890 census. The majority of immigrants from outside the Protestant nations of northwest Europe arrived here after 1890. The act also explicitly closed legal immigration from Asian nations and colonies including China, Japan, Siam and the French and British possessions in Asia.

Edward A. Ross (1866-1951) was a sociologist and proponent of eugenics. He was an early supporter of the idea of “racial suicide”, which asserted that American democracy would collapse because the Anglo-Nordic population would be swamped by immigrants from inferior cultures that could not be effective citizens. He was forced to resign from Stanford in 1900 after he publicly called for prohibition of immigration from China and Japan.

Ross moved on to the University of Wisconsin. In 1914 he published The Old World in the New, a book grading immigrants from various nations in pseudo-scientific terms. Here is some of what he has to say about Sicilians:

Steerage passengers from a Naples boat show a distressing frequency of low foreheads, open mouths, weak chins, poor features, skew faces, small or knobby crania, and backless heads. Such people lack the power to take rational care of themselves; hence their death-rate in New York is twice the general death-rate and thrice that of the Germans. No other immigrants from Europe, unless it be the Portuguese or the half-African Bravas of the Azores, show so low an earning power as the South Italians. In our cities the head of the household earns on an average $390 a year, as against $449 for the North Italian, $552 for the Bohemian, and $630 for the German. In silk-mill and wollen-mill, in iron-ore mining and the clothing trade, no other nationality has so many low-pay workers; nor does this industrial inferiority fade out in the least with the lapse of time. [p. 113]

Ross was not impressed with his encounter with the priorities of the Celtic Irish:

The Irishman still leans on authority and shows little tendency to think for himself. In philosophy and science he is far behind the head of the procession. Even when well-educated, he thinks within the framework formed by certain conventional ideas. Unlike the educated German or Jew, he rarely ventures to dissect the ideas of parental authority, the position of woman, property, success, competition, individual liberty, etc., that lie at the base of commonplace thought. Here, again, this limitation by sentiment and authority derives doubtless from the social history of the Irish rather than from their blood. They have been engrossed with an old-fashioned problem—that of freeing their country. Meanwhile, the luckier peoples have swept on to ripen their thinking about class relations, industrial organization, and social institutions. [p. 40]

Ross characterized Slavs in general as showing “brutality and reckless fecundity” and claimed they were slow to assimilate. He had these choice comments about Jews:

Nevertheless, fair-minded observers agree that certain bad qualities crop out all too often among these eastern Europeans. A school principal remarks that his Jewish pupils are more importunate to get a mark changed than his other pupils. A settlement warden who during the summer entertains hundreds of nursing slum mothers at a country “home” says: “The Jewish mothers are always asking for something extra over the regular kit we provide each guest for her stay.” “The last thing the son of Jacob wants,” observes an eminent sociologist, “is a square deal.” A veteran New York social worker cannot forgive the Ghetto its littering and defiling of the parks. “Look at Tompkins Square,” he exclaimed hotly, “and compare it with what it was twenty-five years ago amid a German population!” As for the caretakers of the parks their comment on this matter is unprintable. Genial settlement residents, who never tire of praising Italian or Greek, testify that no other immigrants are so noisy, pushing and disdainful of the rights of others as the Hebrews. That the worst exploiters of these immigrants are sweaters, landlords, employers and “white slavers” of their own race no one gainsays. [pp. 149-150]

This is not coming from some toothless backwoods hick, but from an influential academic who went on to chair the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Scientific racism was very much alive one hundred years ago. Madison Grant published The Passing of the Great Race in 1916, followed by Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy in 1920. Ross, Grant and Stoddard did not consider the term “white” as inclusive as we do today. They all made distinctions and considered Nordic peoples to be superior to Slavs, Jews and those from the Mediterranean countries. Stoddard was, in fact, a Klansman.

We had liked to think that the racial attitudes of that time were dead and buried. Evidently not.




Written by srojak

January 21, 2018 at 11:01 am

Posted in Politics

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