Reconstruction Era Race Relations

In Rebirth of a Nation, Jackson Lears captures a moment in history. The world we know was taking shape. But before any of that had yet fully taken hold, a different kind of experience was common and it is hard for us to imagine.

Most Americans in the nineteenth century were rural. They were mostly poor and living in small communities. In the South, this included blacks and whites living in close proximity and often working side by side. After the Civil War, most blacks remained in rural areas and continued farming. Many of them bought their own land and gained financial independence.

There wasn’t much conflict at the time. The KKK arose right after the Civil War and yet a few years later the federal government had destroyed it, not to be resurrected for another half century. There was remarkably little violence between blacks and whites. Rural black violence was almost non-existent. The main violence actually was among rural whites, but even that was rather limited. As for the cities, the fear about violence was focused on ethnic whites such as Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. The greatest perceived threat by the WASP upper classes were the waves of poor European immigrants, many of them Catholic and speaking foreign languages.

Before the last years of that century, there was no large-scale systematic persecution of blacks and even then it took decades to develop into all-out race war. Lynchings didn’t become a serious issue until the 1890s. And the Second Klan wasn’t established until 1915, not gaining prominence until the 1920s. For the decades immediately following the Civil War, race relations were doing quite well, considering slavery had ended not long before. Freed blacks sought lost family members, farmed their own land, built houses, educated their children, elected politicians, formed militias, and published newspapers.

Many whites at the time didn’t see this as a serious threat. People were just happy that the Civil War was over and that everyone could get back to living. The average white person wasn’t sad about the destruction of slavery and the aristocracy that once controlled it. Most whites were no better nor worse than they’d ever been. Life went on.

It was primarily the middle-to-upper class whites who were most bothered by the changes. The old plantation owners, of course, experienced great loss. But the social order had been challenged more broadly. It must be remembered that the Second Klan, like the one before it, wasn’t a populist movement. Most Klan members were professionals and other respectable people: businessmen, managers, ministers, judges, lawyers, police chiefs, etc. These were the same men who pushed for Jim Crow and re-enslavement through forced prison labor, with blacks regularly imprisoned on false charges.

Poor whites, on the other hand, had little to gain from any of this. Wealthy Southerners always looked down on poor whites. And the Second Klan targeted ethnic whites more than it did blacks. But the powerful were highly resourceful in turning the poor against each other. When Reconstruction ended with the removal of US military from the South, the ruling elite were quick to re-establish the racial order.

This coincided with the Gilded Age when the Robber Barons turned brutal. There was a new kind of equality where hundreds of thousands of American workers, both black and white, were violently oppressed and sometimes killed in labor conflict. Some groups like the Knights of Labor nationally organized across racial and ethnic divides (“By 1886 20% of all workers were affiliated with the KOL, ballooning to nearly 800,000 members.”~Wikipedia). But they were ultimately fighting a losing battle.

American society became fractured. And average Americans began to see each other as enemies, almost as a premonition of the ethno-nationalistic world wars to come. As always, in the ensuing conflict, minorities struggled the most and suffered the worst. Yet in that golden moment after the Civil War, the future looked bright for most Americans with a promise of continuing progress and betterment for all. There was nothing inevitable about that coming to an end. It didn’t die of natural causes. It was killed by a ruling elite fueled by greed and lust for power. Bigotry was just a convenient means to that end.

* * *

Rebirth of a Nation:
The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
By Jackson Lears
pp. 92-93

One baking-hot Georgia afternoon in 1877, the Methodist minister Atticus Haygood took the Macon and Brunswick Railroad from Jesup to Macon and chanced upon a memorable scene. “The smoking car,” he recalled, “was packed full with a rare and racy, if not rich crowd of lumbermen,” returning home to Macon after delivering a load of timber to Brunswick. “We saw a very black negro and a fair-haired youth drinking alternately out of the same black-bottle,” Haygood wrote. “They sat promiscuously and drank, smoked, laughed, sang, whistled, and danced together. One young fellow knew the potent notes and they sang ‘fa, so, la’ while he beat time…. He sings a sort of wild tenor we used to hear at camp-meeting.” The scene typified the easy race-mixing that characterized everyday life in parts of the rural South into the 1880s. Hunting, fishing, cooking, shucking corn, tending to the sick and midwifing babies—all involved cooperation and sometimes camaraderie between the races.

Consider another scene, a country picnic at Pitman’s Mill. Georgia in 1896. A young boy named Mell Barrett was about to listen to an Edison talking machine for the first time. “With the tubes in my ears, the Pitchman was now adjusting the needle on the machine…. My excitement increased, my heart was pounding so I could hardly hold the tubes in my ears with my shaking hands…. ‘All Right Men, Bring Them Out. Let’s Hear What They Have to Say,’ were the first words I understood coming from a talking machine…. The sounds of shuffling feet, swearing men, rattle of chains, falling wood, brush, and fagots, then a voice—shrill, strident, angry, called out ‘Who will apply the torch?’ ‘I will,’ came a chorus of high-pitched, angry voices…[then] the crackle of flames as it ate its way into the dry tinder…My eyes and mouth were dry. I tried to wet my lips, but my tongue, too, was parched. Perspiration dried from my hands. I stood immobile.” What Mell Barrett heard was several black men being burned alive, after they had confessed at gunpoint to an interracial rape. It was one of hundreds of such lynchings that scarred many parts of the South between the late 1880s and the early 1900s—a mass ritual of racial revitalization through violence.

The difference between these two scenes underscores the transformation of race relations in the Gilded Age South. The earlier period was hardly an era of biracial harmony, characterized as it was by systematic white efforts to drive blacks from public life. Yet as the lumbermen’s frolic suggests, even after Reconstruction, as white Democrats returned to power, race relations remained fluid among the folk. By the 1890s, the fluidity was gone. Lynching was only the most brutal and sensational example of a concerted white effort to reassert absolute dominance by drawing the sharpest possible boundaries between the races. This effort was part of a campaign by the prosperous to purify the Southern body politic, rendering it fit for inclusion in the parade of economic progress. In sum, it was all too appropriate that the first sound young Mell Barrett heard from that modern marvel, the talking machine, was the baying of a lynch mob. Southern lynching in the 1890s, like the incandescent racism that spawned it, was a product of modernity.

To be sure, the consciousness of racial difference had existed for centuries, at least since the earliest European encounters with the dark-skinned inhabitants of the New World. But there was something profoundly different about the racism of the late nineteenth century—it was more self-conscious, more systematic, more determined to assert scientific legitimacy. The whole concept of race, never more than the flimsiest of cultural constructions, acquired unprecedented biological authority during the decades between Reconstruction and World War I.

Deep Roots in Dark Soil

In doing genealogy research, I’ve made many connections to American history, some of it quite dark and much of it not that far back in time. It is something that has been bothering me for a while. I had a longer series of posts I was writing about it, but I got bogged down with the topic. It’s overwhelming and hard to grapple with. So, let me keep this post simple and to the point.

Possibly the earliest line of my family that came to America was the Peebles. They were Scottish and, maybe for siding with the king, they arrived in the Virginia colony (1649 or 1650) during the English Civil War. David Peebles, the patriarch, came with some help (either indentured servants or slaves) and built a plantation. Later generations of the Peebles were definitely slave owners and they fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The family across the generations drifted further South and West, ending up in Texas. That is where my paternal grandmother was born in 1912, well within living memory of slavery and the Civil War. The last Civil War veterans died in the 1950s, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States died in the 1930s, the last American born into slavery died in the 1970s — the latter happening just a few years before I was born and about a decade before my grandmother died. None of this is ancient history. It’s possible that if my grandmother had bothered to ask that there were people in the family who still remembered owning slaves.

Also, the early twentieth century was a time of the last of the Indian Wars. There were major battles that happened in that part of the country when my grandmother was a child. The last significant altercation in the United States happened in 1924 when she was twelve years old and that is the age when kids begin to gain awareness of the larger world. But there were Indian holdouts who kept fighting in Mexico and weren’t defeated until nine years later in 1933. My grandmother was twenty-one years old at that point and so this was part of the world she was entering into.

David Peebles himself had been an Indian fighter, a captain in the Virginia militia. He was a well respected man. As reward, he had been given a Native American captive and I’m sure that person was treated as a slave. It’s assumed that David Peebles received an injury from fighting and he slowly disappeared from the records. Between those first Peebles in America and my grandmother, I’m sure there were numerous Indian fighters in my ancestry. After all, that part of my family was involved in the push Westward, as Native Americans retreated or were forcibly removed. And then they ended up in the region of the last battles with the last free natives.

All of this national history is intimately intertwined with my family history. And much of it was still living memory into my grandmothers childhood and even into her adulthood (in some cases, even into my parents’ adulthood). More importantly, it was an ongoing history. The struggles of blacks didn’t end with the Civil War any more than the struggles of Native Americans ended with the Indian Wars. I could understand how much of this history was hidden at the time, even as the suffering and oppression continued. Native Americans, after all, were forced onto reservations that made their plight practically invisible to the rest of the country. It was a problem that wasn’t seen and so didn’t need to be thought about. But the problems facing blacks would have been impossible to ignore for those living in the South and also in the North.

In the South my grandmother grew up in, Jim Crow was in full force and blacks had for decades faced re-enslavement through chain gang labor. My grandmother was a few years old when the Second Klan was founded. The Klan was a growing force during her childhood and was at its height in her teenage years: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men” (Wikipedia). I have no doubt that many generations and many lines of my family were involved in the various incarnations of the Klan, along with other violently racist organizations and activities; but there is no family stories about any of this, as it’s one of those things that people don’t talk about.

When my grandmother was eight years old, a short distance from her childhood home the Tulsa race riots occurred where white mobs rioted and terrorized the black population. It was an actual battle with whites and blacks fighting in the streets (many of them WWI veterans, including black veterans who took their military weapons home with them), snipers were positioned in buildings shooting at people below, airplanes firebombed the wealthiest black community in America at the time (Black Wall Street), and belatedly troops were sent in to restore order. Hundreds of blacks were killed, hundreds more ended up in the hospital, 6,000 black residents were arrested and detained, and in the detention centers blacks were forced to do labor. In the aftermath, most of the black population became refugees who had lost everything and thousands of white residents in Tulsa joined the Klan.

It was one of the most violent and destructive events in American history. Yet it was erased from public awareness almost instantly, as if it had never happened. “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place” (A.G. Sulzberger, “As Survivors Dwindle, Tulsa Confronts Past“, NYT).

This was just one of many race riots and other acts of mass racial violence that occurred in the decades before and following what happened in Tulsa. Violence like this, including lynchings, would have been common events for the first two-thirds of her life. After her family left Oklahoma, they moved to a part of Mississippi that was a major center of the Second Klan. Then as an adult in 1940, she moved her own young family to Indiana, the headquarters and epicenter of the Second Klan, during a time when the last vestiges of the organization were still to be seen. It was in the 1950s and 1960s when a splintered KKK reasserted itself in fighting the Civil Rights Movement.

Indiana is close to the South and not just geographically. It’s been culturally and economically connected to Kentucky from early on. This area is sometimes referred to as Kentuckiana. Much of Indiana’s population originally came from Kentucky and that has made Indiana the most Southern state in the Midwest (my maternal ancestry includes Indian fighters who came to Kentucky shortly after the American Revolution). A generation after my mother’s family left the border region of Kentucky and Indiana, she grew up in a large industrial city in central Indiana and yet she maintained a Southern accent well into her twenties.

Indiana was a destination of many white Southerners looking for work. Yet Southern blacks knew to mostly avoid Indiana, except for Northern parts of the state closer to Chicago. This wasn’t just a vague notion that blacks had about Indiana. The local white population, Klan and otherwise, made it overtly clear they weren’t welcome in most parts of the state.

My father was born in small town Indiana and then moved to another nearby small town. They were both in an area of much racism, but the second town where he spent most of his early life was a sundown town. When my father and his family moved there, a sign warning blacks to stay away was still visible on a major road into town. My father would have been too young to understand, my Southern grandmother could not have missed something so obvious. They had to have known they moved into a sundown town. Did my father know about this? No. Did his mother, my grandmother, ever talk about it? No. It wasn’t talked about. As my grandfather was the town minister, he could have challenged this racism from the pulpit. Did he? No. The reason for this is that my grandfather My was a racist, although like many he softened his prejudiced views later in life. Still, that doesn’t change the moral failure.

My grandmother was always a religious and spiritual person, moreso than my grandfather despite his being a minister. She grew in that old time religion, Southern Baptist church. When she moved to the West Coast, she became quite liberal and joined extremely liberal churches, such as Unity Church and Science of Mind. It was because of my grandmother that I was raised in the same kind of liberal churches. This led me to become the liberal I am today. Even so, my grandmother never spoke of our family’s ancestral sin of racial oppression, even though she had spent so much of her life right in the middle of it.

My father went off to college at Purdue. The city, Lafayette, had been a sundown town at one point. The systemic racism was lessening there by the time my parents attended, but the black population remained low. While they were at college, the Civil Rights Movement was growing and violence was happening. Professors and college students from Purdue even joined in some of the major events of that time. The world was changing all around my parents, but they apparently were oblivious to it all. When I’ve asked them, they had only slight memory of what was happening at the time, other than some brief news stories that they paid little attention to. It didn’t seem all that important to them, as white conservatives in a white conservative state with a hopeful future before them.

Systemic and institutional racism continued in some parts of the country long after the death of MLK. Blacks were still fighting for basic rights and demanding that laws against racism be enforced, well into my own lifetime (in fact, the struggle for justice continues to this day). For my parents, living in Ohio after college, that was a happy time of their life. As their children were born, protests and riots were going on around the country (including nearby), but it all seemed distant and insignificant, maybe a bit incomprehensible. After that, during the 1980s, our family moved to Deerfield, Illinois — a Chicago suburb with a history of keeping blacks out, something my parents were also unaware of. Then we headed to Iowa, which at the time was a demographic bubble of whiteness.

In my own childhood, I don’t recall my parents or other adults talking about race and racism. I also was oblivious to it all, until we moved to South Carolina when I was thirteen years old. It was a shock to my system. I didn’t grow up with that world and so I saw it with fresh eyes in a way someone wouldn’t have if they had grown up with it. Even then, amidst obvious racism and an overt racial social order, few people talked about it. I saw blacks at school, but no blacks lived in my neighborhood or went to my church. Black kids didn’t come home with me nor did I go home with them.

I was facing generations of denial in my own family. No one gave me any tools to deal with any of it. If not for genealogy research, I might never have realized how close to home all of this comes. Even now, I live in a liberal college town where at an earlier point in time a racist mob chased out of town the radical abolitionist John Brown, shortly before his execution. And a muted form of that old racism lingers still.

How do we deal with the legacy of centuries of oppression when it’s almost impossible to even publicly acknowledge what has happened within living memory? How do we come to terms with the fact that the legacy continues with systemic and institutional racism? How do we open up dialogue? How do we move forward? If more people simply dug into their own family histories, what might they find? And if they put that into context of the larger national history, what understandings might they come to?

My eternal refrain: Then what?

I’ve gained this knowledge and it was no easy task, as I had to find it for myself through decades of obsessive research and intense study. Generations of my own family have avoided this knowledge, built on centuries of ignorance and denial, supported by a vast social order designed to maintain the status quo. So, here we are. Many others like me are looking at these hidden truths now brought to light. What are we supposed to do with it all? How does a society come to terms with collective guilt?

William Faulkner spent most of his life a few counties away from my great grandmother’s home in Mississippi, the last place my grandmother lived before adulthood and the area she returned to after college to work a teaching job for a couple of years, around 1935. That is where my father would visit as a child and where he saw his first “colored” water fountain. Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun was set in that part of Mississippi, as were other of his novels. The events in the story were fictionally placed in the years immediately following my grandmother’s departure. The world that Faulkner described was the world that shaped my grandmother, a world she couldn’t leave behind because she carried it with her.

One of Faulkner’s best known lines comes from that novel. He wrote:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

My grandmother was an educated woman, a teacher in fact. I wonder. Did she ever read those words? And if so, what did she think of them? Did she ever look to the past, her own past and that of her family? Or was she trying to escape the past by getting as far away as possible, ending up in the Northwest? It’s ironic that she spent the last years of her life in Oregon, the only state in the Union that was once fully sundown, excluding blacks entirely.

From what I gather, my grandmother was a kindhearted woman, but that could be said of many people. Few white Americans are overtly mean-spirited. People simply try to live their lives, and yet their lives exist along a moral arc bending from the past into the future. How often do any of us consider our place in the larger scheme of things and wonder about what future generations will think of us?

More Minorities, Less Crime

The conservative obsession with the ‘other’ always amazes me. It seems to be endless.

The same fears and arguments are repeated for generations, even as the ‘other’ changes over time. The specific population in question is mostly irrelevant, just as long as they are perceived as somehow foreign or different. In the present, those on the political right obsess about Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims (sometimes Asians get attention, especially on the West Coast). But in the past, the same obsessiveness was often directed elsewhere: poor whites, Southern whites migrating to Northern cities, unassimilated ethnics (Scots-Irish, Italians, Germans, Irish, etc), various religious minorities (Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Mormons, Pietists, etc), and on and on.

Even as such people obsess over those others, they typically claim to not be racist and prejudiced. It just so happens that they have disproportionate interest in those people different from them immigrating from another country or moving from another city, state, or wherever. And, of course, they just so happen to like to look at the data on crime, education, IQ… any and all data, as long as it is cherrypicked and put into the proper culture war narrative and dog whistle rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is always that those others are somehow a threat to the social fabric, to our way of life, and to our children. This kind of conclusion is always there in the background, even when only implied by the framing of public discussion. But outwardly, these conservatives are simply concerned in a respectable manner. They aren’t bigots, after all. Just interested and concerned.

It is a complete random situation that they so happen to focus on some data while ignoring other data, interpret the data in one way while ignoring the larger context. They are curious about the data, that is all.

Having a straight discussion is near impossible. What these people actually believe is rarely stated. They know their beliefs are politically incorrect and so they’ve learned to hide them. They may even have learned to deceive themselves. I suspect many of them genuinely believe they aren’t biased or prejudiced in any way, even as it is obvious that they are. Only bad people are bigots and they know they aren’t bad people — therefore, how could they be bigots? Many of them have internalized political correct rhetoric because that is what they were told to do. Almost everyone wants to be thought of as a good person, according to the prevailing social norms.

The problem is that, whether or not they are good people, some of what they promote is clearly not good. It’s also often not rational, sometimes even outright absurd. But interestingly, those on the political left rarely make the equivalent argument in the opposite direction. As conservatives argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to increased problems, liberals rarely argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to decreased problems. This is because liberals simply don’t make those kinds of arguments, not typically, as they tend to see this kind of focus as irrelevant and unhelpful.

Whatever the reason, this creates an imbalance. Maybe the political left should make equally strong counter-arguments, even if absurd, just for the sake of evening out the extremism on the other end. That way, the perceived ‘middle’ of mainstream public debate wouldn’t be shifted so far right.

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the total number and per capita of foreign-b0rns, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities, religious nones, and other similar demographics. Over the same time period, many of the problems conservatives focus on have been improving. Crime, violence, and drug use has decreased among the population in general, across the country, even among minorities and especially among the young. Average IQ has increased for the general population and nearly all demographics, and the racial IQ gap has shrunk. College attendance has grown. Teen sex, STDs, and abortions are down. These days, teens in general are so well behaved as to be boring prudes, just as conservatives claim they’re supposed to be.

These seemingly positive trends have been happening across the country. And, in many cases, it’s even going on across the world. Some consider this to be a Moral Flynn Effect, lending much evidence against racism, racialism and race realism. The same trends are seen in most cities, at least some of it related to environmental regulations that have decreased lead toxicity.

I hear conservatives in the town I live in. They have reasons to complain, as it is a liberal town. But if they don’t like this liberal town, they can’t blame it on the blacks, from Chicago or elsewhere.

Yes, there has been an increase in the minority population, including but not limited to blacks. The University of Iowa has also increasingly attracted a foreign-born population. The town is growing in diversity, which is magnified in the local public schools with minority students increasing from 29% to 36% over the past decade. That is probably at least in part having to do with white flight, as many white families have moved out to the bedroom communities in nearby small towns. Still, it is true that within the entire county the minority population has been continuously growing, even if not any drastic jump at any given point in time.

But none of this fits into the conservative narrative. While the racial and religious minority population has been growing (i.e., the WASP population shrinking), specifically within the city itself, the violent crime rate has been steadily dropping like a rock. If we were forced to make an argument based on this data, we’d have to conclude that whites were causing the higher crime rate in the past and now minorities are bringing moral order back, saving the whites from themselves.

So, why does no one make this argument? Not even many liberals here in town and around the country would think of such an argument, much less take it seriously and speak it out loud. You won’t see this argument made in liberal news media or by liberal politicians. Yet conservatives will make the opposite argument all the time, no matter what the data does or does not show. Why is that? Why is there this imbalance in public debate where conservatives can make the most extreme nonsense arguments while liberals try to be rational and moderate? I can tell you this much. Rational and moderate does not consistently win debates, elections, or public opinion.

Some conservatives might point to Chicago. There has been a recent uptick in crime, even if it still is lower than it used to be. Ignoring the larger trend, that uptick doesn’t support the conservative worldview. What people in towns like this near Chicago have been complaining about is that all those blacks are leaving Chicago to come here, ruining our good cities. Yet as they leave Chicago to come here, crime there in Chicago went up and the crime in many of the cities where the blacks moved to has gone down.

Why doesn’t anyone point this out? It’s not hard to see, just by looking at the data. People are constantly looking for causation in correlation. Why does this particular correlation get ignored? Anyway, in terms of per capita, much of rural America is far more dangerous to your life than Chicago. Few people talk about the crime wave of poor rural white people and how that crime is trickling into the cities, such as all that meth that gets made out in rural America. Data shows that most drugs (both in total numbers and per capita) are used, carried, and sold by white people. Why has the War On Drugs targeted mostly minorities? Why don’t we have a War On Whites, as we presently have a War On Minorities?

If conservatives genuinely cared about any of these issues, why don’t they focus on all the data that would help us deal with the real problems we are facing? And if liberals cared as well, why won’t they hit conservatives with the best arguments available? Why are the culture war debates so one-sided? It seems like few Americans on either side want to deal with any of this, as it touches too many raw nerves. I can’t blame it all on conservatives. In this liberal town, it was the local liberal media that has been shown to have a strong racial bias and it is the local police force that has one of the largest racial disparities in drug arrests in the country.

Obviously, liberals are part of the problem, sometimes in a more direct way but often through apathy and complicity. It makes one wonder that the reason liberals don’t argue strongly back against conservatives is because many of them on some level agree with the conservative claims, even if they wouldn’t admit it or maybe aren’t even conscious of it. Conservatives will stop making these worthless arguments when liberals finally get the moral courage to stop being part of the problem.

Aren’t Irish White?

I think it cannot be maintained by any candid person that the African race have ever occupied or do promise ever to occupy any very high place in the human family. Their present condition is the strongest proof that they cannot. The Irish cannot; the American Indian cannot; the Chinese cannot. Before the energy of the Caucasian race all the other races have quailed and done obeisance.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote those words in the late 1820s or early 1830s (Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, Volume 12). Someone asked, in response to that quote, “aren’t Irish white?” Well, to the younger Emerson, obviously the Irish weren’t white or rather weren’t Caucasian.

Another great American luminary was Walt Whitman, a close acquaintance of Emerson. From a personal letter, he called Emerson “dear Friend and Master” and the admiration was mutual, Emerson even having penned Whitman a letter of recommendation. In the following decade, writing about Catholics after St. Patrick’s Cathedral was attacked by a Protestant mob, Whitman echoed Emerson’s attitude in describing the Irish faith as a “horrible and beastly superstition . . . dregs of foreign filth” (from The New York Aurora). Beastly! That was once a common way of speaking of the Irish, not just their whiteness but their very humanity under the severest of doubt.

They both were writing at a time when the large waves of Irish immigrants were seen as one of the greatest threats by American WASPs. Think about it. In the decades prior, there had been several Irish rebellions, all of which failed. This had led to many Irish seeking to escape to other countries, most of them ending up in the United States. The English were more than glad to get rid of them. Those of English ancestry in the U.S., however, weren’t so glad to receive them. Just because Americans had fought a revolution against the British a half century before didn’t lead them to be any more sympathetic to the Irish cause, much less the Irish people.

I know it seems strange compared to the world now. But the US once was a far different place. It’s just a fact that the Irish, Scots-Irish, Italians, etc weren’t always considered white or Caucasian. There are entire books written explaining this history. One such book is The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, in which she discusses the above Emerson quote, and a few paragraphs on she writes that,

After the failure of the Hungarian revolution in 1848 and Lajos Kossuth’s triumphant tour as a hero in exile, Emerson found a way to view the Hungarian situation through an Irish lens: “The paddy period lasts long. Hungary, it seems, must take the yoke again, & Austria, & Italy, & Prussia, & France. Only the English race can be trusted with freedom.” Emerson pontificated against Central Europeans as well as the Irish: “Races. Our idea, certainly, of Poles & Hungarians is little better than of horses recently humanized.”

Back in the day, whiteness as an idea was mixed up with nationality, ethnicity, and religion. The Irish (and other immigrant groups) weren’t English, weren’t of Anglo/Germanic stock, and generally weren’t Protestant. Although assimilating better than later immigrants, even the Germans early on were treated differently. Benjamin Franklin was prejudiced against Palatine Germans and perceived them as almost racially other—since they were shorter and darker-skinned, along with speaking a different language, having a different culture, and being of different religions (at the time, many were Pietists or Anabaptists, separate from the Protestant tradition).

All those who weren’t WASPs were perceived as foreigners and they indeed often looked different—different color of skin, different color of hair, different attire, etc. Italians, in the 1800s, were sometimes referred to as ‘niggers’ because of their dark skin and dark, curly hair. The Irish, despite their pale skin and lighter hair, were also compared to Africans and Native Americans, portrayed as ape-like and called gorillas, sometimes referred to as savages and their children in the cities dismissed as Street Arabs (Catholicism was seen as foreign as Islam). Painter, in The History of White People, states that,

AMERICAN VISUAL culture testifies to a widespread fondness for likening the Irishman to the Negro. No one supplied better fodder for this parallel than Thomas Nast, the German-born editorial cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. In 1876, for instance, Nast pictured stereotypical southern freedmen and northern Irishmen as equally unsuited for the vote during Reconstruction after the American Civil War.

As with the Scottish and Scots-Irish, the Irish were seen as a tribal people, not quite civilized. In early America, poor ethnics (i.e., white trash) were associated with Native Americans, sometimes seen as below them—from White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, (pp. 109-110):

“Crackers” first appeared in the records of British officials in the 1760s and described a population with nearly identical traits. In a letter to Lord Dartmouth, one colonial British officer explained that the people called “crackers” were “great boasters,” a “lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.” As backcountry “banditti,” “villains,” and “horse thieves,” they were dismissed as “idle strag[g]lers” and “a set of vagabonds often worse than the Indians.”

The children of Irish-Americans and other non-English ethnics in Eastern cities were regularly gathered up and put on orphan trains to be sent off West to be adopted. But in reality it usually meant a form of indentured servitude as they were often used as cheap labor. This practice that began in the 19th century continued into the early 20th century. This played a role in the Irish becoming white, as I explained previously:

WASPs, in their fear of Catholics, intentionally placed Catholic children into Protestant homes. In response, Catholics began to implement their own programs to deal with Catholic children in need of homes. One such case involved nuns bringing a trainload of Irish orphans to Arizona to be adopted by Catholic families. The problem was that the Catholic families in question were Mexican-American. The nuns didn’t understand the local racism/ethnocentrism involved and were taken by surprise by the response of the local WASPs. The “white” population living there took great offense at this challenge to racial purity. Suddenly, when put into that context, the Irish children were deemed to be innocent whites to be protected against an inferior race. This is ironic because where those Irish children came from in the big cities out East they were considered the inferior race.

It still took a long time for the Irish to become fully white.

Consider another example: white flight and ethnic succession. This was in reality a lot more complex. Different groups were escaping various other groups over time. Those deemed most inferior, undesirable, and threatening was always shifting. Early on, into the 20th century, the Irish were focus of fear and derision—Prohibitionists often had the Irish in mind when they sought to enforce social control over the perceived drunken masses. Even other minorities, blacks included, sometimes thought it best to escape the Irish. Certainly, the more well off whites didn’t want them in their neighborhoods, not until the mid-20th century when the Irish had moved a bit further up the ladder of economic class.

It demanded centuries of struggle—from political disenfranchisement and economic oppression by the English in Ireland, not unlike slavery and sometimes worse (as during the mass starvation and deportation of the artificially created Potato Famine), to finally being assimilated into American whiteness. That path toward respectability and relative privilege wasn’t inevitable and wouldn’t have been obvious to earlier generations. It wasn’t obvious to 19th century WASPs such as Emerson and Whitman, two white men who thought Irish advancement implausible and Irish aspirations threatening.

It’s sad, of course, that Irish-Americans shoved down African-Americans and Chinese-Americans in their pushing themselves up. They defied the stereotypes of the Irish Paddy and Bridget, even as they promoted the stereotypes of others. This is the story of America. If Emerson and Whitman had lived longer, the Irish might have finally won over some grudging admiration in their joining the ranks of whiteness and defending the racial order. Or maybe those early American WASPs wouldn’t have recognized this broader notion of the white race, the American mutt—it’s not the country they had envisioned as their own.

* * *

Why did the English people previously see the Irish and Scottish Celts as racially inferior?
by samj234, Reddit

The Teen Who Exposed a Professor’s Myth
by Ben Collins, The Daily Beast

The Irish were persecuted in the American job market—and precisely in the overt, literally written-down way that was always believed.

Irish-Americans, Racism and the Pursuit of Whiteness
by Jessie Daniels, Racism Review

Like many immigrant groups in the United States, the Irish were characterized as racial Others when they first arrived in the first half of the 19th century. The Irish had suffered profound injustice in the U.K. at the hands of the British, widely seen as “white negroes.” The potato famine that created starvation conditions that cost the lives of millions of Irish and forced the out-migration of millions of surviving ones, was less a natural disaster and more a complex set of social conditions created by British landowners (much like Hurricane Katrina). Forced to flee from their native Ireland and the oppressive British landowners, many Irish came to the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the Irish were to negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved Africans and African Americans. The comic Irishman – happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance – was a stock character in American theater. Drunkenness and criminality were major themes of Irish stereotypes […]

Simian, or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was also a common one among the mainstream news publications of the day (much like the recent New York Post cartoon). For example, in 1867 American cartoonist Thomas Nast drew “The Day We Celebrate” a cartoon depicting the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes. And, in 1899, Harper’s Weekly featrued a drawing of three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro, in order to illustrate the similarity between the Irish and the Negro (and, the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic). In northern states, blacks and Irish immigrants were forced into overlapping – often integrated – slum neighborhoods. Although leaders of the Irish liberation struggle (in Ireland) saw slavery as an evil, their Irish-American cousins largely aligned with the slaveholders.

And, following the end of slavery, the Irish and African Americans were forced to compete for the same low-wage, low-status jobs. So, the “white negroes” of the U.K. came to the United States and, though not enslaved, faced a status almost as low as that of recently-freed blacks. While there were moments of solidarity between Irish and African Americans, this was short lived.

IRISH AS SUB-HUMAN
by Michele Walfred, Thomas Nast Cartoons

The Irish-as-ape-stereotype frequently surfaces, as a popular trope, with the English in the mid-nineteenth century. But, In Nothing But the Same Old Story, researcher Liz Curtis provides plentiful examples that establish anti-Irish sentiment as a centuries-long tradition.

Dehumanizing the Irish by drawing them as beasts or primates served as a convenient technique for any conqueror, and it made perfect sense for an English empire intent on placing Ireland and its people under its jurisdiction and control. The English needed to prove the backwardness of the Irish to justify their colonization (16). When the Irish fought back against English oppression, their violence only perpetuated the “violent beast” prejudice held against them.

English artist James Gillray had drawn the Irish as an ogre – a type of humanoid beast – in a reaction to the Irish’s short-lived rebellion against England in 1798. Even before English scientific circles had begun to distort Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species later in the century, the English had favored the monkey and ape as a symbol for Hibernians.

After the Irish had made great social and political gains in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the view that they were of a different race than white people continued to persist…

Nativism
by Michele Walfred, Thomas Nast Cartoons

In America, Highman distills this down to three themes that ran through nativist sentiment in the early nineteenth century: Reformation and the hatred of Roman Catholicism, fear of foreign radicals and political revolutionaries, and racial nativism, which led to the belief America belonged to people of the Anglo-Saxon race. The United States was their domain. The Irish were viewed as a different race and this belief continued to permeate long after the initial Protestant-driven nativist sentiment had considerably weakened. […]

“American writers, cartoonists, and so-called scientific experts hammered away at Irish violence, emotional instability, and contentment in squalor” (Meagher 217). In the eyes of Protestants with ancestral ties to England, the Irish were no better than animals. The Irish presented a triple threat. Their growing numbers, allegiance to strong, organized religion ruled by a foreign monarch, and political gains within Tweed’s Democratic Party, all posed a serious concern to the Protestant elite.

Protestant nativists fought for their survival and painted the Irish as “others.” They eagerly adopted and repeated the British trope of the Irish as unsophisticated, violent-prone animals, a lower being on the evolutionary scale. The Irish’s faith, and in particular their blind allegiance to a foreign pontiff, unsettled nativists. Protestants Americans remembered the hard-fought revolutionary history of their young nation. During the peak years of the potato famine migration (1845-1855) nativists portrayed the Irish in invasion terminology. Nativists predicted the American way of life would end.

By 1880, by and large, the Irish successfully pulled themselves out of their “lowlife” status in a number of ways. They gained respect through their service in the Civil War on behalf of the Union, and in New York City, through political positions awarded by William M. “Boss” Tweed in return for their loyalty and vote. With these gains in respectablility and power, the Irish emerged as a sought-after voting bloc. But politics alone was not enough to counter nativist prejudice. Most significantly, the Irish fought hard to define themselves as white. To do so meant practicing their own brand of nativism. and align with other xenophobes. The Chinese were a convenient target.

In assessing the work of several “whiteness” studies, historian Timothy Meagher asserts that self-identification as “white” went beyond skin color. “It was not clear that the Irish were white” (217).

America’s dark and not-very-distant history of hating Catholics
by Rory Carroll, The Guardian

Demagogues in the nativist movement incited fury and fear about the huge numbers of impoverished German and Irish Catholic immigrants, many barely speaking English, who spilled off ships.

Newspapers and Protestant clergymen, including Lyman Beecher, co-founder of the American Temperance Society, swelled the outcry, warning the influx would take jobs, spread disease and crime and plot a coup to install the Pope in power.

In 1844 mobs burnt Catholic churches and hunted down victims, notably in Philadelphia where, coincidentally or not, Francis will wrap up his week-long visit.

Abuse from Protestant officers partly drove hundreds of Irish soldiers to defect from the US army to the Mexican side before and during the 1846-48 war with Mexico. The deserters obtained revenge, for a while, by forming the San Patricio battalion and targeting their former superiors in battle, only to wind up jailed, branded and hanged after Mexico surrendered.

The growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century gave a new impetus to attacks – mostly verbal – on Catholics.

Roman Catholics and Immigration in Nineteenth-Century America
by Julie Byrne, NHC

Many members of other faiths—Jews, Protestants, and even some Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists—arrived in the successive waves of massive immigration to the United States between the 1840s and 1920s. But Catholics from various countries were the most numerous—and the most noticed. In 1850 Catholics made up only five percent of the total U.S. population. By 1906, they made up seventeen percent of the total population (14 million out of 82 million people)—and constituted the single largest religious denomination in the country.

Immigration in the 1920s
Shmoop

The New Immigrants were distinctive from earlier migrants in that most didn’t want to stay. These immigrants, mostly male and mostly young, hoped to earn enough money during a temporary stay in America to be able to afford an increased standard of living upon returning to their homeland. Something between 50% and 80% of the New Immigrants are believed to have eventually returned to their countries of origin. The exceptions were Jews (who mostly came from Russia, and only 4% of whom repatriated) and Irish (9%), two groups that tended to stay in America permanently because they faced religious persecution, political oppression, and economic privation back home.

Free Speech, World War One, and the Problem of Dissent
by Michael O’Malley, RRCHNM

World War One pitted England, France and Russia against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was difficult, at the beginning of the war, to determine who was the worst of the warring paries, and Americans faced the conflict with divided loyalties. For many Americans of English descent, England seemed like our natural ally. Many American political leaders, most prominently Woodrow Wilson, felt a strong sense of “anglophilia,” or love of England. But Germans and Irish were the two largest immigrant groups to the United States in 1917. Irish immigrants carried bitter memories of English oppression, while German Americans, not surprisingly, tended to favor their homeland, or at least not to regard it as an enemy.

Wilson worried about this division and regarded it as dangerous. Regarding Italian-Americans, German-American, Irish-Americans as suspect, he once declared “Any man who caries a hyphen around with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of the republic.

The Visibility of Whiteness and Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1880-1930
by Robert Júlio Decker, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Western definition of whiteness underwent several significant changes. Scientific racism, understood here as the “language, concepts, methods and authority of science [which] were used to support the belief that certain human groups were intrinsically inferior to others, as measured by some socially defined criterion” (Stepan 1987: IX), provided the methods to not only construct a black/white racial binary, but also to distinguish between several European races. Scientific racism was often augmented by discourses centred on the supposed cultural traits inherent to racial composition. In Britain and the United States, Irish immigrants were racialised as putatively inferior up to the 1880s (Ignatiev 1995: 34-59; Jacobson 1998: 48-52; Knobel 1996). From the 1860s, however, the definition of Englishness slowly began to include all inhabitants of the British Isles and the term Anglo-Saxon was established as generic racial referent for this group (Young 2008: 140-187).

A “Perverse and Ill-Fated People”:
English Perceptions of the Irish, 1845-52

by Ed Lengel, University of Virginia

…the emerging racialist conception of Irish difference, which became dominant in the second half of the nineteenth century. In a sense, the products of Liberal and racialist interpretations of the Irish problem were the same. Idealistic Liberal dreams of an “intimate” marriage between Hibernia and John Bull did not challenge the essentially paternalistic and colonial Anglo-Irish relationship. Indeed, Liberal faith in the improvability of men contributed to a restrictive famine policy intended to teach the Irish to adopt middle-class standards of thrift and morality. It is worth emphasizing in any case that Liberals and racialists agreed on the basic qualities of Saxon and Celt; but while Liberals explained this difference in a gendered discourse of moral inequality, racialists insisted that the ineradicable boundaries of biology would forever separate the two peoples. In both instances, Britain would forever be the master and Ireland the subject.

Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England
by Anthony S. Wohl, The Victorian Web

In much of the pseudo-scientific literature of the day the Irish were held to be inferior, an example of a lower evolutionary form, closer to the apes than their “superiors”, the Anglo-Saxons . Cartoons in Punch portrayed the Irish as having bestial, ape-like or demonic features and the Irishman, (especially the political radical) was invariably given a long or prognathous jaw, the stigmata to the phrenologists of a lower evolutionary order, degeneracy, or criminality. Thus John Beddoe, who later became the President of the Anthropological Institute (1889-1891), wrote in his Races of Britain (1862) that all men of genius were orthognathous (less prominent jaw bones) while the Irish and the Welsh were prognathous and that the Celt was closely related to Cromagnon man, who, in turn, was linked, according to Beddoe, to the “Africanoid”. The position of the Celt in Beddoe’s “Index of Nigrescence” was very different from that of the Anglo-Saxon. These ideas were not confined to a lunatic fringe of the scientific community, for although they never won over the mainstream of British scientists they were disseminated broadly and it was even hinted that the Irish might be the elusive missing link! Certainly the “ape-like” Celt became something of an malevolent cliche of Victorian racism. Thus Charles Kingsley could write

I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw [in Ireland] . . . I don’t believe they are our fault. . . . But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much. . . .” (Charles Kingsley in a letter to his wife, quoted in L.P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts, p.84).

Even seemingly complimentary generalizations about the Irish national character could, in the Victorian context, be damaging to the Celt. Thus, following the work of Ernest Renan’s La Poésie des Races Celtiques (1854), it was broadly argued that the Celt was poetic, light-hearted and imaginative, highly emotional, playful, passionate, and sentimental. But these were characteristics the Victorians also associated with children. Thus the Irish were “immature” and in need of guidance by others, more highly developed than themselves. Irish “emotion” was contrasted, unfavorably, with English “reason”, Irish “femininity” with English “masculine” virtues, Irish “poetic” attributes with English “pragmatism”. These were all arguments which conveniently supported British rule in Ireland.

A British Ireland, Or the Limits of Race and Hybridity in Maria Edgeworth’s Novels
by Kimberly Philomen Clarke, Georgetown University

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as Roxanne Wheeler discusses in The Complexion of Race (2000), race was seen as mutable and had a complex relationship to religion. Racial difference was not only dependent on a fixed categorization of skin color, but also on clothing, religion, and culture.19 Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Britons defined themselves according to their Protestantism, clothing, and climate, among other characteristics, and as the nineteenth century arrived, whiteness finally became a marker of Britishness as “skin color emerg[ed] as the most important component of racial identity in Britain during the third quarter of the eighteenth century” (Wheeler 9).

Race became the determinant of culture and history, a common “principle of academic knowledge” in the nineteenth century (Young 93). The correlation between whiteness with Englishness developed in the 1720s and 1730s with the assumption that racial blackness signified one’s intellectual and spiritual inferiority (Wheeler 98). Historian Winthrop Jordan has argued that in the mid-seventeenth century, colonists in confrontation with the Other went from calling themselves Christian to calling themselves English, free, and “white,” a term that came to symbolize a moral and intellectual superiority against blackness and non-Britishness (Wheeler 74). Against this darker, inferior other among the nonwhite British colonies in Africa, the West Indies, and India, Britishness became emblematic of a white empire that would not be culturally or racially muddied by foreign influences (Colley 312).

[…] for the Irish to be British. Primarily, they have to sacrifice their symbolic blackness, that which symbolizes their peasantry class, cultural otherness, and religious differences, and particularly that which marks their contentious history and centuries long colonization by England. To forfeit this darkness symbolizing the history of suppression and difference, however, is also to surrender a part of a collective Irish identity in Britain. […]

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Irish were seen as a symbolic manifestation of a biracial, Caucasian/African hybridity. There are stereotypes that confirm the outsider status of the Irish both before and after the 1801 Act of Union, some of which continue to paint the British as white and the Irish as nonwhite, or at least not white enough to be British. Richard Lebow’s White Ireland and Black Ireland (1976) mentions the “racist attitudes toward the Irish in Victorian Britain” (14). He argues that “racist expressions were merely the age old anti-Irish prejudice couched in the jargon of the day” (15). In The Times in 1836, Benjamin Disraeli claims the Irish “hate our free and fertile isle. They hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our sustained courage, our decorous liberty, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain, and superstitious race has no sympathy with the English character” (quoted in Lebow 61). Andrew Murphy quotes Charles Kingsley, who visited Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, writing to his wife that, “I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country…to see white chimpanzees is dreadful: if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours” (Murphy 12). Furthermore, disgusted at Irish poverty and how it contradicts his British image of whiteness, Kingsley writes, “Can you picture in your mind a race of white men reduced to this condition? White men! Yes the highest and purest blood and breed of men” (Murphy 44). These quotations demonstrate both the racial whiteness and “otherness” or non-whiteness that Irish identity connotes in Edgeworth’s literature. Irish otherness was fueled stereotypes of racial, cultural, and intellectual differences that “the Irish” as a generalized group endured before and throughout the nineteenth century and onward. […]

Edgeworth associates Irish peasantry with physical blackness in a letter to her Aunt Ruxton in which she expresses her fears of the sort of Irish rebellion that was frequent in the late eighteenth century and which her family twice before had endured.27 Edgeworth confesses, “All I crave for my own part is, that if I am to have my throat cut, it might not be by a man with his face blackened with charcoal” (Egenolf 849-50). She later says that she “shall look at every person that comes here very closely, to see if there be any marks of charcoal upon their visages” (850). This blackness results from working with charcoal and other materials associated with manual labor. However, in these lines, Edgeworth is not commenting on Irish working class life but rather the threatening gaze of those faces blackened with charcoal and the fear that blackness represents for Edgeworth and her family as the Irish rebel, reclaiming his own agency, destabilizes the power of the upper class families in Ireland. Therefore, keeping in mind the Africanist image of the danger associated with Irish blackened faces, one may read Christy’s physical blackness as not a result of work but some inherent racial trait the Irish were thought to have and that reflected anxieties about the power native Irish against middle and upper class whiteness (859-60).

Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race
by Bruce Nelson
pp. 34-35

A month later the Bristol Mirror charged that “the Indians with their tomahawks and scalping knives are a much nobler set of savages than the murderers of Limerick and Tipperary.” 16

The comparison of the Irish with the “savages of America” was familiar enough; it dated from the seventeenth century. But there was a dramatically new development in the second half of the nineteenth century, a time when Darwinian science posited an evolutionary chain of being in which humans were descended directly from African apes. In this context, British commentators created a “simianized,” or apelike, Paddy whose likeness to the “backward” races of Africa was inescapable. Perry Curtis has traced this development in Apes and Angels. He notes that the Rising of 1798 led British cartoonists to develop images of a preternaturally ugly Paddy whose appearance was far more ominous and repellent than that of the bumptious but relatively harmless stage Irishman who had predominated for much of the eighteenth century. Some of these cartoon characters were given porcine features, but until the 1860s the cartoon Irishman remained largely human. It was with the coming of Darwinian evolution, and the reemergence of violent Irish republicanism in the guise of Fenianism, that the transformation of the stereotypical Paddy really took off with the publication of cartoon caricatures such as “The Irish Devil-Fish” (a massive octopus with simian facial features) and the even more notorious “Irish Frankenstein,” with his dagger dripping blood. According to Curtis, “In a biological sense, Paddy had devolved, not evolved, from a primitive peasant to an unruly Caliban, thence to a ‘white Negro,’ and finally he arrived at the lowest conceivable level of the gorilla and the orangutan.”

pp. 38-45

Even in regard to France, the citadel of Celtic achievement, he observed that the country’s “vast Moorish population” was “superior in all respects to the lazy, worthless Celt.” 24

Knox’s elevation of the dark-skinned Moor above the Celt is a vivid example of the slippage that often occurred in racial discourse about the Irish. Even relatively sympathetic observers resorted to characterizations of Irish Celts that linked them to darker races and, sometimes, to apes. […]

But Jackson also ruminated on the “Iberian character” of the Irish peasantry, raising the familiar specter of southern origins, Moorish blood, and intimations of darkness and savagery. Referring specifically to the peasants of the west and south of Ireland, he reported that “an absolutely negroid type has been occasionally detected by keen observers,” which meant that “inferior and non-Aryan racial elements are clearly perceptible in the population of the sister isle.” 26 Jackson’s fellow anthropologist Hector MacLean concurred and identified a racial type, also with Iberian characteristics, that was “very prevalent in the west of Ireland. . . . The stature is generally low,” he claimed, “with dark skin and complexion; the head is long, low, and broad; the hair black, coarse, and shaggy; the eyes black or dark brown, or grey, with fiery lustre; forehead receding, with lower part of face prominent.” 27 To those who were predisposed to believe them, reports of this kind served to reinforce elite and popular perceptions of the Irish as akin to “the negro,” “the savage,” and even “the ape.” […]

To locate the “real” Irish, then, one had to go to the west and southwest of the country, where there had been less immigration and therefore less mixing of blood. To be sure, in fishing villages on Galway Bay and in the Aran Islands, Beddoe found significant examples of intermarriage, and thus of racial hybridity. But for the most part, the west was the home of “swarthy” and “dark-complexioned aborigines,” many of whom had dark eyes and even darker, sometimes “coal-black,” hair. By themselves, hair and eye color did not indicate skin color, and for the most part Beddoe acknowledged that he was dealing with whites, although he did record that in the mountains between Sligo and Roscommon he had encountered “the swarthiest people I have ever seen.” He also created an “Index of Nigrescence” to measure the range of hair and eye color from one racial type to another, and like virtually all of the anthropologists of his generation, he could not help but speculate on the relationship between racial classification and intelligence and temperament. “There is an Irish type . . . which I am disposed to derive from the race of Cro-Magnon,“ he reported. “In the West of Ireland I have frequently seen it. Though the head is large, the intelligence is low, and there is a great deal of cunning and suspicion.” He also discovered a tendency toward “prognathism” among people in England, Wales, and Ireland, with Ireland as its “present centre.” Venturing onto very slippery terrain indeed, he speculated that “most of its lineaments are such as to lead us to think of Africa as its possible birthplace, and it may be well, provisionally, to call it Africanoid.” 30

Beddoe did not always follow the apparent logic of his own conclusions. He argued in The Races of Britain that “the points of likeness to the anthropoid apes are distributed variously among the different races of mankind, . . . [and] none of them can be taken in themselves to imply intellectual or moral inferiority.” But by creating an index of nigrescence, and constructing a prognathous physical type in Ireland that he identified as “Africanoid,” he provided openings for others who were far more determined to assert the racial inferiority of the Irish and to see them as a race that had not achieved the salient characteristics commonly associated with “whiteness.” In the early twentieth century, especially in response to the polarization and violence of the Irish War of Independence, a new generation of scholars and pseudoscholars was determined to portray the Irish as a people whose many negative attributes were rooted in a suspect racial past. In 1919 two Harvard geneticists claimed that the Irish were “principally the product of the mingling of two savage Mongolian tribes,” and in 1922 two equally zealous Hibernophobes found a “strain of negro blood” in the Firbolgs, or Attacotti, the ancient race that had invaded Ireland and allegedly waged a war of extermination against its “fair-haired and clean-skinned” rivals on the island. 31

These developments in the realm of science were reflected in a wider, more random discourse through which elite and popular commentators linked the Irish with black Africans and African Americans in a shared stereotype that alleged laziness, irrationality, and an incapacity for self-government as essential characteristics of both races. By the mid-nineteenth century or soon thereafter, the tendency to portray the Irish as apelike creatures who were laughably crude and lamentably violent was becoming a commonplace in the United States as well as Britain. In a meditation on the “Celtic physiognomy,” the American magazine Harper’s Weekly commented on the “small and somewhat upturned nose [and] the black tint of the skin,” while Punch characterized the “Irish Yahoo” who populated “the lowest districts of London and Liverpool” as “a creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro,” a “climbing animal [who] may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder with a hod of bricks.” 32 […]

What comes through in so many of these observations is the racial “in-betweenness” of the Irish in the eye of the beholder. 34 Although Harper’s Weekly did comment on the “black tint of the [Irish] skin,” few observers were willing to argue that the Irish were “black” or “coloured,” no matter how high they registered on Beddoe’s index of nigrescence. Instead, in the age of Darwin, Irishmen and -women were portrayed as “white chimpanzees,” as “creature[ s] manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro,” and as “more like a tribe of squalid apes than human beings.” Charles Kingsley, an Anglican clergyman and regius professor of modern history at Cambridge, was “haunted by the human chimpanzees” he encountered during a holiday in Ireland in 1860. “To see white chimpanzees is dreadful,” he confided to his wife; “if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.” Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish writer and polemicist, did not doubt that the Irish had “a white skin” and even “European features,” but they were “savages” nonetheless. “The Celt[ s] of Connemara,” he wrote in the 1840s, “are white and not black; but it is not the colour of the skin that determines the savagery of a man” or of a race. “He is a savage who in his sullen stupidity, in his chronic rage and misery, cannot know the facts of this world when he sees them; [who] . . . brandishes his tomahawk against the laws of Nature.” Carlyle exempted the “Teutonic Irish” of Ulster from his censure, but he charged that the chronic laziness of the Celtic Irish, and their refusal to accept that for the foreseeable future their role must be to labor for others, made them akin to the black ex-slaves of Jamaica, for whom he recommended a return to the “beneficence” of involuntary servitude. As for Kingsley, he informed a friend that the “harsh school of facts” had cured him of any illusions about equality between the races. “I have seen,” he wrote, “that the differences of race are so great, that certain races, e.g., the Irish Celts, seem quite unfit for self-government.” 35

Other observers also believed that the racial characteristics of the Irish made them seem more like blacks and less like bona fide “white men.” When James Bryce wrote of the Negro that “his intelligence is rather quick than solid, and . . . shows the childishness as well as lack of self-control which belongs to primitive peoples,” he could just as easily have been describing the Irish as far as many readers were concerned. 36 During the Great War, it was not uncommon for those who witnessed or worked with Irish recruits in the British army to characterize them as “hardy and brave,” but also as prone to “displays of unnecessary bravado” that resulted in excessive casualties on the battlefield. Even a British officer who had “great sympathy” for the Irish troops he led confided to his wife that “his men came from ‘an extraordinary and inexplicable race’ and that Ireland must be an ‘island of children with the bodies of men.’ ” These are nearly the same terms that French observers applied to the black soldiers who were recruited from France’s West African colonies. They too displayed a “wild impulsiveness” and “fierce ardour for hand-to-hand combat” that made them ideal “shock troops.” But there were also frequent allegations that they lacked discipline and cohesion, that, like the Irish, they were a race of “children,” albeit “wonderful children, with generous hearts.” 37

For the Irish, racial in-betweenness was a condition they could ill afford at a time when European and American conceptions of race were narrowing, from the belief in a “multiplicity of nations, races, and religions” to the fulsome embrace of a simple binary division between “white” and “nonwhite.” […]

Dilke was a graduate of Cambridge, where he studied with Charles Kingsley. He was also a Liberal politician, a widely published author, and a racial imperialist whose main concern was not the supremacy of British capital but the triumph, on a global scale, of English institutions and values. The great impediment to this accomplishment, he believed, was the migration of the “cheaper races” to English-speaking countries such as the United States and Australia. “In America,” he wrote in Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in English-Speaking Countries during 1866 and 1867, “we have seen the struggle of the dear races against the cheap— the endeavors of the English to hold their own against the Irish and the Chinese.” But the threat these races posed was not only to the standard of living of the Saxons and their descendants but to civilization itself. He warned of “the danger to our race and to the world from Irish ascendency.” For if the Celt, his religion, and his “fierce” temperament prevailed, then the Englishman and his way of life would be eclipsed and the “freedom of mankind” would be jeopardized. 40

In tracing the evolution of anti-Irish stereotypes and polemics, then, from the sixteenth century through the nineteenth and into the twentieth, one comes face to face with a process of racialization rooted in conquest, colonization, and Anglicization. It was a process that sometimes engendered violence on a horrific scale and one that by means of the stage Irishman, the cartoon caricature, and the condescension and ridicule inherent in the “Paddy joke” did enormous damage to Irish self-esteem. 41 We have seen how the native Irish were portrayed as heathens, savages, and even wild animals; we have seen, too, how Paddy was constructed as feckless, lazy, riotous, and, sometimes, dangerous to the peace and tranquillity of England as well as Ireland. Perhaps by way of summary it is appropriate to turn to the Kentish Gazette, which in February 1847 sought to identify the essential ingredients of the Irish character and to offer up a solution to the Irish Question. During one of the most devastating months of the Great Famine, the Gazette commented editorially that “the system of agitation, of midnight plunder, of open-day assassination, of Hottentot ignorance, superstition, idolatry, and indolence must be eradicated, removed, abolished by the strong arm of the law.” 42 “Idolatry” and “superstition” were, of course, code words for Catholicism; indolence was, allegedly, the preferred pastime of the Irish people; assassination and midnight plunder were the staples of Irish politics; and Hottentot ignorance linked the Irish to African people who were widely regarded as primitive and backward, thus completing the process of racialization.

Who Built America, Volume II
pp . 146-149

American nativism often took the form of anti-Catholicism. In 1887 the American Protective Association (APA) organized to drive Irish Catholics out of American politics and soon claimed a half-million members, all of whom took an oath never to vote for a Catholic. The APA explicitly blamed the depression on Catholics, asserting that immigrants had taken the jobs of native-born Americans. It endorsed political candidates in 1894, but it broke apart when its members could not agree on establishing a third party or supporting the Republican ticket in 1896.

THE HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS CONFLICT IN THE UNITED STATES:
REVOLUTION TO SEPTEMBER 11TH

by Erik Wong, Stanford University

The early part of the 19th Century was relatively quiet in terms of religious conflict in America. The religious conflict that stands out in this period involves tensions between Catholics and Protestants, culminating in violence directed at Irish Catholic immigrants. The surge in immigration from Europe during the 19th Century coincided with and influx of Catholics and the rise of activist Protestantism in the U.S. As strong Protestant values permeated the country, immigrants who were Catholic also became viewed as outsiders and undemocratic. These views are separate from, but on top of, the harsh anti-Irish sentiment that also spread during the period.

In the 1830s and 1840s, anti-Catholic violence broke out in the Northeast and elsewhere. In 1835, one incident was ignited by a speaking tour by Lyman Beecher, who published Plea for the West, a book about a Catholic plot to take over the U.S. and impose Catholic rule. After Beecher’s speaking tour passed through Charlestown, Massachusetts, a mob set fire to the Ursuline convent and school.[3] In Philadelphia in 1844, pitched gun battles broke out between “native” Americans and mostly Irish Catholics. Martial law had to be declared in order to end the violence.[4]

The Divide Between Blacks and the Irish
by Noel Ignatiev, The Root

The Irish who immigrated to America in the 18th and 19th centuries were fleeing caste oppression and a system of landlordism that made the material conditions of the Irish peasant comparable to those of an American slave. The Penal Laws regulated every aspect of Irish life and established Irish Catholics as an oppressed race. Anticipating Judge Roger B. Taney’s famous dictum in the Dred Scott decision, on two occasions officials with judiciary authority in Ireland declared that “the law does not suppose any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic.”

When they first began arriving here in large numbers, the Irish were, in the words of Mr. Dooley (a character created by journalist Finley Peter Dunne), given a shovel and told to start digging up the place as if they owned it. On the rail beds and canals, they labored for low wages under dangerous conditions; in the South they were occasionally employed where it did not make sense to risk the life of a slave. As they came to the cities, they were crowded into districts that became centers of crime, vice and disease.

They commonly found themselves thrown together with free Negroes. Blacks and the Irish fought each other and the police, socialized and occasionally intermarried, and developed a common culture of the lowly. They also both suffered the scorn of those better situated. Along with Jim Crow and Jim Dandy, the drunken, belligerent and foolish Patrick and Bridget were stock characters on the early stage. In antebellum America, it was speculated that if racial amalgamation was ever to take place, it would begin between those two groups. As we know, things turned out otherwise.

How the Irish Became White
by Art McDonald, University of Pittsburgh

Ironically, Irish Catholics came to this country as an oppressed race yet quickly learned that to succeed they had to in turn oppress their closest social class competitors, free Northern blacks. Back home these “native Irish or papists” suffered something very similar to American slavery under English Penal Laws. Yet, despite their revolutionary roots as an oppressed group fighting for freedom and rights, and despite consistent pleas from the great Catholic emancipator, Daniel O’Connell, to support the abolitionists, the newly arrived Irish-Americans judged that the best way of gaining acceptance as good citizens and to counter the Nativist movement was to cooperate in the continued oppression of African Americans. Ironically, at the same time they were collaborating with the dominant culture to block abolition, they were garnering support from among Southern, slaveholding democrats for Repeal of the oppressive English Act of the Union back home. Some even convinced themselves that abolition was an English plot to weaken this country.

Upon hearing of this position on the part of so many of his fellow countrymen now residing in the United States, in 1843 O’Connell wrote: “Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice, saying, come out of such a land, you Irishmen; or, if you remain, and dare countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer.” It’s a tragic story. In a letter published in the Liberator in 1854, it was stated that “passage to the United States seems to produce the same effect upon the exile of Erin as the eating of the forbidden fruit did upon Adam and Eve. In the morning, they were pure, loving, and innocent; in the evening, guilty.”

Irish and Africans Americans had lots in common and lots of contact during this period; they lived side by side and shared work spaces. In the early years of immigration the poor Irish and blacks were thrown together, very much part of the same class competing for the same jobs. In the census of 1850, the term mulatto appears for the first time due primarily to inter-marriage between Irish and African Americans. The Irish were often referred to as “Negroes turned inside out and Negroes as smoked Irish.” A famous quip of the time attributed to a black man went something like this: “My master is a great tyrant, he treats me like a common Irishman.” Free blacks and Irish were viewed by the Nativists as related, somehow similar, performing the same tasks in society. It was felt that if amalgamation between the races was to happen, it would happen between Irish and blacks. But, ultimately, the Irish made the decision to embrace whiteness, thus becoming part of the system which dominated and oppressed blacks. Although it contradicted their experience back home, it meant freedom here since blackness meant slavery.

How Housing Discrimination Created the Idea of Whiteness
by Whet Moser, Chicago Magazine

Note that Irish and Germans are at the top of the list. Had Hoyt’s book been written fifty, or even twenty years before, they likely would have been lower. As Lewinnek described to me, German and Irish immigrants were relegated to the periphery of the city after the Great Fire by the “fire limits,” prohibitions on the construction of inexpensive wooden houses that effectively pushed working-class homeowners out of the city center; Chicago Germans were at the forefront of briefly successful protests against the fire limits.

Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City
by Antero Pietila
Excerpt

Harlem exemplifies racial succession, which is the sociologists’ term for ethnic, racial and economic neighborhood transition. In the space of four decades between the 1870s and 1910s, that section of New York City went from a white upper-class community of American-born residents to one populated by recent Irish, Jewish, German, Italian and Scandinavian immigrants.

American Pharaoh
by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
Chapter 1

If white Chicago as a whole turned a cold shoulder to the new black arrivals, Daley’s Irish kinsmen were particularly unwelcoming.

The Irish and blacks had much in common. Ireland’s many years of domination at the hands of the British resembled, if not slavery, then certainly southern sharecropping — with Irish farmers working the land and sending rent to absentee landlords in England. The Irish were dominated, like southern blacks, through violence, and lost many of the same civil rights: to vote, to serve on juries, and to marry outside their group. Indeed, after Cromwell’s bloody invasion in the mid-1600s, not only were Irish-Catholics massacred in large numbers, but several thousand were sent in chains to the West Indies, where they were sold into slavery. But these similar histories of oppression did not bring Chicago’s Irish and blacks together. Much of the early difficulty stemmed from rivalry between two groups relegated to the lowest levels of the social order.

Ethnic America: A History
by Thomas Sowell
pp. 277-279

Today’s neighborhood changes have been dramatized by such expressions as “white flight.” but these patterns existed long before black-white neighborhood changes were the issue. When the nineteenth-century Irish immigrants flooded into New York and Boston, the native Americans fled. With the first appearance of an Irish family in a neighborhood, “the exodus of non-Irish residents began,” 2 According to a contemporary, property values “tremble” as “fear spreads,” and panicky flight ensues. 3 As “the old occupants fled to the outskirts of town,” 4 in the mid-nineteenth century when immigration increased, New York City grew northward about one mile per decade. The built-up area extended only as far north as Fourteenth Street in 1840, but it grew to Thirty-fourth Street in a decade, and to Forty-second Street by I860.5

“White flight” is a misleading term, not only because of its historical narrowness, but also because blacks too have fled when the circumstances were reversed. Blacks fled a whole series of neighborhoods in nineteenth-century New York, “pursued” by new Italian immigrants who moved in. 6 In nineteenth-century Detroit, blacks moved out of neighborhoods as Polish immigrants moved in. 7 The first blacks in Harlem were fleeing from the tough Irish neighborhoods in mid-Manhattan, 8 and avoided going north of 145th Street, for fear of encountering more Irish there. 9

As the relative socioeconomic positions of ethnic groups changed with the passage of time, so did the neighborhood flight. In nineteenth-century nieghborhoods where Anglo-Saxons had once fled as the Irish moved in, the middle-class Irish later fled as the Jews and Italians moved in. […]

Ethnic succession did not end with neighborhoods. Early Irish immigrants were often used as strikebreakers and were hated and kept out of unions as a result. Later, the Irish were unionized and Italians, Negroes, and many others were used as strikebreakers, encountering in turn the same hostility and resistance to their admission to unions. Still later, the Irish were union leaders, while Jews or Italians were rank-and-file union members. Today, there are unions where Jews are union leaders and blacks and Puerto Ricans are members. Similarly, in the schools, the Irish immigrant children in the mid-nineteenth century were taught by Protestant Anglo-Saxon teachers. Half a century later, Jewish immigrant children were far more likely to be taught by Irish Catholics than by Jewish teachers. A generation later, Negro children in Harlem were far more likely to be taught by Jewish teachers than by black teachers. Few children of rising ethnic groups have had “role models” of their own ethnicity. Some of the most successful— notably the Chinese and the Japanese— almost never did.

While various ethnic groups succeeded each other in neighborhoods, schools, jobs, etc., the country as a whole was also changing. The installation of underground sewage lines and indoor plumbing in the late nineteenth century meant that no other urban ethnic group had to endure as primitive and dangerous a set of living conditions as the Irish had in the mid-nineteenth century. Subways, trolleys, and eventually bus lines made it feasible for working people to spread out and still get to work in a reasonable time. The incredible overcrowding on New York’s lower east side in the nineteenth century was never to be approached again in modern slums. Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican Americans today live in crowded housing conditions, compared to their contemporaries, but in no way so crowded as the conditions among Jews, Italians, or the Irish in the nineteenth century. “Overcrowded” schools today may have perhaps half as many students per class as in nineteenth century schools on New York’s lower east side. The problems of today are very real, and sometimes severe, but they are by no means historically unprecedented.

Many of the problems of the poor and powerless remain the same, whatever group fills that role at a given time. The Jewish Daily Forward commented in 1907: “police in the Jewish quarter of New York are the most savage in America.” 19 An Italian immigrant writer complained in the early twentieth century about his experiences with the “rudeness” and “inconsiderateness” of government officials, which he found “disgusting.” 20 Many of the complaints against poor ethnic groups were also similar to those today— that “children are born with reckless regularity” among the Jews and Italians, 21 that murders are a result of “the wanton brutality of the moment,” 22 and that raising the immigrants to a decent level “implies a problem of such magnitude and such distant realization” that it can only be imagined. 23

Racism, Proto-Racism, and Social Constructs

A less typical angle on race and racism is to look to the ancient world. Some early texts and other evidence can be used to this end. But these sources are sparse and the authors weren’t representative of the average person.

Plus, we end up projecting onto the past. That is how the early ideas of race developed, as those thinkers themselves looked to ancient texts. Scholars agree that modern notions of scientific racism didn’t exist in the ancient world. Still, it is normal in all periods for others to be perceived according to differences, although similarities are often emphasized.

It can be problematic to call this proto-racism, though. That is anachronistic. There is no proto-racism. There is just racism, which itself is inseparable from the rise of scientific thinking. It’s like calling the earliest Egyptian Empire proto-modern because it was an early example of what modernity would build upon millennia later. Or it’s like calling the Roman Empire proto-industrialization because they were an industrious people who liked to build infrastructure that helped their economy to develop.

Racism is a word with a ton of baggage to it. That baggage didn’t exist in the ancient world. Their entire way of looking at the world and identifying themselves is alien to us. This is something I don’t think many modern people appreciate, scholars included. Go far back enough in time and you’re in not just a foreign world but a foreign reality. It’s hard to enter a mindset so different from ours or even to imagine what that mindset might have been going by such limited evidence.

As an example, ancient people had a different sense of ethnicity, culture, language, and religion. These things didn’t exist to them. There was simply the world they knew. It also seems there was much fluidity in those societies. We can see that from how much people borrowed ideas and traditions from one another, and were regularly creating new syncretistic cultures and social systems.

The Greeks weren’t a single people. It took centuries for a collective identity to form through trade and travel. Greek culture became so influential that colonized people and even foreign empires adopted Greek mythology as their own origins. It was irrelevant whether or not people shared ancestry or necessarily looked like one another. A mythological system like that of the Greeks allowed for a fair amount of broad inclusion.

The same pattern was seen with the Celts. Like the Greeks, they had formed a large, influential trading society. It spread their Celtic culture, including religion and language, to other populations. The Irish weren’t Celtic when they took on Celtic culture.

To be Greek or Celtic was a specific worldview, not a race. It’s like calling oneself an American, an identity that contains diversity and means many things to many people. Yet Greeks and Celts, like other cultural groups, were perceived in terms of physical features. Romans saw as significant that Celts had blue skin. Were Celts born as a blue-skinned race. No, they dyed their skin blue. That is what Romans saw on the battlefield, a bunch of naked men who were blue all over.

Other cultures dyed their skin or hair various colors or else permanently modified their bodies in other ways: scarifying, tattoos, extending earlobes and lips, etc. Plus, each culture had a different way of doing their hair along with having different clothing, jewelry, etc that they wore or else lack thereof. Even two genetically near identical groups could appear as absolutely different in physical appearance, not to mention other aspects of culture, religion, language, and social behavior.

To ancient Romans or Greeks, the blue-skinned Celts were more foreign than darker-skinned Egyptians or even more foreign. Some Romans did speculate on such physical differences, but not more than they speculated about all of the thousands of other differences (and similarities) between various cultures. Besides, a barbarian was someone who spoke a different language, specifically a language that wasn’t Greek or Latin (or else spoke accented, provincial Greek or Latin), no matter their physical appearance. And a foreigner was simply anyone who was outside of one’s door, which is to say outside of one’s home and homeland. Ancients perceived certain groups as ‘other’, but race as we know it wasn’t a mental category they had to place people in.

Sure, white and black were colors with great symbolic value in the ancient world, often indicating moral and aesthetic value. It’s just not clear how that applied to people. Ancients unlikely portrayed all darker-skinned people as ‘black’, considering that darker-skinned people are actually varying shades of brown. The Roman Empire, in particular, was a cosmopolitan society including many Africans who weren’t just slaves but also gladiators, charioteers, soldiers, entertainers, philosophers, theologians, priests, and even numerous popes and emperors—diversity was found both in Rome and at the frontier and this diversity led to intermixing, through culture and marriage. Also, I doubt various swarthy Mediterranean peoples looked to the Irish and Scandinavians as being superior because of their lighter skin, no matter what was their view of the symbolic value of light and dark.

Besides, we’re not entirely sure the skin color and tone of various ancient populations, as much population mixing has occurred over the millennia. For example, the early Jews probably were darker-skinned before outbreeding with Europeans and Arabs (Palestinians are descendants of the original Jews that never left). Or consider how those early Jews perceived the Samaritans as a separate people, even though they shared the same holy texts. The ancients had plenty of prejudices, just not our modern prejudices. There is much debate about when and how long it took those modern prejudices to develop, but they certainly didn’t exist in classical antiquity.

Lets just be clear that skin color was no more defining of otherness than anything else, although in any given context in a particular text a particular defining feature would be emphasized. Sure, someone could look for all the examples of ancient people focusing one thing while ignoring all of the many more examples when ancient people focused on other things (and many have done this). But how would that offer any insight into anything beyond the biases of the person looking for examples to fit a preconceived ideological worldview?

Worse still, talking about proto-racism gives an air of inevitability to racism. How could proto-racism become anything other than racism? The theory of social construction offers an alternative perspective—as stated in a review of Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What?: “Hacking provides an interesting perspective on this whole trend by de-emphasizing the social aspect and focusing on the construction aspect. He views this simply as a way of arguing against the inevitability of something.”

Maybe the precursors to racism could be interpreted differently. And maybe their subsequent development is much more historically contingent than many assume, which is to say maybe there are many pathways that might not have led to racism as we know it or anything like it. What happened isn’t what necessarily had to happen.

Seeing the past with fresh eyes is difficult, as the main evidence we have are texts, what people wanted to be remembered and how they wanted it to be remembered. The texts that survived were either written by or favored by a long lineage of victors that shaped what civilization would become. And traditions of interpreting those texts have also been passed down by the victors. To impose one’s ideological views, racial or otherwise, onto others is the ultimate privilege for who controls the stories a society tells controls that society.

Consider a specific piece of evidence. In Airs, Waters, Places, Hippocrates of Kos has a passage that indicates a worldview of environmental determinism. Some modern scholars have interpreted this as proto-racism.

The problem with this is that environmental determinism is often used as evidence against modern race-based explanations of human differences. What Hippocrates argues is that people are the way they are because of the environments they live in, but that leaves much left to explain. He never claims that people have inherent traits outside of an environment, that people can’t change by changing environment. That is significant for in the ancient world, entire populations were known to migrate to new environments. This point is emphasized by how, during the colonial era, Europeans began to worry that their unique identity or superior character could be lost by spending too much time in native environments. Also, Hippocrates seems to argue, using Greeks as an example, that people in other environments can sometimes take the best traits from nearby environments while making them their own and so not be trapped by environmental determinism of their own narrow environmental niche.

By the way, the majority of the Greek population were slaves and the majority of slaves were ethnic Greeks. When Greek thinkers sought to justify slavery, they sometimes argued about physical differences. These perceived differences, however, weren’t skin color. Instead, the slave was different, even more animal-like, because he stooped over or something like that. It’s not as if supposedly stooped over people represented a separate race. Greek society was rare in having so many slaves, possibly the earliest example. The reason there were so many slaves is because Greeks were constantly fighting each other and they chose to enslave rather than kill the defeated people. Africans and other non-Greeks were rare slaves among Greeks and they were highly prized as more valuable than the ethnic Greek slave.

The negative connotation was in being enslaved, not in being a particular ethnicity or race. This is why group identity was so often based on kinship, more than even ethnicity. What differentiated the enslaved ethnic Greek and the free ethnic Greek is that they didn’t tend to intermarry, unless a slave gained freedom or a free person lost it, which wasn’t uncommon but even then a former slave wouldn’t likely marry far above their own class. Kinship identity in such a society was to some extent class identity (and that remained dominant until the end of feudalism and persists to this day with the aristocracy in Britain), although most importantly kinship was about familial descent. It required later multicultural colonial empires for larger group identities to form, but the fluidity of ancient ethnic/cultural/mythological origins demonstrates an early form of larger identity (specifically in how origin stories were more mythological than biological). It’s hard to make clear conclusions with confidence, as much vagueness exists in ancient texts.

Even if we wanted to accept that proto-racism is a valid theory, how is environmental determinism (or whatever other similar theory) clearly, necessarily, and inevitably proto-racism? Others have noted this is extremely weak evidence being used in a biased manner. We are in severely problematic territory. Race has been shown to be scientifically meaningless, as the genetic difference between humans is smaller than found in most similar species and certainly couldn’t justify the classification of racial sub-species. Trying to interpret the past according to a proto-racism lens based on modern racialist thought is asking for endless confusion and hence false conclusions.

There is already enough confusion in the world. This confusion is even found among highly intelligent and well informed people. This was demonstrated to me recently when talking to a guy I’ve known for many years. He is a left-winger in the Marxist tradition, although when he was younger he was a right-winger, maybe a libertarian or something like that.

I’ve talked to him many times over the years about race and racism. He is well versed in views such as race being a social construct. In talking to him not too long ago, he kept repeating that he didn’t think race as social construct meant what liberals think it means. I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at. He knows me fairly well and so knows that I’m not a typical liberal. He also should know that liberalism is a wide category, including much disagreement, as I’ve often explained this to him. Who are these ‘liberals’ he speaks of? And what does he think they think? I don’t know.

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t seem like anyone really knows what it means to say race is a social construct. The one thing that is clear is that ideas are powerful in the human mind, in shaping imagination and perception. Talking about this, we are going deep into the muddy waters of the psyche. The confusion that exists goes far beyond a single ideological group such as liberals.

I didn’t think too much about this at first. I figured maybe he meant that people weren’t thinking carefully enough. I’d agree with that much, if that is what he was trying to communicate. Then he said something that caught me off guard. What he said was basically this: That Africans look all the same. Or at least look more the same than Europeans. Of course, he used scientific terminology to make this statement. But the basic message was too close to bigotry for my taste. I was surprised to hear him say it.

Ignoring the racist connotations, it simply makes no sense scientifically. Africa has the most human genetic diversity in the world, moreso than all the rest of the world combined. I told this guy that I doubt Africans would agree with him about his assessment. He tried to defend himself by saying he visited Africa, as if a visit to Africa would even begin to touch upon the vast number of distinct populations across a vast continent, second only to Asia in size of landmass.

This racist/racialist/race-realist viewpoint is even more meaningless in the larger historical context. In the ancient world, all Mediterranean people had more genetically and culturally in common with each other than they did with the other societies far away on the the respective continents. For example, some Greeks looked to the Egyptians as their cultural forefathers, as the source of great art and high culture. A number of great thinkers in the supposed ‘Western’ tradition didn’t even come from Europe, such as Augustine who was an African (even some ‘Greek’ philosophers weren’t born and raised in Greece: Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Damascius, etc). Millennia of Mediterranean trade had not only spread culture but also genetics. The genetic aspect can still be seen today, as certain Southern European populations and certain Northern African populations remain linked by common genetics.

The statement about all Africans looking the same (or more simiar than other found on other continents) in order to justify racial ideology could, at best, be called lazy thinking. The guy who made this statment is normally a more careful thinker. And he wouldn’t accept that kind of simplistic comment from someone else. That is the problem with ‘race’ as an ideological lens. By design, it adds confusion to the thought process. That is its purpose, to obscure details and pulverize them into a mass of generalizations.

Having been raised in a society where racial ideology is ubiquitous, such a social construct gets embedded deeply in our minds. Trying to free ourselves of such maladaptive thinking is like trying to remove a barbed hook out of your chest. This is one of the most powerful memes ever released into the world. It messes with your head in a way few things can. It’s a mind virus of plague proportions, easy to be infected and yet no known cure.

It’s hard for us to imagine a society that might have operated with entirely different social constructs based on entirely different worldviews and cultures. This is why the ancient world ends up being a foreign land. Go back far enough and societies begin to seem incomprehensibly alien to us. And this can be disconcerting. It’s more comforting to get the past to fit the present.

I would point out that we don’t even have to look to the ancient world to see how much the world has changed over time. The word race was originally used to refer to such things as breeds of cattle. It came to be associated with socioeconomic class in the feudal social order. Peasants were considered a separate ‘race’ from the aristocrats and monarchs. As others have pointed out, “in early modern discourse, the concept of race was primarily linked with notions of bloodline, lineage, and genealogy rather than with skin colour and ethnicity.”

It’s not just that broad groups were seen as different: Europeans vs Africans, Eastern Europeans vs Western Europeans, Germans vs French, Britains vs Mainland Europeans, English vs Irish, etc. Originally, race was seen as distinctions within a single society or some other defined population area, which is to say there wasn’t even an English race, much less a white race (such thinking persisted into modernity, such as how Antebellum American whites in the North and South talked about one another as if they were separate races, Roundheads and Cavaliers). If notions of race itself were so drastically different in the recent past, imagine how different was thinking millennia before race was even an idea.

It wasn’t until the era of colonial imperialism in Europe that Europeans even began to think of themselves as Europeans. This is because of their encounter with American Indians who were more different than any societies they had ever before seen. Europeans, Middle Easterners, and Africans had been interacting with and influencing each other for Millennia by that point. However, American Indians were foreign and strange beyond all imagination, and this required new ideological thinking.

If (proto-)racism existed in the ancient world, how would we recognize it without any word for and concept of ‘race’? Early texts show evidence of prejudice and othering. I get that some elite thinkers among an ethnic group like Athenians considered themselves as part of a distinct people, but that was such a small population that shared physical appearance, culture, religion, and language with neighboring Greeks. How could a tiny population be considered a race in any meaningful sense? Speculating on such meager and unclear evidence seems pointless.

Anyway, this isn’t ultimately and solely about race. Many scholars have questioned the application of a number of modern concepts to the ancient world, from the idea of a distinct thing called ‘religion’ to the experience of ‘individuality’ that we presently take for granted. The point being is that the ancient world isn’t merely the modern world in less developed form. The ancient world must be taken on its own terms. We must study those temporally distant societies as an anthropologist observes a newly discovered tribe.

It’s not only that our understanding of the present is projected onto the past. Also, how we interpret the past determines how we will see the present. More importantly, how we imagine the past, accurate or not, constrains the kind of future we are able to envision. And never doubt that imagination fueled by ideas is the most powerful force of humanity.

Anyone who claims to have all of this figured out is either lying or deceiving themselves. I could read something tomorrow that might change my entire understanding of social identities in the ancient world and how they relate to the modern world. Even the scholars in the the related fields disagree immensely.

One thing does seem clear to me, though. In the ancient world, all aspects of culture were central in differentiating people. That is unlike the modern world where race often trumps culture. It would have been incomprehensibly bizarre to the ancients that geographically distant and ethnically/nationally diverse peoples with different languages, religions, and customs would be considered as having a common social identity because of being categorized within an arbitrarily defined range of skin color and tone.

* * *

Nina Jablonski, Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color
reviewed by Josh Trapani

The Color of Sin / The Color of Skin:
Ancient Color Blindness and
the Philosophical Origins of Modern Racism
by Nicholas F. Gier

The central question: what was Hellenization
by Monte Polizzo Project

Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture
by Jonathan M. Hall

Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity
by Jonathan M. Hall

Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity 
by Irad Malkin (Editor)

Lee E. Patterson, Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece
reviewed by Naoíse Mac Sweeney

Denise Demetriou, Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean: The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia
reviewed by Meritxell Ferrer-Martín and reviewed by Álvaro Ibarra

Greeks, Persians, and Perseus: Oh, My!
Herodotus and the Genealogy of War
by Carly Silver

Herodotus’ Conception Of Foreign Languages
by Thomas Harrison

Race and Culture in Hannibal’s Army
by Erik Jensen

Us vs. Them: Good News From the Ancients!
by Carlin Romano

Understanding The ‘Other’ In An East Greek Context
by J.D.C. McCallum

Philosophy and the Foreigner in Plato’s Dialogues
by Rebecca LeMoine

Roman Perceptions Of Blacks
by Lloyd Thompson

Egypt In Roman Imperial Literature:
Tacitus’ Ann. 2.59-61
by Lina Girdvainytė

Papyrology, Gender, and Diversity: A Natural ménage à trios
by M. G. Parca

The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present
by Siân Jones

Alterity in Late Antiquity: Disrupting Binaries
by Susanna Drake

The Origins of Foreigners
by Emily Wilson

Erich S. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity
by Michael Broder

Rethinking the Other in Antiquity, by Erich S. Gruen (Book Review)
by Craige Champion

Review: E. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (1)
by Jona Lendering and Bill Thayer

Reading Rabbinic Literature: It’s Not All Black and White
(A Response to Jonathan Schorsch)
by David M. Goldenberg

Jew or Judaean?
by Michael L. Sa

The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties
by Shaye J. D. Cohen

 

From New World to New Worlds

The ‘discovery’ of the New World made it possible for Europeans to imagine new worlds. It also allowed Europeans to see themselves in new ways. They now were ‘Europeans’, in a way they weren’t before. This had diverse consequences, good and bad. It was the beginning of both utopianism and racism.

* * *

Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen
Kindle Locations 1390-1414

Columbus’s voyages caused almost as much change in Europe as in the Americas. Crops, animals, ideas, and diseases began to cross the oceans regularly. Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of Columbus’s findings was on European Christianity. In 1492 all of Europe was in the grip of the Catholic Church. As the Encyclopedia Larousse puts it, before America, “Europe was virtually incapable of self-criticism.” 80 After America, Europe’s religious uniformity was ruptured. For how were these new peoples to be explained? They were not mentioned in the Bible. American Indians simply did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe. Moreover, unlike the Muslims, who might be written off as “damned infidels,” American Indians had not rejected Christianity, they had just never encountered it. Were they doomed to hell? Even the animals of America posed a religious challenge. According to the Bible, at the dawn of creation all animals lived in the Garden of Eden. Later, two of each species entered Noah’s ark and ended up on Mt. Ararat. Since Eden and Mt. Ararat were both in the Middle East, where could these new American species have come from? Such questions shook orthodox Catholicism and contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517.81

Politically, nations like the Arawaks— without monarchs, without much hierarchy— stunned Europeans. In 1516 Thomas More’s Utopia, probably based on an account of the Incan empire in Peru, challenged European social organization by suggesting a radically different and superior alternative. Other social philosophers seized upon American Indians as living examples of Europe’s primordial past, which is what John Locke meant by the phrase “In the beginning, all the world was America.” Depending upon their political persuasion, some Europeans glorified American Indian nations as examples of simpler, better societies from which European civilization had devolved, while others maligned them as primitive and underdeveloped. In either case, from Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau down to Marx and Engels, European philosophers’ concepts of the good society were transformed by ideas from America. 82

America fascinated the masses as well as the elite. In The Tempest, Shakespeare noted this universal curiosity: “They will not give a doit to relieve a lambe beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” 83 Europe’s fascination with the Americas was directly responsible, in fact, for a rise in European self-consciousness. From the beginning America was perceived as an “opposite” to Europe in ways that even Africa never had been. In a sense, there was no “Europe” before 1492. People were simply Tuscan, French, and the like. Now Europeans began to see similarities among themselves, at least as contrasted with Native Americans. For that matter, there were no “white” people in Europe before 1492. With the transatlantic slave trade, first Indian, then African, Europeans increasingly saw “white” as a race and race as an important human characteristic. 84

Notes:

80 – Marcel Dunan, ed., Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History (New York: Crescent, 1987), 40.
81 – Crosby, The Columbian Exchange, 11-12. See also Calder, Revolutionary Empire, 13-14; Dunan, ed., Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History, 40, 67; Crone, Discovery of America, 184.
82 – Morgan, Nowhere Was Somewhere; Marble, Before Columbus, 73-75; Calder, Revolutionary Empire, 13. Lowes, Indian Giver, 82, regarding Montaigne. Also Sanders, Lost Tribes and Promised Lands, 208-9. The direct influence of the anthropologist L. H. Morgan on Marx and Engels is described by Bruce Johansen, Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Common Press, 1982), 122-23. Sale, The Conquest of Paradise. See also Crone, Discovery of America, 184.
83 – Quoted by Peter Farb, Man’s Rise to Civilization (New York: Avon, 1969), 296. The Tempest shows Shakespeare’s own fascination: he modeled its Native character, Caliban, after the Carib Indians, who were cannibals, according to what the Arawaks had told Columbus.
84 – For that matter, Europe isn’t a continent, unless the word is defined Eurocentrically! Europe is a peninsula; the division between Europe and Asia is arbitrary, unlike the divisions between other continents.

 

Expectations to Explain the Unexplainable

Here is something that brings up the issue of how we discuss things.

I noticed two opinion pieces from the local University of Iowa newspaper, The Daily Iowan. They were about an alleged hate crime and the university’s response to it. Specifically, the complaints is that the university didn’t respond in a timely enough manner and that this is proof of the university not taking seriously the safety and concerns of black students.

The first opinion piece is by Marcus Brown. In the print version, it was titled “It’s Time To Talk About Race.” And the online title is “Always Too Little, Too Late.” The author writes that,

“A crime alert issued far too late and possibly as an attempt to stymie what will surely become a well-deserved fiasco is explanation enough of the university’s reluctance to actually address issues on campus with any sort of intentionality. […] The question I have is not what the university is going to do, but simply why is it going to do it. If the university cared about black students, it would have issued a Hawk Alert about a potential hate crime just as urgently as it would all other crimes that occur on campus that specify a potentially black suspect.”

What stood out to me is the perspective. I assume that Marcus Brown is a university student. Like many of the university students, he likely isn’t from the local area.

There are many students from other states and other countries. Most of the population of this town probably wasn’t born and raised in Iowa. It’s a town many people pass through on their way to bigger and better things.

As someone, who has lived here most of my life, off and on since elementary school, I have a different perspective. I’m a local yokel. But it doesn’t bother me to hear criticisms of the university. I have no particular loyalty to the university. I never attended the university. I only briefly worked for the university for a few months as a dishwasher and that was a long time ago.

I find it curious how a student sees things differently. To the above author, the university and the city are one and the same. They are conflated as a single entity. He describes where the attack happened and it was downtown in a public alley, not on campus. It’s strange that the university should be responsible for what crimes happen outside of campus, as the authority of university police is mostly limited to university property.

It is true that this was close to campus. But it makes me wonder if Mr. Brown assumes that anything that happens to a university student anywhere in Iowa City should be the responsibility of the university. The town is more than 25 square miles. The university is concentrated in one small area. Most university buildings are within a mile of most other university buildings.

I understand that it involved a university student and that automatically makes it a university concern on some basic level. Then again, things happen to university students all the time and rarely does the university involve itself. Aggressive people coming out of bars late at night is hardly an unusual situation. Fights and attacks happen on a regular basis. Yes, the victim claims that there were racial slurs.

Maybe the university should have put out an alert earlier. Officials stated that they were waiting for further information from the police to confirm what happened. I don’t know if that is a fair assessment or not. I just found it interesting that to some students this whole town seems like an extension of the university.

The other opinion piece is by Keith Reed. It has a simple and amusing title, “#Explain Iowa.” I’m sure he is another student and it seems he has a similar perspective to the other guy, as he also speaks of the ‘campus’:

“On [n]umerous campuses — it is a shame — this incident has happened many times. […] This has raised an essential question that has to be explored on every campus. Can the administration, in good conscience, provide a safe environment for these minorities? We need to change the taboo surrounding race on the UI campus, because we all know minorities are here. We have become pawns in a system that clearly cares about percentages than actual life cost. Your move Iowa, now it is time for you to explain this. #ExplainIowa.”

The problem is that it didn’t happen on campus. I don’t think that is a minor detail. Reed goes even further than Brown. University issues don’t just include all of the surrounding city. Somehow the entirety of Iowa is implicated. Anyway, who is ‘Iowa’. Does that mean each and every Iowan has to explain?

I get the sense that the author assumes all of Iowa is white and that the only minorities here are temporary residents such as students like him. According to the Iowa City census, more than 20% of the population is not “white alone.” This percentage is lower for the rest of the state, but other cities in Eastern Iowa have higher rates of minorities, as compared to rural areas. Most minorities in Iowa probably aren’t out-of-state college students.

Why is all of Iowa and presumably all Iowans responsible for explaining the behavior of a few drunk guys? Many people in Iowa City, as I explained, aren’t from around here. The city is right on I-80, a short jaunt from a number of big cities such as Chicago. People come to Iowa City sometimes just to go to the bars. We are a town well known for drinking.

As far as anyone knows, the guys who beat up on the student could be from almost anywhere. It’s not as if the attackers yelled something like, “This is Iowa and we’re real Iowans! Iowa is for white people! Go back where you came from!” They were just some guys who beat up another guy, likely all involved having been drinking at the bars. I have no reason to doubt that racial slurs were tossed out. After all, we live in a society that was founded on slavery and genocide. It’s going to take us a while to work out these issues, sadly.

Even if all of Iowa City or all of Iowa attempted to explain such incidents, how could that be accomplished? And what exactly would be accomplished? I have a hard enough explaining my own behavior. I don’t think I’m capable of explaining why violent assholes are the way they are. It would be like an Iraqi citizen writing an article directed at US citizens that had the title “#ExplainUnitedStates.” I wish I could explain everything that happens in the world, but I can’t. My white Iowan privilege doesn’t give me special privileged knowledge.

It’s strange how people talk about such things. Racism is an important issue. We do need to discuss it and try to come to terms with what it means and what we can do about it. For that reason, we should find helpful ways of framing issues and not generalize so broadly.

* * *

The sad ending to this incident is that it turns out the guy was lying and far from being an innocent victim. He had been drinking underage, had a disagreement with a fellow frat guy, started at least one fight in a bar and was involved in several other altercations. All of this was caught on video and there were eyewitnesses.

If I was an arrogantly righteous asshole, I’d say #ExplainBlackPeople. But I’d rather try to be understanding and forgiving. Besides, it would be as pointless to expect all black people to explain the actions of some black person as it would be to expect all white people to explain the actions of some white person.

Owens investigation turns up video surveillance but no hate crime
By Adam Burke, Little Village

Authorities: Assault near University of Iowa campus not hate crime
KCRG

No charges against University of Iowa student Marcus Owens for fabricating hate crime
By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

Despite lack of hate crime, UI re-evaluating police protocols
By Jeff Charis-Carlson, Iowa City Press Citizen

Fearful Perceptions

They all look the same.

That is a stereotypical racist statement, an excuse for generalizing, but it isn’t just rhetoric. It is directly related to perception and so is the basis of racism itself. You first have to perceive people as the same in order to perceive them as a race in the first place.

I’ve even heard otherwise well-meaning people make comments like this, with no self-awareness of the racist implications of it. Most racism operates unconsciously and implicitly.

Then this informs specifically how an individual is seen. For example, all people perceived as ‘black’ also are perceived as older and guiltier—see the MNT article:

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Consider another aspect of perception, that of generations over time. Most people, especially as they age, look to the past with nostalgia. The world used to be a better place and the people were better too.

I’ve explored this before with the rates of teen sexuality and all that goes with it. Many older people assume that a generation of sluts has emerged. It is true that kids now talk more openly about sex and no doubt sexual imagery is more easily accessible in movies and on the web.

Even so, it turns out the kids these days are prudes compared to past generations. Abortion rates are going down not just because of improved sex education and increased use of birth control. It’s simply less of an issue because the young’uns apparently are having less sex and it sure is hard to get pregnant without sex. To emphasize this point, they also have lower rates of STDs, another hard thing to get without sex.

On top of that, they are “partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” Not just prudes, but “boring prudes.”

None of that fits public perception, though. Everyone seems to know the world is getting worse. I’m not necessarily one to argue against the claim that the world is going to shit. There is no doubt plenty going wrong. Still, I do try to not generalize too much.

The other article I noticed, by Mike Males at CJCJ, is also about changes in crime rates.

Imagine that a time-liberated version of vigilante George Zimmerman sees two youths walking through his neighborhood: black, hoodied Trayvon Martin of 2012, and a white teen from 1959 (say Bud Anderson from Father Knows Best). Based purely on statistics of race and era, which one should Zimmerman most fear of harboring criminal intent? Answer: He should fear (actually, not fear) them equally; each has about the same low odds of committing a crime.

So, why are young blacks such an obsession of our collective fear?

In the town I live in, white kids commit crimes all the time and it rarely get covered by the local media, but any black kids step out of line and it is major news. Over about a decade (1997-2009), there were two incidents where police shot an innocent men, one white and the other black. Guess which caused the most outrage? Guess which one now has a memorial in the local city park? Let me give you a hint: It wasn’t the black guy, despite his having been fairly well known in town and well liked by those who knew him.

Further on in the CJCJ article, the author points out that:

We don’t associate Jim and Margaret Anderson’s 1950s cherubs with juvenile crime—but that’s based on nostalgia and cultural biases, not fact. Back then, nearly 1 in 10 youth were arrested every year; today, around 3 in 100. Limited statistics of the 1950s show juvenile crime wasn’t just pranks and joyriding; “younger and younger children” are committing “the most wanton and senseless of murders… and mass rape,” the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency warned in 1956.

We certainly don’t associate 1950s white kids as having been dangerous criminals. Even so, if you look back at the period, you quickly realize that adults during that era were scared shitless of the new generation, between the new media of television and the emergence of full-blown Cold War paranoia. To get a sense of how kids were perceived back then, watch the movie “Village of the Damned.”

And, with immigration barely a trickle, that was when whites came to hold the largest majority in any time of American history. Following decades of racial laws and practices, it was the perfect white utopia or as perfect as it was going to get.

It is true that there was a decline, having begun with Boomers and perfected with my own GenX peers. I’ve written about that issue a lot. The economy was heading down its slow decline and lead toxicity rates shot up like never before. So, the parents were losing their good jobs while the kids’ brains were being poisoned, a great combination. The whole world was shifting beneath the American population, and it didn’t tend to lead to good results. Communities and families were under extreme stress, often to the breaking point.

Since the sainted Fifties, America has seen rapid teenage population growth and dramatic shifts toward more single parenting, more lethal drugs and weapons, increased middle-aged (that is, parent-age) drug abuse and imprisonment, decreased incarceration of youth, decreased youthful religious affiliation, and more violent and explicit media available to younger ages. Horrifying, as the culture critics far Right to far Left—including Obama, who spends many pages and speeches berating popular culture as some major driver of bad youth behavior—repeatedly insist.

It used to be that blacks were blamed for almost everything. They still are blamed for plenty and disproportionately so. Yet the political right has started to viciously turned on its own favored group, the white working class. Charles Murray did that in his recent book, Coming Apart, where he almost entirely ignored blacks in order to focus on the divide emerging between whites, sorting into the low class losers and the upper class meritocracy.

In a post from last year, I pointed to some articles discussing Murray’s book. One article (by Paul Krugman over at Truthout) makes a relevant point:

Reading Mr. Murray’s book and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: Is it really all that bad?

I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among working-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), but it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?

Well, one thing oddly missing in Mr. Murray’s work is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. Why? Because it has actually been falling like a stone, according to National Vital Statistics data.

And what about crime? It’s soaring, right? Wrong, according to Justice Department data.

So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine.

Nell Irvin Painter at NYT offers this thought:

Involuntary sterilization is no longer legal, and intelligence is recognized as a complex interplay between biology and environment. Indeed, the 1960s, the era that Mr. Murray blames for the moral failings that have driven poor and middle-class white America apart, was the very same era that stemmed the human rights abuse of involuntary sterilization. (Not coincidentally, it was the same era that began addressing the discrimination that entrenched black poverty as well.)

The stigmatization of poor white families more than a century ago should provide a warning: behaviors that seem to have begun in the 1960s belong to a much longer and more complex history than ideologically driven writers like Mr. Murray would have us believe.

Considering it all, who should we fear? That is who should we fear, besides Muslims, immigrants, and foreigners. Should we fear blacks? The young? Or the Poor? Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between our fears. Any combination of black, young, and poor will do—all three together, of course, being the worst.

When fear drives perception, we perceive a fearful world. To release the tension of anxiety and paranoia, someone has to be the scapegoat, whatever group is easiest to generalize about without any confusing emotions of empathy, which in practice means those with the least power to speak out and be heard. The generalizations don’t need to correspond to reality, just as long as a good narrative can be spun in the mainstream media.

“Because they think they are white…”

Adaptation of James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew that appears at the beginning of “The Fire Next Time”
(from Abagond)

You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it.

They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death. But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.

By a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are loosing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.

“The very time I thought I was lost,
My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

We cannot be free until they are free.

“On Being White . . . and Other Lies”
James Baldwin

Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre. I will not name names— I will leave that to you.

But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen. And how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to the things white men could buy. By informing their children that black women, black men, and black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of black people, they debased and defined themselves.

And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers. Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable population, cheerful natives, and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety. Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot’s wife— looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt.

However—! White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as black is nothing new. We— who were not black before we got here, either, who were defined as black by the slave trade— have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived and triumphed over it. If we had not survived, and triumphed, there would not be a black American alive. And the fact that we are still here— even in suffering, darkness, danger, endlessly defined by those who do not dare define, or even confront, themselves— is the key to the crisis in white leadership. The past informs us of various kinds of people— criminals, adventurers, and saints, to say nothing, of course, of Popes— but it is the black condition, and only that, which informs us concerning white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves.

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
pp. 146-151

We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live— and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else’s country, but in your own home. […]

This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello— which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers— lost in their great reverie— feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. […]

The power is not divinity but a deep knowledge of how fragile everything— even the Dream, especially the Dream— really is. Sitting in that car I thought of Dr. Jones’s predictions of national doom. I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves. […]

I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.

Racists Losing Ground: Moral Flynn Effect?

I’ve been ‘debating’ with the new variety of racist who denies being racist. He claims that it isn’t his fault that he is prejudiced against blacks, because he believes their supposed inherent inferiority means they don’t deserve to be treated as equal.

See? He isn’t racist. He is just being realistic. It’s race realism.

Then again, I’m not sure this kind of racism is genuinely new. Your average Klansman or slave owner probably never thought of themselves as racists. They too surely thought they were being realistic. It was just the way the world was. The races were distinctly different. Some people were just better than others from birth. It requires no modern understanding of genetics to think this way.

Anyway, what blows my mind about this ‘realism’ is how unrealistic it is. This guy will point to a few facts and argue it proves he is right. Yet at the same time he will dismiss or simply ignore the dozens of sources of data that I offer. Then later on he will act like all that contrary info doesn’t exist.

It’s a strange cognitive blindness. In some ways, I think he is absolutely sincere in his unacknowledged racism. He isn’t being a troll. He just lacks any sense of objectivity. He simply cannot see what doesn’t fit his worldview. It is the ultimate form of political correctness. He doesn’t merely deny the validity or moral worth of what he disagrees with, for he denies its very existence. What isn’t politically correct in his mind has no compelling sense of ‘reality’ in his experience.

At times, I’d call this willful ignorance. But as I’ve come to believe, I doubt that such people have enough self-awareness to be willful about much of anything. It is so deep in their psyche that it isn’t a decision they make. Their brains are straight-up incapable of processing divergent information.

He is a perfect example of confirmation bias and the backfire effect, which according to studies does strongly correlate to social conservatism and prejudice. One of the saddest results of this is that it has been demonstrated that white people, when presented with evidence of racism, become more racially biased (and undoubtedly, along with it, more socially conservative).

I’d bet a similar pattern is even found with white liberals. It might be along the lines of how liberals who saw video of the 9/11 attacks became more supportive of Republican policies of War on Terrorism. Liberalism gives some protection against such reactionary stances, but even liberalism has a tough time resisting the persuasion of fear.

The difference is important, though, in that conservatives live in a near permanent state of fear that is just below the surface. This takes the form of a background sense of anxiety, a need for order, and a strong disgust response. It is why social conservatism isn’t just correlated to prejudice, but also repulsion toward rotten fruit and hypochondria.

It is also why social conservatives and racists have on average lower IQs. In the studies, it is shown that conservatives have less capacity for abstract thought and cognitive load. To put it simply, they can’t deal well with either complex thought processes or anything that demands too much simultaneous cognitive activity.

This is why conservatives prefer highly focused activities. Conservatives do have a talent for excluding things from their focus, what is called a thick boundary (and for some activities this is an advantage; e.g., surgery). This is obviously related to such things as racism and xenophobia, as a thick boundary also means excluding people from their psychological experience and social identity.

Categories seem more rigid to those on the political right, and racists embody this most clearly. They take reification to heart. An idea like race is never just an idea to them. It doesn’t matter to them that a scientific consensus has formed in support of the view that the folk taxonomy of races is a social construct, rather than a scientifically valid category.

Those on the political right are constantly complaining about liberal political correctness. I’m not saying that political correctness isn’t found on the left, but I don’t think that is what is fueling the complaint. There is an obvious component of projection involved.

I’m not being politically correct when I disagree with racists. I’m not denying the data they cherrypick. I simply point out that they are ignoring a lot of data and alternative interpretations. The data doesn’t speak for itself. There is nothing about the data that forces one to become a racist. Prejudice is what we bring to the data, not what the data proves.

I’ve often argued with racists that I’m not arguing for any particular position. I don’t have a dogmatic ideology to defend, as does the racist. I’m open to multiple perspectives. I’m even open to genetics and culture playing a role, but I’m also open to there being a complex interplay between those factors and everything else, from epigenetics to environmental conditions. Anyone who has to defend a preconceived conclusion and deny all that contradicts it isn’t taking the issue seriously on its own terms.

The problem is there isn’t an even playing field in such ‘debates’. The average non-racist is more intelligent than the average racist. It isn’t even about education, as even when confounding factors such as education are controlled for, this IQ disparity persists. Even more well educated racists tend to have lower IQs than those of comparable education levels.

The ironic part of this is that this phenomenon is largely environmental. As Stephanie Pappas over at Live Science explained:

“People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

“”This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.”

So, interacting with those who are different not only decreases prejudice but also increases intelligence. The two are inseparable. This supports the argument for the Moral Flynn Effect, rising cognitive capacity parallels rising moral capacity, for both depend on brain health and mental development.

The other irony is that it is low IQ racists who are prone to dismiss blacks because of their lower on average IQs. The two demographics are similar, as both demographics have higher rates of social conservatism. The hatred racists feel toward blacks probably is closely linked to an awareness of their similarities. It’s the reason my working class grandfather hated blacks. It’s why so many groups in American society have clung to their group identities, of course seeing their group as better than all others.

Social conservatism also correlates to lower economic class. When one lacks economic security, a sense of group solidarity becomes all the more important, be it solidarity of race, ethnicity, religion, or whatever. Furthermore, the conditions of being on the poorer end of the scale are less conducive toward optimal brain development. The lower classes are more likely to have nutritional deficiences, to live in food deserts, to miss meals because of lack of money, to be exposed to toxic environments, to experience more social stress and child abuse, etc. Studies again and again show the massive impact this has on the developing brain.

An example of this is that social conservatives, both white and black, have stronger support for spanking children. Studies have shown that spanking children correlates to lower IQ. I’m not sure the causal link is proven, but it seems plausible that the regular stress of being hit by one’s parents could cause stunting of cognitive development. It is known that other forms of stress have a direct causal impact on brain growth.

Sure, poor minorities get hit the worst by these dire conditions. But it’s not as if all whites are middle and upper class. Poor whites show all the same kinds of cognitive issues and social problems.

Racism is a bit different, though. The more overt forms of bigotry are more common among the lower classes. Yet, even when poverty is controlled for, racists still show lower IQs. Other aspects of the social environment are just as important as poverty. For example, white flight to the suburbs and later gentrification created the conditions of low diversity, the very factor most closely associated with prejudice. What these wealthier whites share with the poorer whites is this racial homogeneity of their respective communities, as even poor whites tend not to live around as many blacks, poor or otherwise.

On the opposite side, it doesn’t take wealth to make someone more likely to be socially liberal as an adult. It only requires a diverse environment in childhood, especially in the context of a large peer group. The more friends a child has and the more diverse are those friends the more that the child will likely be socially and cognitvely challenged, which is to say that later on they will more likely be less racist and more intelligent, specifically fluid intelligence that includes abstract thinking skills.

When dealing with racists, you are on average dealing with people who have less cognitive capacity. They aren’t pretending to not understand what seems obvious to the non-racist. They really don’t understand.

Dogmatic ideology and groupthink are heuristics. They are ways to simplify thinking. When someone has less capacity for complex thought and abstract thought, they need to rely more on heuristics. A lower IQ racist doesn’t treat people as individuals, which would require greater cognitive load than they are capable of. Instead, they just have to see the outward physical features and apply the appropriate ideological category. This allows for easy pre-formed responses to complex realities.

The Moral Flynn Effect gives us some hope. Even the average conservative has a higher IQ than in the past. They are also less overtly bigoted. I think there is a connection between the two. Racism, if it is to continue to decrease, will have to lessen across generations. Those who are racist right now will likely remain racist, but their children will on average be slightly less racist than they are. This is particularly true as the younger generations move into more diverse urban areas.

However, there are other factors moving in the opposite direction. Some police departments are intentionally refusing to hire anyone with IQs that are too high. This means that they are purposely selecting for police officers who will be more prejudiced. Research has also confirmed that police with less education are more likely to abuse their authority and to support violent tactics used in their departments. It is disturbing to consider that the average police officer has an IQ lower than that of the average secretary and the police profession has an IQ range about the same as that of auto mechanics.

It’s unsurprising that one of the results seen is all the data showing that police have racial biases, which they act on (e.g., more likely to shoot an unarmed black person than an armed white person, and this with the data showing whites are more likely to carry illegal weapons). I’m willing to bet the higher IQ officers act in less biased ways. The problem is that policing plays right into racist beliefs. Racially biased cops arrest more blacks even for crimes whites commit at higher rates. Then racist whites point to this arrest data as proof blacks are more violent and criminal.

An interesting point to consider is that studies show, as lower educated police are more abusive, lower educated and lower IQ people in general are more abusive. Most hate crimes are racially motivated. I’m sure lower IQ racists are on average more likely to be violent and criminal, or at the very least more condoning of the violence used against minorities (both private and state-sanctioned). Stand-your-ground laws, for example, have been shown to increase the number of blacks who get legally killed and the number of whites who get away with such murders. Of course, social conservatives, in particular the most racially biased, are fine with this.

There isn’t much we can do about the present generation of racists. The best response is to promote the factors that decrease the dynamic of low intelligence and high prejudice. For certain, we should make sure that the most important positions in society are filled by the most intelligent people, even as we seek to raise up the intelligence of the entire population.

I disagree with race realists that IQ is genetically determined. Even the average low IQ of racists isn’t simply a fate we must accept. Racists are as much victims of their environments as are the minorities they are racist against.

* * * *

Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes:
Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact
by Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri

Do Racism, Conservatism, and Low I.Q. Go Hand in Hand?
Lower cognitive abilities predict greater prejudice through right-wing ideology.
by Goal Auzeen Saedi

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice
by Stephanie Pappas

Intelligence Study Links Low I.Q. To Prejudice, Racism, Conservatism
by Rebecca Searles

Liberal or Conservative: Study Finds Childhood Influence
Did you talk back to your parents? Were you fearful or focused?
by U.S. News

White People Are Fine With Laws That Harm Blacks
The futility of fighting criminal justice racism with statistics.
by Jamelle Bouie

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
by Chris Mooney

High IQ = Liberal, Atheist, Monogamous
by James Joyner

Can Someone Be Too Smart To Be A Cop?
By Katie Rucke

Too smart to be a good cop
By Razib Khan

Police Brutality and Deadly Force; How Bias, Power and Lower IQs Kill
by Thomas Parisi

Ferguson And Keeping High-IQ Folks Out Of The U.S. Police Force
by Gary Robinson

Do You Have A High IQ Score And Want To Be A Cop?… Forget It!
Submitted by SadInAmerica

Modern IQ ranges for various occupations
By IQ Comparison Site

Average IQ by occupation (estimated from wordsum scores)
by Audacious Epigone

The Impact of Higher Education on Police Attitudes Regarding Abuse of Authority
by Cody Webb Telep

Use of Force in Minority Communities is Related to Police Education, Age, Experience, and Ethnicity
by Christopher Chapman