Monday, November 18, 2019

Peas from the Same Pod

Blacks Right to Take Offense, But Nasty Stereotypes Not Theirs Alone

The Swedish retail clothing giant, H&M, recently ran an advertisement featuring a black boy wearing a hoodie bearing the label, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” Social media reaction was viral, prompting apologies and a retraction from H&M. At best, the ad was insensitive; at worst, racist. In reading the comments about the controversy in an online forum, I was struck by the claim that white people have historically reserved the “monkey” stereotype for people of African descent. While there’s no argument that Blacks have suffered this caricature far more than others, it has not been uniquely theirs. Throughout the 19th century, the “simian” Irishman was a stock figure in British and American publications. Thomas Nast (1840-1902), America’s most famous political cartoonist, routinely portrayed the Irish as ape-like, as did the English illustrator, John Tenniel (1820-1914), who is best known for his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And they were not the sole offenders, as Frederick Opper’s 1882 Puck illustration demonstrates. The title, “The King of A-Shantee,” plays upon the stereotype of the ignorant and impoverished “shanty Irish." It also alludes to the traditional ruler of the Ashanti people of Britain’s “Gold Coast” colony. The Asantahene was conventionally portrayed seated "in state" on his golden throne. To many Anglo-Saxon Americans and Victorian Englishmen, the Hibernian and the African were peas from the same pod.

Panic Over Stealth Immigration
Japanese Immigration Once Feared, Now It’s Mexico

“The flood of babies…is the most significant fact in modern Japan.”

--Walter Weyl, “Japan’s Menacing Birth Rate” (1918)

Yesterday’s Washington Post carried a story on Japan’s aging population. "Cleaning Up After the Dead," described how the country’s changing family dynamics have led more people to live out their lives in isolation, creating a cottage industry—companies that specialize in post-mortem clean-up. Not exactly cheery reading, but it prompted me to think of an essay by Walter Weyl, published in 1920, a year or so after his death. Weyl had been editor of The New Republic. Although TNR is still a respected “thought journal,” Weyl’s thoughts are now forgotten. Too bad. He was perceptive and wrote with style. In Japan’s Menacing Birth Rate (1918), Weyl observed that “the flood of babies…is the most significant fact in modern Japan.” This was doubtlessly true in the decades leading up to WWII, but now the story is quite different.

As in other advanced economies, the Japanese are no longer having many children. Japan's population is actually shrinking. Several European countries have birth rates that are also below replacement level—Germany, France, and Spain, for example—but they offset population decline by receiving immigrants, and immigrants are usually more fecund than natives. Japan accepts immigrants at a minuscule rate. And so, its population is aging rapidly. More than a quarter of Japanese are 65 or older. To top things off, Japan has the second highest life expectancy in the world (84 years). It may be the only country in the world where adult diapers will soon outsell infant diapers.

All this, of course, as Weyl points out, was not always so. In the late 1800s, Japan’s birth rate was twice as high as the current level. Growth threatened to strain resources at home. One outlet for the surplus population was as labor migration to Hawaii (then a US Territory), California, Washington and Oregon. American politicians and pundits were alarmed. They feared competition from a people who would “outwork” and “underlive” native-born workers.

In late 19th-century America, Samuel Gompers was a celebrated labor organizer and union leader. Organized labor fervently opposed immigration from Asia with racist arguments like those advanced in "Meat vs. Rice," a pamphlet distributed by the Asiatic Exclusion League. Authors Gompers and Gunstadt liberally quoted university intellectuals to make their points. 
American labor had lobbied for passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which stanched immigration from China. In 1907, the U.S. Government entered into the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, in which the Japanese Government committed to withholding visas from workers who sought to enter the Continental United States. California politicians like Sen. James D. Phelan and San Francisco Bee publisher, V.S. McClatchy, would later protest that Japan had been intentionally violating the agreement. In 1919, Phelan argued that “picture brides”—mostly the wives of Japanese laborers--were entering the US by the “shipload.” Worse, once here, he said, each woman was having babies at an average of one per year. This, according to Phelan, was part of Japan’s plan to colonize and eventually take over the Hawaiian Islands and America's western states.

Allowing such “peaceful penetration” would mean suicide for the white race, according to immigration opponents like Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant. Today, their modern-day equivalent, Pat Buchanan, tells us that Mexico has similar plans to reconquer the southwestern United States through “anchor babies” and “stealth invasion.” By allowing current levels of immigration from Mexico to continue, according to Buchanan, white America is committing suicide. And so, the villains are no longer Yellow, they are Brown. And yet, we are assured the threat is the same—America will be overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, is any country more in need of suicide-watch than Japan?


Pat Buchanan writes many decades after Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard propounded the idea of “race suicide,” but Buchanan’s predictions sound remarkably similar to the warnings of these 1920s doomsayers. Even the titles of Buchanan’s books echo those of his predecessors:

The Passing of the Great Race (Grant, 1916); The Death of the West (Buchanan, 2001)

Americanizing Native Americans and "Foreign Aliens"

In his correspondence, Benjamin Franklin tells a quaint story about how the Iroquois came to place little value on Western education. He relates that at a conference with representatives of the Six Nations, Pennsylvania authorities offered to provide college scholarships to Iroquois youths. The Indians considered this proposal and recalled that they had accepted just such an offer some years back, but when the young scholars returned from their “education” among the English, their elders said they proved “absolutely good for nothing”—not for killing deer, catching beaver or surprising an enemy. In refusing the colonists' offer, however, the Indians wanted the English to know that they appreciated the sentiment behind the invitation. And so, as a gesture of goodwill, they proposed that if the colonists would “send a dozen or two of their children to the Iroquois, the Great Council would take care of their education, bring them up in what was really the best manner and make men of them.”

Needless to say, the colonists did not accept the Indians' offer. A hundred years later, Pennsylvania became home to the Carlisle Indian School, which operated from 1879 through 1918 and sought to remove every vestige of Indian culture from its students under the profoundly ironic mandate to “Americanize” its Native American students.

At roughly the same time, the United States was experiencing a record number of immigrant arrivals from Europe, an influx remembered today as the “Great Wave." This influx hit its peak around World War I (1914-1918), which ushered in the “100% Americanization” movement, the purpose of which was to fully assimilate the "foreign aliens" from southern and eastern Europe. The most extreme proponents of this philosophy believed that the process of becoming American was a zero-sum game, newcomers had to abjure every aspect of their old selves--language, culture, even demeanor--before they could assume American identity, and that they could only do so by wholeheartedly embracing American habits and values.

It would be a mistake to think that most Americanizers did not want the immigrant. Of course, there were many who did oppose immigration, but it was not the Americanizers. Those who sought to stop immigration, like the blueblood members of the Immigration Restriction League, believed the alien was constitutionally inferior and incapable of change. Teaching the Jewish peddler to speak English or the Italian laborer to give up what Americans considered his revolting food was like teaching a mongrel dog tricks. The mutt might learn to roll over, but it would never be a greyhound.

The most prominent restrictionists traced their ancestry to New England, notably to Puritans like Cotton Mather, who believed the Indians were devils incarnate and deserved extinction. The same attitude prevailed among the Paxton Boys, a gang of Pennsylvanian frontiersmen who slaughtered nearly a hundred unarmed Indians less than fifty miles from Carlisle in 1764. That their victims were "praying Indians," that is, Indians who had embraced Christianity, meant little to the killers. They were still Indians.

As ethnocentric and condescending as were the Americanizers of the early 20th century, they at least recognized shared humanity with the Native American students at Carlisle and the new immigrants pouring in from steerage at New York Harbor.

Norway Keeps Winning

Trump's Most Favored Immigration Nation Nothing New

A week or so ago, President Trump tapped an old immigration policy tradition when he voiced his interest in having more immigrants from Norway. In 1896, the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), then the nation’s most ardent and educated anti-immigrant organization—the founders were all Harvard men—wrote America’s state governors asking if they wanted immigration to their state to continue and, if so, from where did they want their immigrants to come? At the time, the volume of immigration was on the rise. The immigrants were nearly all European, but the countries of origin were shifting.

Before the 1880s, the vast majority had come from northern and western Europe. They were now coming in increasing numbers from southern and eastern Europe. From our perspective, this change in immigration’s center of gravity may seem like a minor detail—after all, they were still white Europeans—but at the time the experts saw this as a racial problem. These folks were not the sturdy stock that had founded the country. They were, in the words of MIT President Francis Amasa Walker, “beaten men from beaten races.”

Already, some Americans were feeling nostalgic for the “old immigration.” This nostalgia was reflected in the governors’ responses to the IRL survey. Of the 28 who responded, eight said they wanted no more immigration. Of the national groups the governors identified as desirable, the winner was Germany. Fifteen Governors said they wouldn’t mind more Germans. Next came Scandinavians. Fourteen governors said they were okay. People from the “British Isles” came in third, with twelve positive votes.

Of those countries then sending significant numbers of immigrants—the “new immigrants”—two governors said they’d take a few from Italy. Mississippi’s governor qualified his preference. He said that unskilled laborers were not wanted, but that “farmers with small means are highly desirable.” Except for these two votes for Italy, the governors did not identify as desirable a single country then sending significant numbers to the US—not Russia, not Austria-Hungary, not Greece, not Poland. To the governors' credit, however, not one used Trump-like language to describe any country. Maine indicated “Scandinavians, but no others.” So, even back then, Norway was fine.