Monday, November 18, 2019
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
“The flood of babies…is the most significant fact in modern
--Walter Weyl, “Japan’s Menacing Birth Rate” (1918)
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.
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.
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.
“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 Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Stoddard,
1922); State of Emergency: Third World Invasion and the Conquest of
America (Buchanan, 2006)
|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.|
Americans and "Foreign Aliens"
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
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
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.