Friday, September 25, 2009

Race in America

In view of the current "conversation" regarding race and racism in the United States, I found Melissa Harris-Lacewell's essay, Can We? A Brief History of American Racism, published on The Nation website (September 16, 2009) worth a read:

Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These four acts of Congress were meant to protect the new nation from French immigrants. They reflected a broad paranoia that French newcomers would poison American minds and weaken the new American government.

By 1802 President Thomas Jefferson led the repeal of most of these acts because they overstepped federal authority and instituted unjust restrictions.

In 1845 the Know Nothing movement in the United States formed a national political party based in nativist sentiment. This "Native American Party" rested on populist fears of Irish immigration. The Irish, they argued, were streaming into the United States. The Know Nothings argued that these Irish were unwelcome labor competition, and that these new immigrants were bringing with them foreign values, specifically Catholicism, which were a threat to American values.

By 1860 this party was extinguished.

In 1882 President Arthur signed into federal law the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese immigrant labor was the infrastructure backbone of the 19th century California Gold Rush, but by the 1880s a significant economic downturn increased competition and turned up animosity. Fueled by scarcity-stoked fear, nativists pushed an anti-immigration agenda, culminating in the 1882 Act that excluded Chinese workers from entering the United States.

In 1943 this act was repealed.

In the 1880s Reconstruction ended in the U.S. South. States of the former Confederacy began to enact legislation that stripped black citizens of the right to vote, ejected black office holders from their posts, and forcibly segregated public accommodations and public transportation. Architects of these Jim Crow Laws justified the exclusion of black Americans from the public sphere as a protection of the values and culture of Southern life.

To read the entire, instructive post click here.

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