The “Race” Notion’s Role in Ethnic Assimilation (E9)

Most of us realize that only so-called White folks have historically enjoyed the full privileges of U.S. citizenship. And most of us know that the definition of “White” has widened over the centuries. But grasping these points does not avoid all historical pitfalls. For instance, some think that, although the definition of “White” has changed, northern Europeans have always been considered White. Not so. Irish, Scots, even Germans were once seen as too dark-complexioned to pass for White. Another error is that African-Americans are finally assimilating into mainstream society. Again, not so. Census-reported intermarriage shows that acceptance comparable to that of Jews, say, or Japanese-Americans, remains far out of reach for African-Americans. Finally, some claim that White Americans will soon be in the minority. In fact, we shall show in detail that “White” has just been a synonym for “mainstream” throughout U.S. history. Hence, most Americans will be mainstream (called “White”) for centuries to come. As we shall see momentarily, Puerto Ricans became White in the 1960s, Asian-Americans are becoming White as we speak, and British West Indians (Jamaicans, Barbadians, Trinidadians) are well on their way. This essay examines four surprisingly complex linkages between America’s “race” notion and its assimilation of immigrant cultures.

Only White Immigrants Could Apply for Citizenship

The first odd linkage is that, until a few decades ago, only White people could become naturalized citizens. The federal Naturalization Act, signed into law on March 26, 1790, by President Washington, explicitly barred anyone not of the White “race” from applying for U.S. citizenship. This law remained in effect until the 1950s, although its enforcement was tightened in the late nineteenth century regarding Asian immigrants, and by the Johnson-Reed act of 1924 imposing immigration quotas. In short, until late in the twentieth century, only immigrants of the White “race” could hope to become naturalized citizens.1

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was not a dead letter. For nearly two centuries, it was rigidly and routinely enforced. Tens of thousands of would-be citizens of color were turned away by White America’s legal system. Over the centuries, Turks, East Indians, Greeks, Sicilians, Japanese, and Arabs filed lawsuits in federal court, asking to be ruled White within the intent of the law. Ian F. Haney-Lopez, in White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University, 1996) narrates the arguments and outcomes of these trials. They are worth studying because each reveals precisely who was considered White in that particular period.

Who is White?

The second odd linkage is that in practice, “White” has always been defined as “assimilated into the American mainstream.” I know this sounds circular: you cannot apply for citizenship until you become White, and your ethnic group cannot be considered White until it assimilates into mainstream U.S. culture. Bear with me; it will shortly become clear.

The United States holds up a core set of cultural standards as ticket for admission into the mainstream. Although the standards have slowly changed over centuries, they include customary attitudes towards language, religion, dress, food, music, folklore, dance, child-rearing practices, and so forth. Not that America demands homogeneity, of course, but it sets limits. You need not become Christian, but you must abandon any dogma that demands the slaying of infidels or apostates. You need not switch to meat and potatoes, but Australians are discouraged from turning over flat rocks to snack on juicy grubs–at least not in public. Your family may hand down its own values, but these must not include preventing your children from learning to read. The three stages of acculturation have become cliche. The first generation weeps over loss of heritage. Their Americanized children shrug with incomprehension. Their nostalgic grandchildren rediscover and adopt a quaint sanitized version of ethnicity.

The United States is not unusual in this regard. All melting-pot countries (Brazil, Argentina, Canada) have similar social norms–especially regarding language. Most norms are common to Western culture, after all (what used to be called Christendom many years ago). What is unique about the United States is that U.S. standards are ascribed to hereditary Whiteness. Even today, the U.S. label “White” is reserved for only those immigrant groups who have been accepted into the mainstream.

How Americans first came to think of culture as genetic–when even medieval Iberians, say, considered a Christian infant raised by Moors to be a fully Moorish adult and vice versa–is a fascinating tale but irrelevant to this essay. Instead, our focus is on how “colored” immigrants (a probationary non-White status) earned admission and so became White after each wave of immigration.

Word-use is important. Americans use the terms “people of color” and “race” to designate immigrant groups who have not yet assimilated (1860 Irish, 1900 Italians, 1920 Jews, 1940 Chinese, 1950 Puerto Ricans, 1990 Haitians). Conversely, they use “White” and “ethnicity” to denote groups who have been accepted into the mainstream (1920 Irish, 1930 Italians, 1950 Jews, 1970 Chinese, 1980 Puerto Ricans). This is so very important that I must clarify. In other words, it is useless to ask whether Irish or Chinese or Puerto Ricans are really people of color or whether they really belong to the White “race.” You cannot apply the adverb “really” to social fiction–it is like asking whether the Tooth Fairy is really married, or if the Easter Bunny is really a hare. There is no “really” about it. According to both U.S. law and popular culture, each of the above groups belonged to a “colored race” before they became accepted, and the very same group belonged to a “White ethnicity” after that instant.2

In short, since 1607, when English-speaking colonists first disembarked in what was to become the United States, the land has received enormous diversity. Within the first century, colonists invented the label “White” to distinguish themselves from non-English newcomers. Wave after wave of immigrant groups were absorbed over the next four centuries. Each newly arrived group was labeled non-White or colored and treated badly by the White mainstream until it was assimilated. Upon becoming White, each new group then proceeded to mistreat the next wave of colored newcomers in turn. As we shall see in a moment, the process continues today.3

Who Looks White?

The third odd linkage is that word-use drives perception. It may seem astonishing, but Americans truly, sincerely, saw hereditary, non-White, physical features in members of colored “races.” They stopped seeing such features in each particular “colored race” once it became a “White ethnicity.” This is partly because intermarriage measures acceptance into the mainstream, and intermarriage means that each blended descendant may then choose whichever of her ethnicities she wants to identify with. But more importantly, it is because localized human populations really do have distinguishable features–you may fail to distinguish a Greek from a Sicilian, but you are unlikely to mistake either for a Swede or a Norwegian. We shall show in a moment that Americans’ subconscious ignores most of these features, those that are irrelevant to social status. The optical illusion is because your mind flags only a few critical features as “racial.” Your subconscious does not highlight other features as socially important, and so they become invisible. Consequently, as we shall demonstrate in the next few paragraphs, each new unassimilated group looked colored to Americans of that period. Their distinguishing features were “racially” significant. But after each group was accepted, the very same features were no longer “racially” significant and so the group’s members no longer look “colored” to today’s Americans.

German-Americans (at left) in 1751 Pennsylvania were seen as too dark-complexioned to pass for White. According to Benjamin Franklin in hisObservations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. … The Germans are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion. … The English make the principle Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.”4

The Irish (at left) took nearly a century to become White. According to the 1860 American Encyclopedia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, “[The Irish race shares] inherited features such as “low-browed and savage, groveling and bestial, lazy and wild, simian [ape-like] and sensual….” Contemporary scholars described such uniquely Irish race-distinguishing features as eye and skin color, facial configuration, and physique. As recently as thirty years ago some Englishmen sincerely believed that they could spot an Irishman passing for White:5

I even heard a member of the House of Lords in 1973 describe the differences between Irish Protestants and Catholics in terms of their “distinct and clearly definable differences of race.”
You mean to say that you can tell them apart?” I asked incredulously.
“Of course,” responded the lord. “Any Englishman can.”6
Italians, Greeks, and eastern Europeans were colored “races” until well into the twentieth century. Before World War II, some Italian-American children in the South were forced to attend all-Black schools, and a nineteenth-century physician wrote, “The Slavs are immune to certain kinds of dirt. They can stand what would kill a White man.”7

American Jews (at left) did not become White until the 1940s. Again, as with the Germans, Irish, and Italians, Americans rationalized rejection as based on hereditary appearance. The Jews were genetically “hatchet-faced, sallow, rat-eyed” people with hooked noses and greasy hair. Franz Boas (1858-1952) drove a scientific stake through the “race” notion’s heart in The Mind of Primitive Man (New York: Macmillan, 1911). He showed that “no real biological chasm separated recent immigrants from Mayflower descendants.” In reply, the New York Times book review told readers that this book was “the desperate attempt of a Jew to pass himself off as white.”8

Nineteenth-century Asian-American men who dated White women provoked mass lynchings. Twenty were hanged in 1871 Los Angeles, twenty-eight killed in 1885 Rock Springs, and thirty-one in 1887 Hell’s Canyon. Their voting rights were similarly restricted. The 1875 and 1880 modifications of the federal Naturalization Act of 1790 were meant to bar citizenship even from Asian-Americans born in the U.S.–ironic, considering that the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution granted citizenship-by-birth to former slaves. In fact, Asian-Americans metamorphosed from colored “race” to White ethnicity so recently that the process has not yet completed. Although Chinese-Americans in the U.S. South can now join exclusive White-only private country clubs, pockets remain on the West Coast where they are still considered colored.9

“But everyone I know still considers Chinese-Americans to be Asians,” you might object. This is true in precisely the same sense that “everyone you know” considers Germans to be Germans, Scots to be Scots, Irish to be Irish, and Italians to be Italian. The designation of immigrants’ geographical origin does not change upon assimilation. Why should it? The point is that ordinary people in many regions of the United States now see this group of Asians (or Germans, Scots, Irish, etc.) as White. They are Asians still, but they are newly White nonetheless. As we shall see momentarily, when we consider the Chinese-Americans in post-WWII Mississippi, Whiteness today is becoming compatible with Asian-ness-just the same way that it became compatible with German-ness, Irish-ness, and so forth, many years ago.

Hispanics are also becoming White as we speak. (Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, is shown at left.) The 1960 U.S. Census Enumerator’s Manual defined all Puerto Ricans as colored, no matter how pale. It said, “The term ‘white person’ shall include only persons… who have no trace of… West Indian…. ‘West Indian’ shall include anyone with a West Indies background, regardless of whether his antecedents were… Spanish or French Caucasians….” Twenty years later, 1980 census instructions allowed Puerto Ricans to choose their own “race.” And so, despite Puerto Ricans’ gene pool being mathematically 50-50 Euro-African, ninety percent of them have chosen to be census-White ever since. On a personal note, this means that I was “colored” in 1958 when I came to the United States to register at Cornell. They accepted my application because they wanted to add non-White diversity to their Ivy League school. But by the time that I graduated, I was counted among the “White” students. Again, I personally did not change, and I remain Puerto Rican in their files to this day. But in the eyes of the college administrators, some Puerto Ricans had become White.10

It is tempting to think that only the uneducated perceive immigrants as colored and that trained scholars are somehow smarter. Not so. Sociologists measure Whiteness with IQ score. The overall national average IQ score is 100 by definition. In the 1920s, the average Polish-American IQ score was 85. In the 1910s, the average Italian-American IQ score was 83. In the 1900s, the average Irish-American IQ score was below 80. In World War I, Jews averaged such low IQ scores that they prompted the 1924 quota system, which tragically kept out Jewish refugees during the Nazi holocaust a generation later. Today, all these groups’ IQ scores average 100. Nevertheless, some sociologists continue to insist that IQ score is hereditary (but only hereditary for non-White people).11

Incidentally, many overseas minority castes, who score low IQ in their own countries where they are despised, quickly assimilate and score normal IQ upon moving to the United States. These include the Harijans of India, the Burakumin of Japan, and the Maori of New Zealand.12

Of course, many other peoples came to the United States over the centuries: from central Asia (Mongols, Kazakhs, Turkomen), from southern Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma) and from the islands and peninsulas of southeast Asia. Indeed, Native Americans have had to adapt or be marginalized even though they never immigrated, having lived here all along. If your heritage is one of these, please do not feel slighted that I left you out of the preceding sketches. Accept my apology. My intent is merely to sketch out the process, not exhaustively to list every group’s experiences.

As each colored “race” assimilated into the American mainstream it gradually became an ethnicity and its members became White (and got higher IQ scores). Individuals did not change, of course, but the definition of White has always been flexible. It continues to stretch. It embraces each new group as soon as they pass some unspoken test. With two exceptions, each newly arrived group took three generations or less to receive the coveted White label and thus become mainstream Americans themselves. The Irish took four generations to become White, and African-Americans have not yet begun to do so. To see why these two groups are exceptional, let us examine what opens the door to Whiteness.

How do You Become White?

The fourth odd linkage is that, throughout U.S. history, colored “races” became White ethnicities by disdaining African-Americans. One of the main springboard behaviors each immigrant group must adopt in order to become White is to display open contempt for Blacks. As each new ethnic assimilation study makes increasingly clear, no exception to this rule has yet turned up.13

German-American whitening came only when (although continuing to support abolition) they socially distanced themselves from free African-Americans. After three generations, German-Americans finally acquired political strength in Pennsylvania’s legislature. They promptly outlawed Black-White intermarriage and revoked African-American citizenship. Pennsylvania’s Blacks were first prevented from voting in 1822 and formally disfranchised in 1837. Subsequently, Pennsylvania’s colored “Germans” re-labeled themselves as White “Pennsylvania Dutch.”14

Irish-Americans sought and won Whiteness by mob violence–arson and murder against African Americans. Five times between 1832 and 1849, Irish mobs stormed though the Black section of Philadelphia, clubbed and stoned their victims to death, destroyed homes, churches, and meeting halls, forced hundreds to leave the city, and left many others homeless. For the Irish, the assimilation/acceptance process took an extraordinarily long time–nearly a century. The delay was because they rejected a core principle of U.S. mainstream culture. Until the 1870s, they refused to allow their children to be taught to read (considering public schools a Protestant plot). Nevertheless, by unwavering hostility towards African-Americans the Irish finally managed to make the leap. With unconscious irony in 1881, English historian Edward A. Freeman (1823-1892) opined that the United States “would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a negro, and be hanged for it.”15

The best account of the whitening of the Jews is by Karen Brodkin. Oddly, it is the only detailed study of a group’s whitening that does not emphasize the tactic of overt disdain for “people of color.” Hence, a deeper reading of Jewish scholarship is required. White Women, Race Matters is a highly acclaimed, award-winning study of White female attitudes. Early in the book, the author informs us (1) that she (the author) is Jewish, (2) that all Hispanics are colored, and (3) that she (the author) is White. She repeats the latter two assertions relentlessly, over a dozen times in the first sixty-nine pages, thereby demonstrating the point.16

After World War II, Chinese-Americans (at left) in Mississippi Whitened themselves in the traditional way. Community leaders influenced Chinese males to end relationships with African-American females, to expel Afro-Chinese kin, and to force such biracial families to leave the Chinese community. They ended friendships with African-Americans and ceased interacting courteously with Black customers. In the presence of Whites, they joked stereotypically about Blacks. They excluded African-Americans from birthday parties, weddings, and funerals. The strategy paid off. By the late 1960s, Chinese-American children attended White schools and universities. They joined Mississippi’s infamous White citizen’s councils, became members of White churches, were defined as White on driver’s licenses, and could marry White.17

Similar studies have revealed similar findings for the other once-colored-but-now-White groups. The Chicano quest for Whiteness via hostility towards African-Americans is narrated in Neil Foley’s The White Scourge. Puerto Rican immigrants have not yet received detailed (monograph) scholarly attention, but Piri Thomas narrates the following dialog in his autobiography, Down These Mean Streets. In the book, a discussion between the author and his brother Jose turns ugly when Thomas insists that they are both Black. “I ain’t black, damn you!” his brother replies. “Look at my hair. It’s almost blond. My eyes are blue, my nose is straight. My motherfuckin’ lips are not like a baboon’s ass. My skin is white. White, goddamit! White! Maybe Poppa’s a little dark, but that’s the Indian blood in him.” When Thomas accuses his brother of “being sold on that white kick,” the brother, growing more agitated by the moment, spits out, “I ain’t no nigger! You can be one if you want to be. You can go South and grow cotton, or pick it, or whatever the fuck they do. You can bow and kiss ass and clean shit bowls. But-I-am white! And you can go to hell!”18

Finally, growing numbers of British West Indians distance themselves from African Americans. Lovely, talented actress Gloria Reuben once said to a dimwitted interviewer who failed to notice several hints, “Stop calling me African-American! I am not African American; I am Jamaican Canadian!” West Indians’ ongoing acculturation is eerily reminiscent of Puerto Ricans’ bleaching a generation ago. Like Puerto Ricans of my generation, many of today’s British West Indians are quite comfortable with their African heritage and enjoy tracing names, music, or folklore back to Wolof, Fulani, or Yoruba customs. But many also reject being confused with African-Americans and avoid intermarriage with them (yet have no problems with other West Indians, even of obvious African ancestry).19

In short, the U.S. version of the “race” notion is the lever by which immigrant groups continue to wrench themselves into the White mainstream using African Americans as fulcrum.

Why Can’t African-Americans Become White?

For centuries, some scholars have predicted Afro-American assimilation and acceptance. In 1650 visitors to the Virginia colony reported that the land “swarmed with mulatto children” and that Africans would soon vanish as a separate group (as they already had blended into Iberia and were doing in Mexico).20

In 1832 Alexis de Toqueville wrote, “There are parts of the United States where the European and Negro blood are so crossed that one cannot find a man who is either completely white or completely black; when that point has been reached, one can really say that the races are mixed, or rather that there is a third race derived from the two, but not precisely one or the other.”21

In 1921 Franz Boas wrote, “The greatest hope for the immediate future lies in a lessening of the contrast between Negroes and whites. … Intermixture will decrease the contrast between extreme racial forms. … In a race of octoroons, living among whites, the color question would probably disappear.”22

In 1981, Thomas Sowell affirmed that African-Americans have finally moved “to a place alongside other groups emerging in the great struggles of life.”23

In 2000, Orlando Patterson wrote that the color line is vanishing. “The racial divide that has plagued America since its inception is fading fast-made obsolete by migratory, sociological, and biotechnological developments that are already under way. By the middle of the twenty-first century, America will have problems aplenty. But no racial problem whatsoever.”24

In cold reality, African-American exogamy (the most reliable measure of assimilation or acceptance) is now at about 3.5 percent, having climbed 2.5 percent in 3 decades. At this rate of improvement, African Americans might become as assimilated as, say, Hispanics or Japanese Americans (at left) reaching these groups’ 50 percent exogamy rate in about six centuries from now. The interesting question is not “Are African-Americans being accepted into the mainstream?” Clearly, they are not. The interesting question is why so many generations of thinkers continue to delude themselves about it.25

Despite the weird optimism that social acceptance of middle-class African Americans is just around the corner (as it has been “just around the corner” for over three hundred years), other scholars realize that this is simply not happening. Hispanics, Asian Americans, and now even West Indians are becoming White (acceptable marriage partners for Whites) but African Americans are not. Two theories have been proposed to account for this. The first is that it is their own fault–that African Americans rebuff acceptance by rejecting mainstream cultural values. The second is that the U.S. social system works only as long as Blacks remain a permanent ostracized sub-caste.

The “own fault” theory is best proposed by Dinesh D’Souza. It says that African-Americans are misled by their leaders into rejecting White values. Black schoolchildren are encouraged to fail White devil reading, writing, and arithmetic, and so they grow up ignorant. Black teenagers are discouraged from dressing conservatively and behaving courteously, and so they grow up unemployable. Black men are encouraged to rob and murder, and so they die in prison.26

On the plus side, this theory explains crime statistics. Twenty thousand Black-on-White rapes occur each year while White-on-Black rape is nil. As reported by their suffering victims (the vast majority of whom are Black) African Americans are one-eighth of the population but commit over half of each year’s murders and sixty percent of armed robberies. Poverty explains nothing. New York Blacks have higher incomes than Puerto Ricans but commit three times the crimes per capita. California Blacks have much higher incomes than Chicanos but, per capita, commit five times the murders and seven times the armed robberies. Hispanics caught committing crimes are put on informal social probation by their impoverished communities, and repeat offenders are outcast. Gold-encrusted Black criminals are praised in their neighborhoods, and repeaters are admired as role models for the young.27

On the minus side, the “own fault” theory loses credibility by blaming leadership. It does not explain why Afrocentrist (separatist, segregationist) leaders, like Delaney, Washington, Garvey, Carmichael, and Farrakhan have supposedly irresistible influence, but mainstream-centrist (integrationist, assimilationist) leaders, like Douglass, Du Bois, King, and Connerly are supposedly ignored. To then rebut that the problem is not misguided leaders, but an inherent flaw in African-American culture (a flaw not shared by Puerto Ricans or Barbadians, say) explains nothing. It simply makes the theory as non-replicable (non-testable) as blaming it on elves.

The “social system” theory is most convincingly articulated by Jonathan W. Warren and France Winddance Twine. It claims that the “race” notion (the creation of a permanent endogamous, impermeable caste) benefits the United States as a whole, even as it sacrifices one group. America’s ethnic diversity is precisely what makes the nation uniquely resilient and creative. Historically, American diversity has resulted from the acceptance of each new group’s transformation from colored “race” to White ethnicity. Distasteful though it may sound, America’s unique hospitality is because each new ethnic group is embraced by America’s expanding blanket of Whiteness as soon as they learn to disdain African Americans. In other words, in an America without a permanent Black caste from which immigrants can distinguish themselves, ethno-cultural assimilation would be negligible. Such an alternate-universe United States would comprise permanently polarized, mutually hostile groups like Yugoslavia, say, or Rwanda.28

Given… that Blacks represent the racialized other against which Whiteness takes shape, we… map out… the consequences of this for Blacks and non-Blacks. For Blacks, it essentially means that they remain the defining other despite how much they conform to “White standards” of dress, speech, behavior, cultural values, and so on. As the “anti-Whites,” it is much more difficult, if not impossible, for them to reposition themselves as unhyphenated Americans. However, for other non-Whites… it has the opposite implication. For them, it means there exists a cultural space in which they can reposition themselves as White by distinguishing themselves from Blacks and adopting the cultural diacritica of Whiteness.29

On the plus side, this theory avoids the flaws of the “own fault” theory. It says that integrationist leaders do, in fact, succeed in persuading Blacks to adopt mainstream values. And each generation of young African Americans starts out believing that all they need do, to be accepted, is to act White (hardworking, honest, frugal). The problem is that this tactic fails for all but the brightest and lightest-skinned. Disillusionment soon sets in for most. Nearly a half-century after two civil rights movements (the integrationist nonviolent movement and the separatist black power movement) and despite huge gains in Black education, Black men now earn 71.2 percent of what Whites earn, and this number has fallen since 1980, when it was 75.1 percent. Similarly, from 1994 to 1999 the net worth of the median Black family fell from $8,400 to $7,500 while median White family net worth rose from $54,600 to $59,500. Also, the “social system” theory needs no recourse to non-replicable cultural pathology. African-Americans are stuck in a permanent “other” caste by contingency, a single random event that happened 325 years ago–bad luck, nothing more.30

The problem with the “social system” theory is that it offers no obvious solution. Clearly, the separatist exhortations of blacker-than-thou activists are sheer madness. Unchecked, Black separatism will simply plunge the nation into its next every-hundred-year cycle of intolerance. And the government’s obsession for coercing everyone to sew a race-label on his or her sleeve is even worse than insane–it is insulting and demeaning.

In conclusion, a useful theory of the “race” notion’s role in ethnic assimilation has no obligation to yield solutions–only to be testable and accurate. Nevertheless, I suspect that if those who adopt strategies based on D’Souza’s “own fault” theory compare notes with those who are persuaded by Warren and Twine’s “social system” theory, they will find that their strategies are similar. For one thing, both would reject hypodescent as well as government sponsorship of the “race” notion.

1 Ian F. Haney-Lopez, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University, 1996) , 1.

2 To be more precise, the term “ethnicity” was introduced in the early 1950s. Before then, “culture” was the term applied to a former “race” once it became accepted asWhite. See Robert Jurmain and others, Introduction to Physical Anthropology, 6th ed. (Minneapolis: West, 2000), 414.

3 For a summary, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1998) or Thomas Sowell, Ethnic America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

4 As quoted in Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1968), 102, 143.

5 Dale T. Knobel, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America, 1st ed. (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University, 1986), 88. As quoted inJonathan W. Warren and France Winddance Twine, “White Americans, the New Minority?,” Journal of Black Studies 28, no. 2 (1997): 200-218, 203; David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the America Working Class (London: Verso, 1991), 133.

6 H.L Gates, Loose Cannons: Notes on the Culture Wars (New York: Oxford University, 1992), 49.

7 As quoted in Mary C. Waters, Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America(Berkeley: University of California, 1990).

8 Lothrop Stoddard, as quoted in Jacobson (1998), 184.

9 Harry H. L. Kitano and Roger Daniels, Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1995), 24.

10 Stetson Kennedy, Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was (Boca Raton FL: Atlantic University, 1990), 47-49. From 1792 until emancipation, Puerto Rico’s population hovered at about 45 percent White and 55 percent Black, give or take three percentage points. For 1792, see Francisco Morales Padron, “La Vida Cotidiana en una Hacienda de Esclavos,” Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena 4, no. 10 (1961): 23-33, 25. For subsequent years, see Frederick P. Bowser, “Colonial Spanish America,” in Neither Slave Nor Free: The Freedmen of African Descent in the Slave Societies of the New World, ed. David W. Cohen and Jack P. Greene (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1972), 19-58, 38. Clara E. Rodriguez, “Challenging Racial Hegemony: Puerto Ricans in the United States,” in Race, ed. Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1994), 131-45, 137.

11 Sowell (1981), 281-82. The American Anthropological Association’s official position on “race” versus IQ is at

12 John U. Ogbu, Minority Education and Caste: The American System in Cross-Cultural Perspective (New York: Academic Press, 1978).

13 Warren and Twine (1997).

14 Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995), 76-77.

15 Oscar Handlin, Boston’s Immigrants, 1790-1880, Rev. and enl. ed. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University, 1959), 178-206. Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: the Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961), 100-101. More precisely, they implacably refused to let their kids be taught by Protestants, while being too poor to open private schools until after the American Civil War. See Handlin (1959), 124-50. As quoted in Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 2 vols. (London: Verso, 1994), 1:29.

16 Karen Brodkin Sacks, “How Did Jews Become White Folks?,” in Race, ed. Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1994), 78-102;Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1998). Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 1-69.

17 James W. Loewen, The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White(Cambridge MA: Harvard University, 1971); Warren and Twine (1997), 209-11.

18 Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). As quoted in Ellis Cose, Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 15-16.

19 See Sowell (1981), 219. Incidentally, not all those of B.W.I. lineage reject the African-American label. Jamaican-descended General Colin Powell, for example, identifies himself as African-American.

20 Allen (1994) 2:218; Edmund Sears Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975) 395-432; Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America(Cambridge MA: Harvard University, 1998) 29-46.

21 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 356.

22 As quoted in Roger Sanjek, “Intermarriage and the Future of Races in the United States,” in Race, ed. Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University, 1994), 103-30, 104.

23 Sowell (1981), 224.

24 As quoted in Michael Barone, The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again (Washington DC: Regnery, 2001), 97.

25 Frank W. Sweet, America’s Odd Two-Caste System: Paths Not Taken, Part 1(Palm Coast FL: Backintyme, 2000), 16-17.

26 Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism (New York: Free Press, 1995).

27 Roger Lane, Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University, 1986), 4.

28 In fact, some authors claim that the “race” notion is merely a capitalist ploy to split the proletariat. There may be some truth to this if you grant that capitalism flourished in Oliver Cromwell’s time. See, for example, David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the America Working Class (London: Verso, 1991); Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 2 vols. (London: Verso, 1994); or W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Dover, 1994).

29 Warren and Twine (1997), 203.

30 Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (New York: Ballantine, 1995), 108.

Frank W. Sweet is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), an analysis of the nearly 300 appealed cases that determined Americans’ “racial” identity over the centuries. It is the most thorough study of the legal history of this topic yet published. He was accepted to Ph.D. candidacy in history with a minor in molecular anthropology at the University of Florida in 2003 and has completed all but his dissertation defense. He earned an M.A. in History from American Military University in 2001. He is also the author of several state park historical booklets and published historical essays. He was a member of the editorial board of the magazine Interracial Voice, and is a regular lecturer and panelist at historical and genealogical conferences. To send email, click here.

One Response to “The “Race” Notion’s Role in Ethnic Assimilation (E9)”

  1. SafiyahKhadijahGoines Says:

    I know this story too well. I was a part black/Native American sister trick baby born into the Irish Jewish Mafia by accident-my mother thought she was Jewish, what she really was was a Sicilian Russian trick baby whose own mother was part Native American and possibly part black and whose own aunt definitely was part black; I was conceived when my mother had a “Lemonade” veteran use a condom that a black veteran turned inside out with him. A lot of Jews darkened up when the military became racially integrated first-at that time, the taboo of interracial marriage in the Jewish community started to grow. Jews (Originally the blackest people on earth when they were the Israelites-so dark they were a radiant purple black and had long dreadlocks) historically hated white people as people for how they oppressed them; but they did like the comfort and the ease and softness of how white people seemed to live. They tried to get it by any means necessary, hated themselves for what they did, fell in crazy love with their oppressor of the opposite sex at least, and turned on their own male and female. I was fair as a baby, then I grew up and looked like a typical Puerto Rican or mixed Spanish Afro-Native American Cuban. I recently found out about what happened, and there’s been a whole case with the West End Gang that has happened in this area. My “Father” never had any kids; he was sterilized at age 13 for being mentally deranged as was his brother John possibly. I recently discovered possibly my brother might be Donald Goines’ son in that mess and I might be his son or Larry Neal’s daughter…I did meet his son Lee and knew not to touch him for some reason other than him mistreating Sherri and their beautiful knowingly mixed kids. I loved Larry’s grandson Douglass especially in that family…he was brilliant and demonized beyond belief. I was like Douglass growing up. I cared about Sherri but was disgusted that she kept going back to that mess as she was with herself. I hope she’s safe and OK now. I hope Douglass is OK-if he’s still with us, he was brilliant and if Sherri is, she did the best she could with the bull jive she was around. A lot Black Arts of writers mysteriously died of heart attacks when still healthy in my lifetime, so did my half sister’s Lemonade father Joe Winsk around age 8 when I started to get too dark. At age 8 the brutality started in my life and never stopped until he stopped yesterday finally thanks to some good, beautiful Muslim black brothers who I naturally have loved for a lifetime. It’s possible in the Delaney family the great grandmother told her husband he accidentally had a dark skinned slave rape her, the truth is she loved her dark-skinned black man because he didn’t rape her and I am so grateful I came of age at a time interracial relationships were legalized. It saved me from becoming a practicing lesbian. I think so many “white” ethnic men are gay and so many black sisters are practicing lesbians from the racism in this country training hatred of the black and native American man and the women of all cultures the way they do. However, it seems black sisters love white women, especially ethnic, if they love black women instead of men as men. I have been too scared to conceive kids into this mess and my older brother too scared to be sexual period; because if I did I’d be doomed to a life of poverty and have to bring that mess onto my children. Maybe now I can have a real Islamic marriage and children insha’Allah. An album to buy-Passion after Peace. I was Meshell’s companion in school at the same school…that song Who is he and what is he to you was her song expressing the anger that her mixed trick baby girlfriend from school was in love with the black man sexually instead of her and vice versa. Bitter Mule was her apology song…apology accepted, Meshell. You are beautiful and I always thought so. So Meshell, this is Sasha who misses you and Islam is the way as we know. I am for legalized Islamic polygamy in a true Islamic context, and I had the sense not to fall in love with my oppressor as a child once the oppression started and never stopped. I had every label psychiatric tagged on me that didn’t fit but no, the irony was I have more sense than most of the people I know. I don’t understand why white men have the jealousy of black that they do; but I do. Their genes aren’t as strong and I heard they don’t have the biggest-well, I don’t know. I naturally have been attracted to beautiful, dark-skinned, strong Muslim black brothers for a lifetime and love them even more now than ever. I have for a lifetime felt no sexual attraction to Nordic men. I can forgive them, but I think I better not marry one for my own sanity. And I’ll keep it real…Abdul Akbar as well as Allahu Akbar. Mr Jackson, in heaven I see you looking down and you are the greatest teacher I ever had.