Friday, June 29, 2007

Ethnic biases stronger than ever

Ethnic biases stronger than ever
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 29, 2007

As the 19th century turned into the 20th, Americans began to worry about the stability of their society and its culture. Strange languages were spoken on the streets, strange-looking people in strange clothes were shopping in our stores. Strange smells percolated in certain neighborhoods. Strange customs were appearing on strange holidays. These strangers were pouring into our country. They threatened our democracy, our way of life, our culture, our religious beliefs, our economy, our blood stock. Why didn't they stay in their own countries?

The answer is they were caught in a demographic transition -- the birth rate had increased and the death rate had fallen. A population explosion was driving people out of eastern and southern Europe.

In the decade before the beginning of the Great War, the government established a commission, presided over by Sen. William P. Dillingham of Vermont, to recommend restrictions of immigration from Europe. Many of the immigrants were of inferior races, as 19th century ''scientific'' racialism defined inferior. It was evident to explorers that Asian and African races were inferior to the ''white'' races. However, all one had to do was to observe eastern and southern Europeans to realize that they were inferior too. Indeed, the most successful of the races were the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Surely they represented, along perhaps with the Germans, the greatest progress in human civilization.

Therefore, the Dillingham Commission informed the country that it was patent that Italians were an innately criminal race, that the Poles had very limited intelligence, that Jews were incapable of honest business dealings and that the Irish were shiftless, superstitious and incapable of ambition. Such individuals could never become good Americans. On the basis of ''science'' like this, the commission recommended draconian limitations on immigration. The country sighed with relief.

These ''racial'' stereotypes persist -- not as vehement as they once were, but still part of the national unconscious. ''The Godfather'' and ''The Sopranos'' fit perfectly. So does the film ''The Break-up,'' in which Vince Vaughn plays an insensitive oaf. He is subtly labeled "Pole" by the huge Polish flag, complete with the Polish eagle, on the wall of his office. The lazy, alcoholic Irish laugh all the way to their hedge-fund manager.

A Mexican-American high school sophomore sent me an e-mail asking why other Americans hate them so much and tell so many lies about them. My answer is that Dillingham is alive and well. They don't want more people with somewhat darker skin who can never become good Americans.

Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington has argued that Mexicans do not want to acculturate into our Protestant political and social system. Don't tell me, kid, that you can refute all the "facts" they propound to establish your inferiority (you're second generation, but you have no right to the educated prose of your e-mail). The bigots (less than a third of the country) who hate you know in the depths of their souls that you and your kind are an inferior people who are trying to take over their country and ruin it. We don't need no more Mexican flags at soccer matches and certainly no more statues of Guadalupe parading down our streets.

More seriously, young woman, you're very smart, the kind of young person this country needs. I pray to God that you can avoid the stormtroopers who might throw you out of the country. Given half a chance, you will become a successful American. Maybe someday you can laugh at them all the way to your hedge-fund broker.


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