Apropos of nothing, if you're looking to add to your reading list and want some informative non-fiction, the two best academic-sociological books about race in the United States are Omi & Winant, Racial Formation in the United States and Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. The latter, in case the title gives you second thoughts, is not a "Well white people had it just as bad, because 200 years ago Americans were mean to the Irish but bootstraps!" screed. It is actually a really well historically grounded explanation of how, by virtue of being white, Irish people transitioned from being a minority targeted with derision to part of the American Majority.

Oh, hell. While we're at it, want to read something about a period in American history that's both relevant to current events and almost completely forgotten? Are you ready to start throwing punches if you see one more book about World War II or the Civil War? Alasdair Roberts' The First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837 is pretty great. What we Americans know about our own history is not only limited but also focuses overwhelmingly on a small number of discrete events. This is a good read about the nation muddling through a long economic downturn that threw the political system and social institutions into disarray. It also – teaser! – led to the creation of American cities' first municipal police forces.

31 thoughts on “RACE READS”

  • "it is actually a really well historically grounded explanation of how, by virtue of being white, Irish people transitioned from being a minority targeted with derision to part of the American Majority."

    I have had an argument with a number of people over the years about why being black (I'm not) is such a huge obstacle to those who are. Many of the people I have had that argument with are 1st or 2nd generation american born children of immigrants; sometimes they are recent immigrants themselves.

    Almost universally they say that the the blacks "should just get over it", because as you say, "we had it tough, too–bootstraps". It seems that it is impossible for them to understand what being black in the USA really means. They don't understand (or, more likely, imo, don't want to understand) that black citizens of this country are far more likely to be the third or forth generation out from SLAVES.

    Their forebears were not poor immigrants who struggled with scraping together enough money for passage. Not proud, dignified people who were skilled guild-trained craftsman who had to accept jobs at meager salaries, doing manual labor. Not very well educated immigrants with advanced degrees who were forced by circumstances to return to accredited U.S. schools or not be allowed to practice their chosen professions. Not people who would have been happy to be assimilated but were unable to buy or even rent in neigborhoods outside of the ethnic ghettoes that grew up in the inner cities.

    Up until 160 years, give or take, the vast majority of black people who came to the US were brought as chattel, in chains, suffering under inhuman conditions, so that they might be SOLD to someone who could and might rape them, beat them or kill them as if they were livestock. Their "situation" makes arriving at Ellis Island and being ill-treated by immigration authorities seem idyllic by comparison. There really isn't any comparison to what was done to them by slave owners, overseers and the average Southern white person–of either sex or any age above about 12.

    The slave trade in the U.S. stopped, obviously, with the CSA's failure in their attempt to cobble together a slavenation out of the member states. IF the emancipation proclamation had actually made the former slaves truly free then they might have been able to be assimilated and contribute to as well as partake of the "Success story" of the US from the late agrarian period through today. That they have not done so is due to a number of factors. The single most obvious factor is the color of their skin. Jim Crow in the US South and a de-facto Jim Crow in many other places made it impossible for most former slaves and their descendants to get anything like a fair deal–and it still does.

    I live in a town that has a SUNY campus and there are numerous black students enrolled, mostly from downstate or other states. Oswego is something like 91% white and 2% black (only) with approx 4% hispanic and 3% mixed race.

    I would really like to see what would happen if a group of say 10 young black students went downtown and were being loud and disruptive in any venue where I see that sort of behaviour by white students, regularly. I'm guessing lotsacopsSTAT!

    That's enough for the moment.

  • Well, damn, Demo. :-( That's really depressing. I'm 2nd Gen American, and 1/4 Irish at that. "No Irish Need Apply" was a very real thing *for a short time* from the arrivals from Ireland (not the 200-years-and-counting the arrivals from Africa dealt with), but the American-born kids of immigrants–especially those who picked up and moved west where nobody knew their background–had no Irish accent and could change their name and claim to be anything they wanted to be.

    As you alluded to, you can't pick out the average Irish person from a crowd the way you can the average African-American person.

  • Katydid:

    Plenty of auld sod in my common clay, both sides, with a soupcon of welsh and Alsatian–hard telling what Alsatian is, genetically. With all of that Paddy blood in me veins, y'd think I'd be taken for a mick, anywhere. I manage to get pulled out of lines at the airport once in a while (since I only about every three years it doesn't happen much, now) because I look like I might be oneathem crazy ayrabs–or a mexican.

    When I go back for my 50th HS reunion this summer I will be looking at some people I haven't seen since HS. That's why they usually use a picture from a HS yearbook and put it on a nametag*. There two of my classmates who if they are there, I'll recognize instantly. One has a repaired cleft palate, the other is black. Enough plastic surgery and the repair may have even been "blended" to the point of invisibility. The black skin, however, will always be black–as it should be.

    Blacks, in most instances, have no problem with being black. Their problem is with white people who have a problem with black people being.

    * At this point it will help if they find one of us wandering around the city.

  • I will be requesting these from my local library, assuming they're not shut down in the coming crackdown.

  • My father's side of the family was Lebanese.

    Growing up in the 1950s they and other "ethic whites" like Greeks or Italians were definitely above blacks on the food chain but weren't considered "fully white" either.

    I have never heard my father wax nostalgic about the 1950s like so many others do.

  • The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction by Linda Gordon is a super micro-history about this issue. A group of nuns brings a bunch of Irish-American orphans to be adopted by Hispanic Catholic families on the border in 1904. Racial hysteria ensues as Whites decide that these babies are actually also White (who knew?) by comparison with those Mexicans and something must by done.

  • I see a similarity between how the Irish (and other European minorities) assimilated and how we came to accept gays. You hang out with someone and realize they are just like you and only later on discover that they are different in some way. You get to interact with them without the foreknowledge of their difference. This process is different with being black. If you are sure blacks are different from yourself then that bias colors every interaction with them, inhibiting your acceptance of their sameness. Of course there are those who "pass" as white and sure enough, they are readily accepted. But for most blacks a barrier to acceptance exists that never did for the Irish. The anti-catholic stick was also used against the Irish (we're all controlled by Rome) and that seems to have been effective up through Al Smith's campaign but receded by JFK's campaign. When I visited Ireland in '65 every home had a picture of him and one of Pope John 23 on the wall.

  • I once watched an African American woman wait patiently for the clerk in a dry cleaners to come wait on her.

    A white man came in 5 minutes later, and the Asian immigrant clerk immediately jumped up to take the drop off from the white guy, without a glance at African American woman.

    There must be some racial instruction manual, printed in all the languages on earth that tells folks how they need to treat African Americans when they arrive in the USA.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    I'm a mix of Scots-Irish and Irish. The first group has had an interesting history in this country; I've long been grateful to my great-great-grandfather for getting the Hell out of the Applechain* Mountains and heading west until he ran out of North America.

    Curiously, the Irish side also did a sprint for California as soon as they'd landed.

    I've observed that neither I nor my African American husband have any Ellis Island in our family backgrounds; our families got here too early. No poignant sighting of the Statue of Liberty from the deck of an overcrowded steamship, either.

    *Old childhood joke, derived from a Smothers Brothers routine.

  • Well, a few weeks back, on a different blog, I was into a little flame war (Yeah, I know, hard to believe, right?) with somebody who said it was time to extinguish the lamp and close the Golden Door. One of several points of the argument was, "We can't grow enough food, here, to feed the immigrants!"–which is absolutely untrue. We throw away about a third of the produce we buy and many millions of pounds of other perfectly good food rots in restaurant, school, supermarket and food warehouse dumpsters because there isn't any way to get it to the people who need it without spending MORE money to do so.

    Sorry. I used to work at a KFC when we still it the old fashioned way, in 20 Qt pressure cookers filled with REALLY hot fat, 1/2 animal, 1/2 vegetable.

    The gentleman who had the contract to do a more thorough job of sweeping and mopping than we were able to (we were VERY busy and short staffed, always) was a black man, "Windy", by name, who was always pleasant, smiling and just obsequious enough for any racist asshole he might have to share space with for a few minutes. Ever time he came in, he brought a sack of donuts. No, not a bag, a SACK. A 50# heavy kraft paper "mix" sack from Mr. Donut, IIRC. It was filled with anything up 20 dozen donuts. They were all perfectly edible, although often crushed. I asked him once if he had to pay for them. He said that if he didn't take them, they'd put them in the dumpster.

    Years later, I ran a bagel shop, long enough to realize that the two MD's who were brothers and co-owners were complete assholes. While I was there, people would often come in around closing time. They wanted to buy "day old" bagels. I told them that I didn't do "day old". They'd always say, "Well, you can't sell them tomorrow!" (I'm sure that after I left, the assholebrothers did exactly that. I told them that I sold what I made and, if I had excess, I made some into bagel chips and gave the rest to a half-way house. They all thought I was an asshole, too. Fuck 'em.

    So, was there really a point to all of that? I'm not sure, except that maybe there's some sort of triangulation between black people–the immigrant experience–and growing up in Assholia where all immigrants, and all black people, immigrants or not, are untermenschen or animals. America, land of the free, home of the brave–except the Native American Braves.

  • A lot of Irish got here at the wrong time. In Ireland, they didn't care about blacks or slaves. The British overlords outlawed the trade.

    When them Popish Mics got here, they had to get along with the rest of 19th century America. Specifically, those who ended up in the South either put on their bigots' masks or suffered.

    Their children never understood any of it.

  • Ironic that the same people who hate immigration are also opposed to foreign aid, especially in regards to birth control, which would diminish the pressure on those folks to leave their countries. But logical consistency seems to be in short supply on the right side of the aisle.

  • @JustRuss; they're not opposed to aid to Israel. All the weapons and billions of dollars every year so they can blow up children playing on a beach and old women sleeping in their own homes.

  • Had dinner last night with a friend who grew up in southern Illinois. When the talk turned to the increased racism, she shared with me that when she was growing up, kids threw rocks at her. Her maiden name is Greek, but she's of Greek-English-German descent. She's got light brown hair, blue eyes, and medium-whiteperson skintone. Her grandparents were all born in the USA (Chicago), as was her parents (also Chicago), as was she (Chicago, but her family moved south when she was a baby), but that Greek surname was enough for the racism in the late 1950s Midwest.

  • @ Katydid:

    When I was in HS, 1963–1967, even after th CRA of 1964 black U.S. citizens in Omaha, NE were routinely turned away from one of the public pools @ Miller Park in North Omaha for whatever reason was concocted on a given day. Once th CRA was passed black youth were often admitted and then ejected on whatever pretext ("running' was a favorite) could be used to justify it. It was around that time that my mom decided that Miller Park was too far from the house and that we would go to Benson Park which had recently put in a pool. I don't think that my mother was unconcious of her or her family's racism but I do think that a lot of her actions and attitudes were not conciously dictated by racism–it was just ALWAYS there.

    When I was home for a visit around Christmas in the early 1990's, I came in from an errand to find my mom watching a public affairs program on one of the local news channels. There was a group of gradeschoolers singing Christimas Carols. As the camera scanned the faces of the children, I saw generic white/pink, asian, african and mixed-racial skin tones and features. I thought it was nice.

    My mom said, "I wish they wouldn't have those people there!". I asked which people she was referring to, "The foreigners", she said. I told her it was very likely that the children were ALL U.S. citizens. I also told her that she might remember hearing stories about the British using the Irish for target practice. She had no reply. I never really thought about it until typing that last sentence but one of the "effective arguments" by bigots and racists is to say, "Well, they got all huffy and I thought it best to just be quiet, so's not to make them lose it completely–even though they were totally wrong.". Been there, done that; I try not to do it, anymore.

  • @Demo, wow, that's an eye-opening story. :-( I've learned it's best to speak up when I hear that kind of crap knowing if they get huffy, so what? It's not like they're your kind of people anyway.

    I got into it with the extended family over the holidays, including my own parents. They weren't bigoted angry moron when I was a kid, but then they discovered Fox news and talk radio and it was all downhill from there. All of their parents (my grandparents) walked off the boat as immigrants…yet my parents are anti-immigrant.

    Funny thing; a right-wing idiot Tweeted his outrage at the state of Hawaii's not following Trump's ban by accusing Hawaiians of not being able to understand the carnage of 9/11 because they were so far away (unspoken: and they're also non-Murkkkun furriners over there). Pro tip: December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. People living in Hawaii very much do understand what it's like to be attacked by a foreign nation–the memorial is right there and schoolkids go every year. Additionally, people are still alive who lived through it and it's a huge topic every December.

  • As Major Kong and my friend illustrated, even if you're white, you weren't white enough in the "magical, perfect" 1950s that the conservatives want us to go back to.

    Just finished reading the book "White Trash–the 400-year-old untold history of class in America", which was someone's dissertation and is equal parts text and citations for the text. It was eye-opening for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact that the colonies were started in the 1600s as a money-making scheme for the British 1%, who sent over mostly "waste people" (the poor and young men) meant to die while securing profits for the 1% and for the landowners in the colonies. Coming over without connections or money, they weren't going to better their lot in the new world. Over time, entire states (North Carolina being one) were found as places to stash the "waste people" who didn't die, but managed to survive and reproduce. Without land, these folks were better able to move west and south.

    As early as the 1790s there began to be talk of "crackers" (formerly "waste people"). Andrew Jackson was the first "cracker' president. By the 1820s there were the first "Rill Murkkkun are the crackers!" stuff that Sarah Palin rode so hard in 2008.

  • Thanks, Demo. I lived in Hawaii from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, which coincided with people speaking out about the internment camps–the Nissei (second generation; mostly the children of the interned), were writing the memoirs of their parents' time in the camps.

  • I remember the first movie I saw about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was made in the early months of the war. There was a character whose line was something about seeing some Jap driving a milk truck and wrecking AAC fighters on the ground and, of course, the guy killed him.

    I'm pretty sure that even THEN they knew that the story wasn't true, but it sure helped demonize those dirty yellow bastards (the name that is STILL used by some people).

    I have lived most of my adult life in fear of mobs. The mobs I fear are not black, yellow, brown or some intermediate shade. They are white.

  • I left Hawaii and moved to Virginia, and was just stunned by the outright racial prejudice and idiocy. I finished high school in Virginia; at one point my school had a weeklong swap with a school in South Carolina and realized the toxic crap got worse the further south you go.

    In contrast, my in-laws are all around the Buffalo area and I suppose there must be racial problems there but they're not the constant barrage you see down south.

  • Oswego has about 2-3% of a population of 18,000 that identify as "black", another 3-4% hispanic, asian and "other" and 90+% white. It was one of the final U.S. transit points for escaped slaves, prior to Emancipation. Harriet Tubman's National Historic Site home is in Auburn, NY. So, black folks been here a while.

    Racism is understated, except when it's not, around here.

    Syracuse, 40 miles southeast of Oswego, is over 25% black. They commit all of the crimes, they are all on welfare, they all hate to work, they all love "crack" and makin' babeez that they don't take care of–or so some people insist. What nobody beats the drum too loudly about is how they've been penned up in the neighborhoods they live in for, in some instances, 3-4 generations. Their educations, employment opportunities, infrastructure and other societal "amenities" that white people take for granted are not at as high a standard, despite the efforts of a lot of good people. That's just a sad fact.

  • Squeaky Wheel says:

    The Best soldiers in the world are a troop of Irish lead by a white officer.
    –Old Joke in bad taste

  • And there's probably a following joke:

    "The Best unofficered soldiers in the world are a troop of Irish who had been led by their late British officer.".

    Worse taste!

  • seniorscrub says:

    The Late British Empire.

    Are there any problems that exist in today's world that don't have their bloody fingerprints all over them?

  • @ seniorscrub:

    I thought hard for a minute or two and got nothin', really. I must admit that we, the Germans, French, Belgians, Dutch, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portugese, Russians and numerous other countries have done their best to play "catch up", but, yeah, I think that the BE did it better, harder, longer than anyone, else

  • I'm surprised you didn't mention Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, by James Loewen. It's a dense read, but meticulously researched and INTENSELY illuminating. If you haven't read it, I honestly recommend it.

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