Friday, February 21, 2003

'Back then'

So, was race a prominent social issue back before World War II?

Well, judge for yourself:

[Front page of the Seattle Star, July 29, 1919]

[Front page of the Seattle Star, July 30, 1919]

The two images above were part of the anti-Japanese agitation that arose after World War I along the Coast, and which resulted in the passage of a variety of "Alien Land Laws" that forbade "aliens ineligible for citizenship" -- i.e., the Japanese -- from either owning land or leasing it. The agitation culminated in the passage in 1924 of the so-called Asian Exclusion Act, which forbade immigration from Japan.

OK, so that was well before Pearl Harbor. What about then? Was race on people's minds as they debated the internment? Or were they only concerned about "national security"?
"This is a race war! The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism. ... Once a Jap always a Jap. You cannot change him. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland ... I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii, now and putting them in concentration camps... Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!”
-- Rep. John Rankin, D-Mississippi, speech before Congresss, Dec. 15, 1941

OK, how about during the war?

[Common 'joke' card passed around during the war.]

[Sign from a community near present-day Kirkland, Washington, taken circa 1944.]

OK, OK. How about after the war?

This was a pamphlet widely circulated at anti-Japanese meetings that arose along the coast in 1944-45, organized to prevent Nikkei evacuees from returning to their former homes after the concentration camps closed. Schuyler’s core arguments were not very distinguishable from those offered twenty years before by the exclusionists:
As a nation we stand prejudiced against orientals. This is something which our bleeding-heart idealists have overlooked. They claim our basic laws, the principles upon which America rests, are unanimously in favor of regarding all men as equals. The fact remains, however, that according to our statute books all men are created equal except those with yellow skins. Any race, color or creed, say our laws, may become naturalized citizens of our country except the Japanese, Chinese and Hindu. These are judged unfit for assimilation in our society.

Mind you, we on the Pacific Coast are glad of it. What irks us is the loop-hole in our Constitution through which orientals may purchase the farm next door to us and defy us to kick them out. The loop-hole is this -- all babies are created equal providing they are born in the United States. The Japs, Chinese and Hindus are no exception to this rule. Oriental babies born here are automatically American citizens. ... Obviously this is a contradiction of principle which cannot be justified within the bounds of either religious or political idealism.

For Schuyler, in keeping with the anti-Japanese tradition, the tenets of white supremacism and pseudo-scientific racial eugenics were paramount:
The dividing lines between the races are necessary to prevent mixed breeding. The white race does want to survive!

There is no dodging it. This is a white man’s country. The white man runs it. And he is not going to let his own rules of behavior drive him from his own soil. So, as long as we remain a people of spirit we will refuse to sanction the mixing of colored blood with ours. Japanese in America will never be the social equals of the whites for the simple reason that they are not assimilable. Germans? Italians? Jews? Yes. We can assimilate any of the whites. But the colored races are different. We reserve the right to reject from our midst those who are not patently assimilable.

... We feel complete moral justification in regarding ourselves, right here in our own country, as socially and politically superior to other races.

... Is it not high time that we forget this idealistic tosh about the equality of man, remembering that Jefferson himself didn't mean it, and just become practical for a change? We do not want Japs living next door to us, setting inhuman standards in agriculture and business, mixing socially and sexually with our young people and making ours by very reason of their presence a racially intolerant community. Religious and political idealism notwithstanding, we who have lived among Japs know that the two races should not attempt to fraternize. We know that Japs can never live happily in a predominately white community, any more than whites can live happily in the presence of a Jap minority -- unless they inter-breed and thus become in the end equals in fact as well as in theory.

That is the basic issue involved in this Jap problem. In returning these people here after the war we are, in fact, proposing to mix with them sexually as time passes. Meanwhile and until our white society becomes shot through with Jap faces, the Jap minority will be a constant source of social irritation. It is imperative, therefore, that this question be settled now.

His final solution: Designate a passel of Pacific islands permanent territories of the United States, and then remove all persons of Japanese descent to this new permanent homeland. Of course, no one of Japanese blood would be permitted to become a permanent resident of the mainland afterward.

So, gosh, I dunno. Does that sound like race was on people's minds "back then"?

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