Over at Rachel’s Tavern, she put up a post on how her pregnancy is going. She asked her readers what they thought of a nurse writing down information concerning Rachel’s racial ethnicity. In her post ( http://www.rachelstavern.com/?p=888 )she wrote the following:
******”As I learned forward to correct or clarify some piece of information, I noticed that the form also asked for race and the medical assistant didn’t ask me for race. She filled in the box with the letters “OT.” This piqued my attention, so I watched the screen for the rest of the check in. At some point, we repeated the demographic variables and again, she didn’t ask for race; she just filled in the box with “OT.” I’m not 100% sure what “OT” means. The two possibilities I thought of were “other” or “off topic.” My guess would be “other.”*****”
Rachel asked her readers what they thought of what this nurse did, and why she did it. That was interesting for the nurse to put the abbreviation “OT” down, (as Rachel is an obvious white woman), which could possibly have been an abbreviation for “Other”.
But, it was a statement that a frequent reader left that caught my interest. Ron, left this comment, a part of what I will post here:
“Italians and Jewish people are only recently received their honorary white status.”
My response to Ron:
At the beginning of the last century, (starting around approximately 1890 through 1940) Italians, Greeks, Armenians, etc., were considered “in-betweens”…neither white…nor black, upon arrival to America.
They were not at first considered “white” by native-born American whites. In fact, Italians were considered sub-human in the eyes of native-born whites. In order for Italians, Greeks, etc. to achieve “whiteness” they had to align themselves with whites against black citizens.
Even though there were some Italians in the American South who worked in solidarity in employing blacks, this type of racial coalition was hated by native Southern racist whites. Because Italians in Louisiana worked with black people in humane ways, racist whites felt that Italians were getting too close to blacks in solidarity. When in 1891 a white sheriff was murdered (supposedly by an Italian) in New Orleans, whites rose up against the Italian community and lynched 11 Italians who were accused of killing him.
Many Eastern/Southern Europeans who came to this country WERE NOT WHITE upon arrival. They had to work their way towards whiteness, many times at the expense of those same black citizens they worked with, as well as those same citizens whose black neighborhoods many of them (Italians, Greeks, etc.) lived in, or in close proximity to.
Over the next decades, there would soon be Italians, as well as Greeks, in lynch mobs and race riot mobs against black people.
Today many Italians, and other ethnic whites do not know of the bloody history many of those groups had against their fellow black citizens.
The wages of whiteness in the ethnic whites desires to achieve the property of whiteness caused them to choose between solidarity between blacks or side with the whites in order to maintain the possessiveness of whiteness. Race is a social construct. Race (“whiteness”) is made in America. It changes and moves back and forth between the accepted (whites), those working their way towards acceptance (ethnic whites and others), and those who will never be accepted (black Americans).
The pitting of non-blacks against blacks started centuries ago with Bacon’s Rebellion, when propertied whites drove a wedge between free blacks, enslaved blacks, Indians and poor whites.
Ever since then the wages of whiteness has exacted a terrifying assault upon blacks (victims of race hatred from those groups who wished to “become white” to escape the hatreds of the dominant white race) and what the many ethnic whites had to give up to accomplish their whiteness:
-Many Anglicized their names to accomplish acceptance in the eyes of native-born whites;
-Many had to cut ties with the black community or risk the wrath of racist attacks of whites;
-Many worked with racist leaders of unions which kept blacks out of those unions, in order for those ethnic whites to gain employment, and therefore, better wages;
Today, I do not look upon Italians as “whites”. Yes, their ancestors mixed with black North Africans, which is why Sicilians/Sardinians are dark-complected, as well as Greeks, and many other Mediterraneans. Also, some Italians carry the gene for Sickle Cell Anemia, just as some black Americans.
But, they became white at a terrible cost to them…..as well as to black people.
Because Italians, Jews, Greeks, and others “worked” their way towards whiteness, I cannot consider them as white.
The racist, social construct of “whiteness” is mutable. Whiteness is fluid, an identity that changes at the whim of racist white supremacy. Which is why the Italians became white , the Armenians became white , the Jews became white , ……..the Irish became white.
That Anglo-WASP, white-dominated America made Eastern/Southern Europeans have to make a choice between black Americans and whiteness is another unforgivable sin this country will continue to have to bear just as it will continue to have to bear America’s original sins of Native American genocide, chattel inhuman slavery, mass barbaric gang-rapes of black women and girls during slavery (well as during segregation) as well as all of the many atrocities America has forced on ALL of her citizens.
Just because white-dominated America says it is so, does not make it so.
Just because whites say that Asians are the Model Minority does not make it so.
Just because whites say that Africans and Afro-Carribeans, Brazilians, etc., are more harder workers than blacks does not make it so.
White people do not have the last word on anyone’s humanity.
White supremacy has lorded its atrocities over every race/ethnic group that has lived in this country, and that is how white-dominated America has perverted this country with the viciousness of whiteness and all the cruelties it has wrought.
Just as black Americans are a hybrid race (due to rapes of white and Native American slavers), with African blood, so too are Italians and many other Mediterraneans a hybrid group of people.
Race-mixing between Romans occurred due to the Conquest of the Roman Empire, and the conquering of Italy, Spain and other parts of Southern Europe by black-skinned Arabs.
Just as the Southern Europeans changed in skin color, phenotype and even hair texture, so too did the Arabs also change as well, with just as many of them becoming light in skin color as the Italians became dark in skin color.
Just as Italians, Irish, etc., became white in the eyes of white-dominated America, so too can other non-blacks who are pitted against black people, also become white, in the future.
It has been done before (Italians, Greeks, Polish, Jews, and others pitted against blacks), just as it is being done now with Asians, Latinos, Arabs, pitted against blacks as paragons of models of virtues. As models of hard work ethics, thrift, law-abiding and patriotic–values that are found in all racial/ethnic groups–yes, gasp!–values found in black citizens just like any other human beings in this country.
This hatred of blackness is as old as America, and will not relent as long as America refuses to own up to her racist past of racial abominations against her black citizens, abominations that carry a heavy price for all of us.
For the former immigrant groups of Jews, Irish, Italians, Greeks and others, whiteness has come at a high cost.
The solidarity that could have occurred between blacks and ethnic whites was destroyed by the heavy hand of white supremacy, and the fear of ethnic whites of too closely aligning themselves with their fellow black citizens.
I oftentimes find myself wondering if today’s ethnic whites question themselves as to was it worth it for the ethnic whites to become white, even at the cost of thousands of lives of many black people who were destroyed in this process.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth it to turn your backs on a race of people who never did your groups any harm?
Was it worth it to obtain by any means necessary–your ethnic enclaves, your economic outpacing of black people due to institutionalized economic/social/residential/legal/educational racism?
Was it worth it to obtain the homes many of you live in today, homes of your parents and grandparents, homes obtained much due to redlining, racist practices of federal applications of FHA housing loans that favored ethnic whites over blacks? Racist applications of bank loans that gave a lift up to ethnic whites, but not to blacks?
Was it worth it to participate in bloody race mob riots against your fellow black citizens…race riots that occurred across America.
The Irish in the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, a vicious massacre that grew out of escalating tensions on the Southside, where Irish descendants and black Americans competed for jobs at the stockyards, and where both were crowded into substandard housing.
“If the grand jury investigating the white-on-black violence during the 1919 race riot in Chicago is to be believed, Irish American gangs played a central role in attempting to extend the bloodshed. Members of Ragen’s Colts, one of the leading gangs, disguised themselves in blackface in order to set fire to Polish and Lithuanian neighborhoods in the Back of the Yards area. Their hope was to draw the immigrant population into bloody reprisals against African Americans. Two years later, Ragen’s Colts again mounted the barricades, hanging in effigy a Ku Klux Klansman in the opening salvo of a successful campaign to isolate and drive from Chicago an organization known for violence against southern African Americans, but now focused on Roman Catholics and Jews as threats to American culture and society. In that incarnation, the Colts battled the forces of intolerance. Thus Ragen’s Colts symbolized the bizarre extremes of racial intolerance and terror in early-twentieth-century Chicago.
“The two faces of Ragen’s Colts will almost inevitably strike contemporary readers as contradictory: at one moment deceptive, vile, and exclusionary and at the next campaigning against icons of hatred. However, such contradictions go to the heart of Chicago’s history as well. In the city’s past and present, two images contend. One emphasizes the astonishing cultural variety and vibrant cultural exchanges nourished in an atmosphere of tolerance. The other stresses how quickly and ruthlessly racial lines have been or can be drawn in the city sometimes called the nation’s “most segregated,” one that helped to teach Martin Luther King about a racism he had not encountered in the South.
“To move beyond explaining away such contradictions as simply “paradoxes” requires coming to grips with the chilling extent to which processes of racial exclusion were part and parcel of building increasingly inclusive unities among European immigrants as white Americans. During the 1919 race riot, the blackface arson came in response to the lack of interest among Eastern European immigrants in brutalizing blacks. Some Poles argued that the riot was a conflict between blacks and whites, with Poles abstaining because they belonged to neither group. Indeed the Poles and Lithuanians might well have hated each other more than either group hated African Americans. Thus the racially disguised terror committed by the Irish American gang members was not only an act of racism. It was, perversely, also an act of inclusion, reaching out to newer Roman Catholic immigrants who did not have a secure place in U.S. systems of racial privilege and who did not sufficiently identify and act as whites. In that sense the arson served as a fit prelude to militant, but not interracial, protest against the Klan’s attempts to restrict the white race to Protestant Anglo-Saxondom.” (4)
The Irish in the East St.Louis Race Riot of July 1, 1917, a rioting slaughter which killed hundreds of black residents of East St. Louis, many of whom were women and children.
Political cartoon about the East St. Louis massacre of 1917. The caption reads, “Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?” (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.com )
“The Italians in the 1890 Spring Valley Race Riots (or the “Spring Valley Massacre” as it is known of among some black citizens). This historical account of how Italians brutally slaughtered defenseless black citizens occurred on August 4, 1895, when a mob of more than 800 Italian American miners marched from Spring Valley to the settlement of black American miners 2 miles west of town, led by an Italian American marching band as a sort of disguise. “The residents, therefore, remained in their homes and did not react to the oncoming mob,” writes historian, Felix Armfield, who then quotes the account in the New York Times:
“Italians fell upon them like a lot of Apache Indians. Men were dragged from their homes, clubbed, trampled upon, and made targets for the shotguns, rifles, and small arms that the mob had brought with them. The women were insulted, slapped, and two of them, while begging for mercy, were shot down and fatally injured. No one was safe from the mob. Men, women, and children, infants, the elderly, and even invalids were attacked.”
“The rioting continued, and on the second day the Italian miners announced, “The Black Men Must Go.” Writing in 1945, historians Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy summarized, “Nobody knows exactly how many Negroes died before the tumult subsided, but as the years went by colored folks, at least, referred to the incident as the ‘Spring Valley Massacre’. ” (3) (c)
Even in the creation of sundown towns, ethnic whites eventually allowed themselves to be pitted against their fellow black citizens.
In multi-ethnic towns, black citizens increasingly served as the main function of America’s primary out-group, anti-neighbor…anti-citizen:
“Black citizens very presence—or, even better, their mandated absence—by definition grouped all European ethnics as white. White ethnic groups more and more distanced themselves from black Americans during the Nadir, and even some multi-ethnic towns went sundown. The history of Granite City, Illinois, across the Mississippi from St. Louis, illustrates this sordid process. Between 1900 and 1910, hundreds of new immigrants, mostly from Macedonia and Bulgaria, poured into Granite City:
“Poorly paid, they lived in pathetic squalor, ignorant of American institutions, according to a book published in 1971, Granite City’s 75th birthday. Nevertheless, Granite City at least tolerated and sometimes welcomed these white ethnic group members. They were non-black, which was more important than being non-American. Precisely at this time, Granite City expelled its black Americans. The white ethnics had started at the bottom, in competition with black people, but driving the black people from Granite City erased that memory over the decades.
“Moreover, when WASP, Irish, Polish, Greek, Italian, and now Macedonian and Bulgarian Americans joined to expel or keep out black Americans around 1903, the whites were now united. No longer could Poles be used against Germans, or Italians against Poles. And no longer could black Americans even live in the community.
“By 1971, Macedonian American and Bulgarian American children were fully accepted, while black Americans whose ancestors had been in this country for seven generations, were still totally excluded.” (1) (c)
Even this website on Granite City, Illinois shows the callous disregard for the blacks who were driven out and erased from the collective memory of Granite City’s true history:
“During the years the plant thrived, it drew many immigrants from Central Europe to Granite City. They brought a strong work ethic and an eagerness to do well in this new country. The plant also attracted other heavy industrial firms to the city. Granite City Steel was one of them and remains one of the city’s leading industrial firms.
Today, Granite City is a bustling community with a diverse roster of business and industry. A solid citizenry preserves the city’s Central European heritage along with many of the homes and buildings constructed as the city grew. A cluster of flags from 17 Central European nations surrounds the flag of the United States in a downtown park, symbols of the city’s recognition of its origins.”
Today Granite City is called an “All-American City”, which translates into a city for whites. As of the 2000 Census, only 1.99% of black Americans live in Granite City.
Even the unemployment rate for black women is excessively high, compared to other groups in Granite City:
Unemployment rate for Black females: 18.9%
The ethnic whites were now fully white, able to live and move about the country as full citizens and human beings, while their fellow black citizens were herded into vicious slums and deplorable housing conditions in the North, and bantustan homeland neighborhoods in the South.
White ethnic solidarity often led to predominantly white unions, as well as white sundown towns.
Ethnic whites also became more anti-black towards black citizens as much as native-born whites.
“Irish Americans especially were the most virulent in their racist hatred towards back Americans. This mainly stemmed from economic competition between blacks and Irish, especially in jobs. Irish drove blacks from occupation after occupation in eastern cities. Occupations such as union jobs that heavily shut out blacks: railroad employment, construction, and in some places from meat-packing, lumber, as well as mining. Then in the words of Noel Ignatiev, author of How The Irish Became White:
“To avoid the taint of blackness it was necessary that no Negro be allowed to work in occupation where Irish were to be found. Still better was to erase the memory that Afro-Americans had ever done those jobs.”
“Finally, white ethnics became regular Americans, while black citizens were not allowed to do so. (And still are not allowed to do so.) Even when Irish, Polish, Italian or Greek American newcomers” entered as strike breakers during union strikes, in competition with older groups of white Americans (Anglo/WASP), eventually the American part of their identity became more important than the foreign part.” (2) (c)
Eventually the Irish, Italian, Greek and others became white often at the bloody, violent expense of their fellow black citizens.
Across the history of America, white ethnic hatred of black Americans has been caught not only in newspaper articles and historical periodicals, but, also via video and photography. The virulent hatred of their fellow black citizens shown by Irish, Italian and others knew no bounds in cities and towns across the North, cities such as Chicago, Illinois as well as New York City, New York, Philadelphia, PA, and Boston, MA:
Although Jews are still subjected to anti-Semitism, they nonetheless have been permitted to move from the category of non-white to white – a change having nothing to do with any change in the shade of skin. In fact, Jews owe their postwar upward mobility very much to the creation of the GI Bill(officially titled Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, P.L. 78-346, 58 Stat.. 284m) , which was only instituted in order to head off the angry, unemployed ex-soldiers from WWI and WWII.
The same has been true for Italians, the Irish, and other ethnic groups.
Was it worth it, Jewish Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Greek-, Lithuanian-, Polish-, and all other ethnic Americans?
Was it worth all the blood and destruction of your fellow black Americans for your ethnic groups to become white?
1. Granite City Public Library, 75TH Year Celebration of the City of Granite City, Illinois (Granite City: n.p., 1971); “Whiteness of a Different Color” by, Matthew Jacobson, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998).
2. “How the Irish Became White“, by Noel Ignatiev, New York Routledge, 1995.
3. “Anyplace But Here“, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, New York: Hill & Wang, 1966:
4. “Racism, Ethnicity, and White Identity”, David Roediger: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1033.html
5. “Chicago Race Riots”, Steven Essig: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1032.html
6. “Irish”, Ellen Skerrett: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/652.html
7. “Restrictive Covenants”, Arnold R. Hirsch: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1067.html
8. “Redlining”, D. Bradford Hunt: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1050.html