Friday, December 25, 2009

Today -100: December 25, 1909: Of racial definitions and mince pies

Booker T. Washington has been proposing a “Negro Exposition” to mark the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1913. The NYT believes that this plan is unwise since “Few of our colored population can afford to travel” and “The assertion that any large number of influential whites in the South look upon the plan with favor lacks verification.” So it would be a financial failure and just stir up that race stuff.

In other racial news, “Dragged by Elevated Train: Man Saved from Death by a Negro Platform Porter.” The NYT felt the porter’s race significant enough to require pointing out in the headline – because heaven forfend you form an opinion of him based on his actions before you know his race. The generic “man” saved from death was of course white.

Elsewhere in the paper, on the front page in fact, is a headline, “Wanted to Wed Japanese; License Refused at New Haven to Miss Dorr and Jullen Kwan.” Kwan was a Harvard student. The reason they were refused was actually that she was too young (18), but race made the whole thing newsworthy.

Sometimes those racial distinctions were disturbingly ambiguous. The US Circuit Court in Boston had to decide whether Armenians counted as white or whether they were Asiatics and therefore excluded from seeking US citizenship. Judge Lowell ruled that there has been so much race-mixing in that part of the world over the last 2,500 years that it is impossible to tell, and admitted four Armenians to citizenship, over the objections of the federal government. Lowell notes that if you accept Hebrews as white, you have to accept Armenians.

You will be relieved to hear that the giant mince pie made it to the White House safely.

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