Our Dark His­tory of De­mo­niz­ing Im­mi­grants

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight | History -

Robert E. Bartholomew, Anja E. Reum­schüs­sel, Prometheus Books (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $24 (288pp), 978-1-63388-448-9

De­spite the poignant po­etry adorn­ing the Statue of Lib­erty, as­pir­ing cit­i­zens of var­i­ous eth­nic­i­ties and re­li­gions have not been warmly wel­comed to the US, as doc­u­mented in Robert E. Bartholomew and Anja E. Reum­schüs­sel’s dispir­it­ing his­tory of racist, xeno­pho­bic, and na­tion­al­ist poli­cies in the United States.

The au­thors at­tribute such in­tol­er­ance to a na­tional predilec­tion for so­cial pan­ics in times of eco­nomic hard­ship, war, and so­cial un­rest. Scape­goat­ing im­mi­grants and eth­nic mi­nori­ties has been a po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent strat­egy to ex­plain away so­cial prob­lems and to jus­tify land grabs, mob vi­o­lence, and other shame­ful re­pres­sions. Some of the book’s in­for­ma­tion is fa­mil­iar, like the World War II in­tern­ment of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans, but the book fer­rets out many lesser-known in­stances of anti-asian dis­crim­i­na­tion dat­ing back to the turn of the cen­tury, when West coast im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions boomed. La­bor unions, politi­cians, and news­pa­per ed­i­tors blamed the new ar­rivals, whom they likened to in­sect hordes, for ev­ery­thing from un­em­ploy­ment to out­breaks of the plague.

Vivid doc­u­men­ta­tion runs through­out other chap­ters, de­tail­ing the Amer­i­can treat­ment of Catholic, Chi­nese, and Ja­panese im­mi­grants, Ger­man Amer­i­cans, Jewish refugees, Mus­lims, and Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Chi­canos, whose an­ces­tors pre­dated white set­tle­ment within their lands. The au­thors tap a huge range of re­search ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tions, speeches, in­ter­views, and schol­arly jour­nals. In­stances of spe­cific vi­o­lence against in­di­vid­u­als, while dif­fi­cult to read, re­in­force the ug­li­ness of these eras, like the 1830s anti-catholic pro­pa­ganda wars, twen­ti­eth-cen­tury eu­gen­ics-based im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tions, and, sadly, con­tem­po­rary stereo­typ­ing of Mus­lims as ter­ror­ists.

The au­thors con­tend that sim­plis­tic poli­cies marginal­iz­ing im­mi­grants and mi­nori­ties en­dan­ger Amer­i­can eco­nomic and so­cial progress. They call for hon­est re­ex­am­i­na­tion of the darker corners of our na­tional his­tory and dis­cuss ways to mean­ing­fully ad­dress the com­plex prob­lems we con­front to­day. Amer­i­can In­tol­er­ance is timely reading for any­one con­cerned about re­cent changes in im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and ramped-up white supremacy rhetoric and vi­o­lence.

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