Tag Archives: race

The greatest danger which today confronts the white race

I needed to look at R.A. Fisher’s review of John Maynard Keynes’s treatise on probability, which was published in Eugenics Journal, which I was trying to figure out if JSTOR has, and that led me to this, written by Yale geographer Ellsworth Huntington in 1923.  I know you all know early 20th-century attitudes around race were weird but it’s good to actually look at chunks of it from time to time.

Nevertheless, the greatest danger which today confronts the white race in general and the United States in particular is probably the dilution of a fine, capable racial inheritance with stocks of less capacity, both white and colored. In the clear and forceful manner that is characteristic of his entire book the author points out that “the East can underlive the West” and thereby drive out the westerners wherever the two attempt to compete on equal terms. This is true not only of Asiatics but of eastern and southern Europeans. Whenever such people mingle with those of higher heredity, they do not lift the superior type to a higher social level, as is often supposed, but actually drive it out, or rather prevent it from being born, as is rapidly happening in New England. This is not because the lower type is biologically the “best” but because it is willing to increase and multiply regardless of its own standard of living and that of its  children. The higher types, on the contrary, refuse to lower their standards by rapid multiplication and therefore die out. The forceful way in which this great truth is brought out makes Mr. Stoddard’s book deserve not only careful reading but careful thought in order that its conclusions may be acted upon.

There’s probably something to be said about the relationship between the rhetoric of race struggle in 1923 and the rhetoric of disruptive innovation now, but not by me.  By the way, New England turned out fine, as far as I can tell.

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Dan Sharfstein wins Guggenheim

Congratulations to Dan Sharfstein, who is one of this year’s Guggenheim Fellows!  I have written before about my admiration for Dan’s book The Invisible Line, and this seems a good occasion to say again — if you’re at all interested in the long, complicated history of race in America, buy the book and read it.  His new book will be about Oliver Otis Howard and the Freedmen’s Bureau.  This is the kind of project that requires long, deep research and painstaking thought.  I don’t know if we can Kickstarter things like this, and I’m glad we have the Guggenheim Foundation to help make them possible.


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Thoughts on Dan Sharfstein’s “The Invisible Line”

I blogged about Dan’s book before I read it and said “it’s surely terrific.”  Now I’ve read it, and it is!

The book follows three families, each occupying its own complicated position on the boundary between black and white, from Revolutionary times to the early 20th century.  Sharfstein pieces together a miraculously detailed picture of his subjects from newspaper accounts, archives, and especially legal records.  It’s a great work of American history, but it’s also pretty straight-up exciting —  daring slave rescues, courtroom dramas, Kentucky blood feuds, and steamship explosions make good seasoning for Dan’s contemplations of the American racial conundrum.

Disorganized thoughts:

  • Dan has been researching and writing this book for 15 years or so.  While reading it I kept thinking “this is why we have books and not just blogs; this is why we have historians and not just editorialists.”
  • Every American should, once a year, read a book about US history between the 1865 and 1910.  In high school, you get the Civil War, then Lincoln is assassinated, and the next thing you know there are biplanes flying around shooting at each other.  And maybe they’ll say “oh and by the way Theodore Roosevelt opened a bunch of national parks.”  I certainly made it through school (in what’s officially the South!) without ever hearing about Reconstruction.  The complicated, multifront forward-and-backwards struggle toward racial equality gets flattened into something like this:   the slaves get freed — then a hundred years later their descendants suddenly realize they should be allowed to eat at Woolworth’s.
  • A running theme of Dan’s book is the extreme attention paid to and importance placed on “racial purity”.  It really mattered to people (though not to all people, and not in the same way to all the people to whom it mattered) whether you had 16 white great-great-grandparents or only 15.  “Racial purity” is one of those words, like “honor,” that now seems to us a strange abstraction, not referring to anything in the actual world, but was experienced by our ancestors as a real thing.   I wonder whether “privacy” will go down the same path.  If so, I hope the future contains book-writing historians like Dan to explain to my great-great-grandchildren what I meant by it.
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Dan Sharfstein, “The Invisible Line”

My friend and former It’s Academic teammate Dan Sharfstein has a new book out, The Invisible Line.  I haven’t read it but it’s surely terrific.  Not to mention well-blurbed:

The Invisible Line offers a trilogy of remarkable tales brimming with risk taking, camouflage, irony, narrow escapes, misgivings, regret, delight, and full-scale human drama. Excellent histories have been published about the Great Migration of twentieth-century African Americans from the rural South to the urban North, but, until now, no authoritative and cumulative work has looked at this preceding and overlapping social movement of race changing. One by one, or family by family, since the dawn of American history, individuals have slipped through the loopholes of racial identity. This book overthrows nearly everything Americans thought they knew about race.”
—Melissa Fay Greene, author of Praying for Sheetrock and There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children

Highly recommended.

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But Eugene — YOU’RE not Asian…

A recent New York Times poll contained the startling result that, when asked what proportion of the U.S. population is black, 8% of white respondents and 17% of black respondents chose “more than 50%.”

Full poll here (.pdf file) The relevant question is #80.

Question: are there really this many people who think that the United States is more than half black? Or are there this many people who don’t know how much makes 50%?

According to this account of polls in 1990 and 1998, 24% of Jews and 58% of non-Jews think Jews make up more than 10% of the U.S. population. (It’s actually under 3%.) This one, I’d guess, really is a matter of people finding 10% hard to distinguish from 3%, and not some kind of general tendency to oversemitize one’s surroundings.

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