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March 19, 2016


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The US has had multiple waves of "white"-looking immigrants, including Slavic East Europeans, and the same kinds of prejudices operated then.

I'm not entirely sure that the non-Russian white coalition wouldn't find some otherwise small visual or cultural identifier and latch onto it. Your cheekbones are too high for a real white person. Your last name ends in V. You make the sign of the cross in the wrong direction. Et cetera.

America right now has a very broad visual definition of white. Much of Britain, on the other hand, is finding a way to exclude Poles and Romanians at a glance. It's easy to imagine some societies narrowing it down even further: "the wogs begin in Calais." Our gentle cousins to the north, after all, had a charming way of telling Francophone students to not speak French in class: "speak white."

Indeed. In the late 19th century, one John Beddoe went on to map the degree of "negrescence" in different populations in the British Isles.


I'm sure you can guess which populations ranked highest.

"America right now has a very broad visual definition of white."

How so? It sure looks to me as if the definition of "white" in the United States is extremely narrow. Most obviously there's the One Drop Rule, and then there's the practice of declaring all Spanish-speaking people nonwhite.

Historically the white Americans wanting to defend their whiteness have been very, very good at latching on to anything, be it physical appearance or religion or simply behaviors, to discriminate. I think it would be interesting how the anti-Russian backlash takes shape, I'm sure it would incorporate silly Protestant confusions over Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy. If beer halls and Catholic schools were targeted in OTL by Protestant nativists, what forms of social gatherings would Russians bring to the Americas that would be attacked as foreign?

Well, Logan, the counterfactual is a giant Russian immigration wave in 1970-2015. By that point, anti-Catholic sentiment has been dead and buried. Since AFAIK no Mexican social gatherings have attracted widespread opprobrium, I don't see why any Russian ones would.

The idea is a thought-experiment. Keep the post-1965 migration wave, but change the single biggest category from one considered "non-white" in 1970 to one considered "white" in 1970.

I suggested that the reaction to the immigrants would be the same, but the second-generation would assimilate faster and turn against their first-generation co-ethnics.

Carlos and Randy have pushed back, arguing that the goalposts for "white" would tighten: Slavic people might have been white by 1970, but by they would have been pushed out by 2015, even if politicians avoided saying so until alt-Trump shows up.

Peter has pointed out that "white" is still a tight category in the United States, but that depends on your counterfactual. It's broader than it was before WW2, or than in most of modern-day Europe. I would tend to disagree with Peter about Spanish-speakers being automatically considered non-white. On a practical level, I don't see Spanish-speaking pale-skinned European-featured people (like Marco Rubio) suffering any perceptible discrimination. (I didn't, although my friend Scott insists that I just didn't notice it.)

What do you think would happen in the counterfactual world?

Noel you read my mind, because I was coming back to note the Catholicism connection.

I was remembering a passage in a political history I once read (I cannot for the life of me remember the context) that the 1960 presidential election was less significant for what people make it out to be for breaking anti-Catholicism because when you look at the votes most of the change rom 1928 came from a higher Catholic voting population and then a small, somewhere on the order of only 10%, shift among Protestants.

Because I know my southern Evangelical family was still displaying anti-Catholic views throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Did the anti-Catholic sentiment die off in the 1960s post-Kennedy, or did it really wait until the culture war heated up and evangelicals converted to the Catholic position on abortion?

Just a thought.

And you're right that OTL's reaction against Mexican social gatherings have been different from earlier waves of nativism. If anything American culture has appropriated Mexican culture into a collection of kitsch. Coronas for Cinco de Mayo, some fluorescent skeletons on Halloween, and pimp my ride hydraulics. That may be a byproduct of the time period. If in past waves of immigration American culture was able to identify the immigrant community as affiliated with the primary foe of the USA (in the 19th century anti-republicanism, monarchy, the Catholic Church, etc.) the other is a threat. Mexicans couldn't be shoved into the Communist threat category, or the Islamic threat category (although certainly that's been an attempt in the last few years), they developed a third category in which the other is just an amusement, not a threat.

If Russians are coming in while we are waging a Cold War against a Slavic threat, they will be seen as both non-white and a threat. If it's a Cold War against Mexico, they will be seen as non-white and kitschy. I think sufficient intolerance towards their cultural practices will keep more second and third generations in line than you expect.

"America right now has a very broad visual definition of white."

"How so? It sure looks to me as if the definition of "white" in the United States is extremely narrow. Most obviously there's the One Drop Rule, and then there's the practice of declaring all Spanish-speaking people nonwhite."

Peter, the one drop rule is not visual. Spoken language is not visual. I am talking about how Americans immediately identify another person's race, on sight and in a matter of seconds. It's what Noel means by phenotype.

(Have you ever seen an American misidentify someone by race as a result of this quick mental profiling, and then realize they got it wrong? I sure have.)

Anyhow. It's very broad. Nikki Haley is white under this definition, and there isn't a country in Europe that would agree.

Noel, I'm not saying they would tighten, but that they certainly could. Nativists gotta native.

I am confused by the claim that the US definition of white is broader than the European one. Europeans do not have a One Drop Rule, nor do they consider Hispanics a separate race regardless of physical appearance.
As for the British attitudes toward Russian and Eastern European immigrants,* I see those as cultural rather than racial _per se_. In other words, a British immigration restrictionist would consider the Russians and Eastern Europeans culturally too different to fit in while nonetheless acknowledging that they are fellow white people in a physical sense. An American analogy might be the attitude toward impoverished Appalachian people - white, yes, but culturally very different.
I'm also a bit confused by the comment regarding Nikki Haley. Legally she's classified as Asian, and it's very doubtful that anyone in the US would consider her white based on appearance.

* = I had thought that most of the anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain is directed against Pakistanis

I have said, multiple times, that I am talking about the American visual definition of race.

The one drop rule is a legal and genealogical definition of race.

People can be visually white under the American visual definition of race, and not be white under the one drop rule. America even has a verb for it, "passing."

Millions of Americans have black ancestry according to the one drop rule and "pass" as white. Some of them are virulent anti-black bigots who reject any claim to black identity, and would be violent if you suggested they do.

No one classifies Nikki Haley as "Asian" by sight in the United States. Her constituents view her as white. She identifies as white. End of story.

(Incidentally, "Asian" doesn't mean from the continent of Asia here in our racial classification, and it doesn't mean Indian or Pakistani, the way it does in Britain. It means people who look "Oriental" -- epicanthic folds to their eyes, straight black hair -- but who aren't Native American.)

Again, the American visual definition of race is very broad, much broader than in Europe.

South Asians such as Haley are within the US Census Bureau's definition of Asian, even though in popular discourse most people make a distinction between South Asians and East Asians. I've not heard that her constituents consider her white, though if they do it's probably under some sort of "honorary white" category (she doesn't look like us but she thinks like us, that sort of thing). Interestingly, according to 23andme genetic tests, which I realize aren't necessarily a representative sample, South Carolina leads all states in the percentage of self-identified white people who have black ancestry. It's only about 10%, but I'm sure it's higher in the trailer camps, whose residents are unlikely to shell out $100 for a genetic test.

There's a campaign underway to have the Census Bureau add a MENA (Middle Eastern-North African) category for the 2020 enumeration. I

To add to what Carlos said: Peter, that's a damned weird statement about Nikki Haley. I've seen people do a double-take upon finding out that both her parents are from India. How do you get this "very doubtful" thing?

And what do you mean by "legally she's classified"? You can check whatever box you want in this country and change it whenever you want.

This is triply weird to me because you're from Long Island, no? Growing up on Long Island, Geraldo Rivera was a white guy. Obviously, his story cuts both ways, but consider the famous way he avoided prejudice. If you can add a letter to your name and make the problem go away, then you look white.

Honest question: from whence the insistence that South Carolinians can't possibly consider Nikki Haley to be a white woman?

I know Long Island well; on Long Island, someone who looks like Nikki Haley is a white person unless she says otherwise.

In parts of Alabama, I've noticed there's significant leeway in who is presumed/treated as white. People of various non-black ancestry are white if they have the Southern accent and an Anglo-Saxon sounding name.

The racial distinguishing line seems more influenced by cultural cues than I would have assumed.

Regarding Logan's comment there have long been those in the US who have worried about Mexico going Communist, and hence being a threat to the US. The Reagan administration's actions towards Sandinista era Nicaragua, and US dealings with its neighbours, were influenced by fear that the domino theory would take hold, and that soon Mexico would be at risk of a Communist takeover after its neighbours fell to one. Today such fears seem to be limited to the right wing crank crowd, for obvious reasons, but they're still out there.

The things we do ... Peter, I googled "Nikki Haley Jeb Bush" and looked at the images. Let's put her up next to the whitest of white men! And I have less idea of what you're talking about than I did before.

"If anything American culture has appropriated Mexican culture into a collection of kitsch."

Mirroring what happened earlier with the Irish.

I firmly agree with Carlos on the visual definition. WRT the one drop rule, my grandfather was an "octoroon" who managed to pass as white. The family has been Coldplay-concert white ever since.

But I'll carve out two small dissents. In France, the French definition of "white" might perhaps stretch to include Haley. You're allowed to be fairly dark in France as long as your dress, speech and body language are "white". I say perhaps because I'm not sure exactly where the line is, but it's definitely a few shades darker than in any of the neighboring countries.

Then, in the Netherlands, the presence of a large "Indo" minority (~ half a million people) has put a big bulge in the local definition whiteness. The Indos are the Eurasians who left Indonesia after independence. They're actually slightly richer and better educated than native Dutch (which is saying something) and they've integrated almost seamlessly -- intermarriage rates are so high that Indo groups fret publicly about losing their identity. The Hague is full of people who look vaguely Eurasian, and nobody gives it a second thought.

Mind, it's a bulge in one direction; a person who was visually Middle Eastern or part African might not fare as well.

(ObWI: the British did the same thing with their Indian Eurasians in 1947, instead of being dicks about it.)

Doug M.

Cornwallis settled that question one hundred fifty years before independence, Doug. Without the potential for imperial advancement in British India, they were set aside from the imperial track. I think Dalrymple says many of them became railway conductors.

Cornwallis' Code didn't come out of left field, but anti-Eurasian prejudice seems to have surged hard around 1780. Before that, Eurasians were well accepted as junior partners in Empire; there were hundreds of them as officers in the military, they dominated the middle levels of the EIC bureaucracy in India, and thousands of them were successful merchants and vendors. It wasn't quite the Portuguese model, but things were fairly loose and tolerant.

What changed? Apparently it's still not completely clear. The EIC did suddenly develop the idea that Eurasians might be a security risk with suspect loyalty, and that was definitely a driver for excluding them from the officer corps after 1791. However, it's not clear whether that was a cause or an effect of the sharp rise in open bigotry in the 1780s.

The crushing of the Eurasians was a process that continued nonstop for several generations. In 1750, marrying a local girl was no big thing, and your kid could reasonably expect to have a decent career. By 1800, marrying local was cause for lip-pursing and tut-tutting, and your kid would be seriously handicapped. By 1860, forget about it -- you would literally place yourself beyond the pale, and your child would be lucky to get that railway conductor job. Over a century, Eurasians got relentlessly shoved down from "junior partner in empire" to "subaltern caste" to "unfortunate reminder".

One wonders: was this driven by deep wellsprings of British cultural insecurity and/or concerns about Eurasian competition for economic rewards and status? Was British society just inherently more racist than the Portuguese, French or Dutch? Or was it a weird contingent thing that could have been derailed by one good Governor-General early on?

Meanwhile: Eurasian status in India rebounded noticeably after 1918, in part because there weren't enough Brits to go around any more. Still didn't help them at independence, of course.

Doug M.

Doug: I've been looking for a video that went around a few years showing pictures of well-known Spaniards and North Africans. The point was what you'd expect. Spain isn't Portugal, it's far more racist ... but the line is more like America than Denmark.

Doug, you have an Irish passport? I think you know the answer.

(I will never understand how London, a city roughly as diverse as Minneapolis, developed a reputation for racial cosmopolitanism. Don't get me wrong, I like Minneapolis.)

You know, I'm seeing this same sort of crap folk anthropology applied more and more to the handicapped. People come to snap judgments that someone isn't really disabled, because their untrained eye has all those years of medical school and residency and experience that allow them to make a diagnosis in seconds.

Mm. My bedtime reading this week is Angus Calder's _Revolutionary Empire_ -- a flawed but still very impressive book, a one-hit wonder by a brilliant Scots historian who produced this single great work and then drank himself to death. I reread it every few years, and it's still good. Anyway: Calder hammers hard on exactly this point -- English racial attitudes (and several other techniques of classic British imperialism) were honed first against the Irish, in much the same way that Caribbean plantation slavery was first beta'd in the Azores and Madeira.

That said, I don't think it had to be quite as relentlessly awful as it was OTL.

Doug M.

...been reading up about the history of the Eurasians in India. Had been aware of the general unhappiness, but not of the unpleasant details.

It's ugly. Pretty much exactly what TNC calls "plundering", combined with slow-motion grinding-down and degradation over a period of generations. The Brits even went to some trouble to construct some horrible condescending stereotypes about Eurasians: kindly and nice, brave in a pinch, but weak-willed, rather silly, easily flustered, and lazy... you know, no *bottom*. Oh and of course the women are tarts. -- This was done post facto, naturally, to justify the low and narrow social status that the Raj had already forced them into.

It's creepy stuff. The liberal-Burkean ideal of gradual integration leading eventually to happy cohabitation and strength in diversity? Exactly the opposite: over time, a system that was pretty tolerant and nice by the standards of then-and-there got slowly but steadily meaner, more bigoted, and more deliberately unfair.

Doug M.

A key point about the UK is that ethnicity isn't only indicated by phenotype; *class* is a superset of ethnicity, and class indicators include your choice of clothing and your accent.

So passing isn't only a matter of visual appearance -- it's one of being able to manifest a whole bunch of other, more subtle, signifiers.

In the hypothetical Russia-border-with-America scenario, *if* Americans behaved like Brits, then having a Russian accent or using Russian grammatical constructions or just dressing like someone from whatever "class" Russians were assigned to by default would be the indicator that would trigger xenophobic reflexes among onlookers.

(It's why Victorian England had a rep for being snobbish, class-obsessed, and rigid: if you could better yourself, then you pretty much had to hide your origins and adopt the ways, speech, and dress code of your superiors or you'd quickly get the sort of treatment usually handed out to lower-class people who get above themselves, which is never good, anywhere, any time. And it's also why the ubiquitous availability of cheap by historical standards fashion-driven clothing is a blessing -- being able to wear jeans and a tee shirt or other casual clothes takes you right out of the pre-assigned class identification set-up.)

Andrew Jackson, burning merrily in hell, settled that question firmly in the opposite direction in the United States. A Herrenvolk democracy. If you were white, you were in the right, whether you worked on a keelboat or in a countinghouse, had a drawl or drone or post-nasal drip to your accent. (It's also why he had a Dutch vice-president, back when that meant something.)

The remnants of that era of white populism are still on our tongues every day: OK, from "oll korrect," a humorous "country" misspelling of "all correct" in US newspapers, during an abbreviation fad (predating the current one by 180 years), which van Buren leveraged with his election year nickname of "Old KInderhook", after his small Dutch hometown in New York state.


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