Seeing as historical racism and historical guilt/corruption of blood are apparently all the rage of discussion nowadays, I feel it is time once again to discuss the complexities of historical racism and reveal that things were never quite as simple as they’re assumed to be.
A smug talking point that Europeans will never cease to hold over the heads of Americans is that not only are Americans more racist than Europeans now, not only have Americans always been racist, but Europeans were supremely enlightened and tolerant even in the past. In other words, even while Americans were busy lynching and oppressing People of Color like the worthless inbred savages they are, Europeans were welcoming and accepting of differences.
After all, isn’t that true? Sam McVea! Jack Johnson! Josephine Baker! And the smattering of other 20th century Afro-American celebrities that will continuously be used as a bludgeon of guilt!
For some reason, I’ve never seen anybody use what appears to me to be a pretty obvious counter-argument:
It’s pretty easy to be tolerant of a “group” when that group is “represented” in your nation by less than 100 people who are the best and brightest of that particular group.
Am I just insane, or am I the only one that has noticed how absurd this concept of “We were tolerant towards (X Celebrity) so therefore we’re better and less ignorant than you who only interacted with millions of their racial/ethnic brethren!” is?
I could talk about how incredibly hypocritical it was to be using this rhetoric concurrently to European nations ruling over hundreds of millions of People of Color (“…it wasn’t happening IN European countries so it doesn’t count!”), but instead I’ll address the fact that big, bad America itself was capable of doing this same sort of “one drop” tolerance in its own past, contrary to the image of America as a continuous black abyss of hatred (and yes, I’m using the phrase “one drop rule” ironically).
Don’t believe me? Take a look at Chang and Eng Bunker, the famous “Siamese Twins” (and the reason why conjoined twins were formerly given that nomenclature). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the antebellum South was mired in racism and oppression in one very glaring way…and yet, these two men, these two men who were both Asian and joined at the sternum, were capable of marrying two North Carolina women, settling down, becoming naturalized American citizens, having their sons fight for the Confederacy, and all in all becoming very respected and happy members of the plantation aristocracy. And all this decades before the Chinese Exclusion Act!
What, exactly, does this example prove? If nothing else, it proves that America, too, was capable of racial tolerance when it was found in sufficiently small numbers (and frankly, the fact that their example was never thrown in the face of somebody using the “one drop” argument during the period of European rule over Indochina upsets me—and yes I’m aware Thailand was never colonized). Anyway, Chang and Eng were hardly the only American example of this one drop rule.
Another example from Dixie is that of Ibrahim Ben Ali, an Ottoman subject who some way or another managed to find his way to 19th century Baltimore where he too managed to marry a white woman and practice medicine without any complaint. He is perhaps best known for the horse race that bears the name of his grandson. And this too could have provided a thumb to the eye of European countries that were busy colonizing the Middle East—maybe that perpetually low-burning American self-loathing kicked up at that time.
Similarly, you can find examples of military officers and general celebrities of groups that would later be discriminated against in the US.
The point I am trying to make is that tolerance is MUCH easier when it’s just one or two exotic and cool people that add “spice” to your existence, and much harder when you suddenly plunk 100,000 of that cool guy’s countrymen into your nation. Bear in mind that most of the groups I referred to above would later face discrimination in the US, to varying degrees.
With that being said, let us point out that the fabled European tolerance is almost always not tolerance at all (As we know it today), so much as it is the “one drop tolerance” I have discussed here.
If you need further proof, look at how the descendants of those Europeans that loved black jazz men are now failing utterly to assimilate hundreds of thousands of “people of color”, with racism (for some mysterious reason) being on the rise in response.
So what, exactly, is the point of this article? Just to point and laugh at smug Europeans? Well, yes, but not JUST that.
If anything, I seek to point out that modern conceptions of diversity being “our strength”, or some other wondrous flight of fancy, is often the result of heavily filtered and selected exposure to diversity, rather than it truly being seen in its wholeness. As I have always said, one should always try to live more or less peacefully with other cultures, and to truly do so is to understand the good and bad of all cultures, and understand the difference between “us and them”. Or we can continue to plan immigration policy on emotions and dim memories of grand-mere getting plowed by Jack Johnson. Whatever works.