You got your immigrant in my interbreeding!

Immigration is in the news. What will American become this time?

I’m shocked at David Brooks’ gross mischaracterization of history. He writes America is becoming a “nation of mutts”:

…up until now, America was primarily an outpost of European civilization. Between 1830 and 1880, 80 percent of the immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe. Over the following decades, the bulk came from Southern and Central Europe. In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born population came from Europe, with European ideas and European heritage.

But were all those European immigrants considered to be part of “European civilization” a century ago? In fact, even excluding American Indians, Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese and others, “we” were already being described as a nation of mutts in the 19th century. To choose one of many examples, here is Timothy Wilfred Coakley speaking at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Independence Day 1906:

We have evolved the race of races, the American race. We are sprung from all the peoples of Europe. … It was not alone that one nation was to be framed from thirteen colonies, it was that Frenchmen and Englishmen, Irishmen, Welshmen, Spaniards, Swedes, Dutchmen, Jew and Gentile, had been welded into one. It was this blend, now of mind, now of body, now of both, which made possible the type of intelligence able to grasp the opportunity and to brave the test of revolution.

American was not a product of a unitary “European civilization,” but of a “racial fraternity” of these “various European races,” which made the “American race.” Here it is in verse:

To the making of heroes like these, perforce,
Humanity’s federate blood-strains have gone;
But, Keltic or Saxon, Teuton or Norse,
Latin or Slav, they are Yankees of course,
For Freedom has fused them in one.

It’s a particular tradition of American racism to believe, as Brooks suggests, that Europeans are all one “race,” that so that only with the latest waves of immigration are “we” becoming a “nation of mutts.”

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“Becoming a nation of…”

Brooks’s entry joins the “becoming a nation of…” historical parade I have described before, the roster of which comprises American nations of (in chronological order): free men, drunkards, castes, bull-dogs, music lovers, dreamers, lawyers, neurotics, coffee drinkers, the elderly, readers, illiterates, burger flippers, joiners and orthorexics.

He’s seems a little late to the parade with this term, though. I was sure I’d heard it before, not just from PETA complaining about the Obamas’ dog, but from some guy on the Op-Ed page of the Washington Times in 1997 (“America is rapidly becoming a nation of mutts. Our country’s traditional character is being systematically destroyed by nihilistic “liberals”); Jonathan Turley in 2004 (“If you want a pure breed, buy a dog”); Stanley Crouch; Joe Feuerherd; various college guides, and many more.

3 Comments

Filed under In the news

3 responses to “You got your immigrant in my interbreeding!

  1. But were all those European immigrants considered to be part of “European civilization” a century ago?

    Oh hell no. That’s why Brooks’ intellectual ancestors passed the Immigration Act of 1924—too many southern and eastern Europeans coming in. They were pretty frank about our inferiority to “Nordics”, too. That feeling hasn’t gone away either.

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  2. Scott Rose

    What would Sally Hemings say?

    Like

  3. smithea1

    Reblogged this on AS THE CROW FLIES.

    Like

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