“We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White,” Tyina L Steptoe (2016)

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Tyina L Steptoe (2016) – We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White

 

128ff: “Letter from Chapultepec” and the question of race and skin color

  • “The tenth point of the manifesto related directly to ethnic Mexicans and the question of color. People of Mexican descent, they wrote, ‘are called “brown people,” “greasers,” et cetera and of course want to be called white.’ … The term brown people marked them as a nonwhite group, which could hurt their claims to whiteness in a place that considered anyone with African roots ‘colored.'”

149ff: “Letter from Chaptultepec” praised by and used as model by black branch of YWCA

  • “More problems arose when the African American branch of the YWCA discovered the letter and used it for their own purposes: ‘They heard about our [i.e. ethnic Mexicans’] problems and they said, “We have some problems too,”‘ said Estela Gómez of members of the black branch that contacted her. ‘”You did a great thing writing all of those things down.”‘ The African American women asked club officers Cortés and Gómez if they could publish the letter in their organization’s magazine, the Occasional Papers (“a quarterly publication for Negro [YWCA] branches”), and they agreed.’

143-146: segregation and Houston ship channel dockworkers

  • “the Mexican was a whole lot more decent man than the Negro”
  • “IF we let this union fall through our jobs will go to the Negroes”

1893: “The statute defined colored as ‘all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry. Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law…” (Foley)

1893: state segregation law for schools still defines “colored” as “Negro ancestry” / BB&W, 129

Second, Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to Mexicans, inasmuch as they were officially recognized as “white.” In Texas, for example, the legislature passed a law in 1893, six years before the Supreme Court mandated “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, that required separate schools for the state’s white and “colored” children. The statute defined colored as “all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry.”[11] Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law, and school districts defended the practice on the grounds that Mexican children did not speak English and spent part of the school year with their families as migrant agricultural workers. When Mexican American civil rights activists were able to show that Mexican children were arbitrarily segregated, regardless of English-language facility, the courts generally ruled in favor of the plaintiff Mexican Americans.[12]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 129.

 

  1. [11]C. H. Jenkins, The Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, Annotated, (Austin: H. P. N. Gammel Book Co., 1925), vol. 1, p. 1036.
  2. [12]See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “The Origins, Development, and Consequences of the Educational Segregation of Mexicans in the Southwest,” in Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Eugene E. García, Francisco Lomeli, and Isidro Ortiz (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), pp. 195-208.

“some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races” — “construct races only at the margins” (Haney Lopez)

Irrespective of the use of violence, however, it may seem that at this coercive level laws construct races only at the margins. Granting that races are social constructions, some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races, resolving just those rare cases not already clearly defined within the underlying social systems of racial division. Arguably, only the person not clearly White or Black has her race determined in a prerequisite case or by her neighborhood. However, a focus on the coercive aspect of law seems to explain more than just the legal construction of race at the margins. Certainly the prerequisite cases legally established the legal identity of groups we now regard as firmly at the core of racial categories, for example the Japanese, and Jim Crow laws were indispensable in maintaining and even extending the social differentiation established through the slave codes and threatened during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, the explanatory power of this model should be questioned. How does law-as-coercion explain the continuing significance of race in a [123] postsegregation era? If races have been created through coercion, why hasn’t the end to the legal enforcement of racial differences been followed by a collapse in racial systems? Or, what can such a model tell us about the prevalent belief that races are legally fashioned? If races have been imposed, why is it that the vast majority of people embrace race so willingly? And why do these same people so vigorously deny that they have been coerced into a racial identity? Races are much more deeply embedded in our society than a theory of law-as-coercion would seem to explain. If law is a full participant in the construction of races, it must fashion races through some additional mechanism besides simple direct behavioral control.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 122ff.

“Black was a generic term encompassing all non-Whites” in People v. Hall, California 1854 (Haney López)

California – People v. Hall (1854) — Chinese testimony grouped with Black and Indian by construction, “Black” as generic term =df non-White, the reverse of arguments made in Texas 1845 state convention. / WBL 51ff

Unsurprisingly, this early social treatment of Chinese as akin to Blacks also found legal expression. For example, in the 1854 case People v. Hall the California Supreme Court heard the appeal of a White defendant challenging his conviction for murder. He appealed on the grounds that he was convicted only through the testimony of a Chinese witness, and that this testimony should have been excluded under an 1850 statute providing that “no Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a White man.”[6] The court agreed with the defendant that the Chinese witness was barred from testifying by the 1850 statute, reasoning that Indians originally migrated from Asia, and so all Asians were conversely also Indian, and that, at any rate, “Black” was a [52] generic term encompassing all non-Whites, and thus included Chinese persons.[7] This legal equation of Chinese and Black status was not temporally or geographically unique. Three-quarters of a century later and across the country, Mississippi’s Supreme Court reached a similar decision, holding in 1925 that school segregation laws targeting the “colored race” barred children of Chinese descent from attending schools for White children.[8] Given their social and legal negroization, it may well have been easier for the Chinese and other immigrants to argue their qualification for citizenship as Blacks rather than as Whites.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 51ff.

 

  1. [6]Ozawa, supra, 260 U.S. at 198.
  2. [7]Ichioka, supra, at 9-17.
  3. [8]

“The governing authorities of any such city shall have the full power to define the … white race … full power to enforce … the segregation of the races” (1927 Segregation Act)

Negroes and Whites–Segregation of In Cities

S. B. No. 275.] Chapter 103.

An Act providing for the segregation or separation of the white and negro races and providing for the conferring of power and authority upon cities to pass suitable ordinance controlling the same and providing for fixing the penalty and declaring an emergency.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas:

Section 1. That the power and authority is hereby conferred upon the Cities of Texas to provide by suitable ordinance for the segregation of negroes and whites in any such city and to withhold permits to build or construct a house to be occupied by white people in negro communities inhabited by negroes as defined by ordinance and to withhold building permits to any negro to establish a residence on any property located in a white community inhabited by white people as defined by ordinance.

Sec. 2. That it shall be lawful for negroes and whites to enter into mutual covenants or agreements concerning their respective residence and the power and authority is conferred upon the governing body of any city to pass suitable ordinances requiring the observance of any such agreement.

Sec. 3. That the governing authorities of any such city shall have the full power to define the negro race, negro community, white race and white community.

Sec. 4. That the governing authorities of any such city shall have full power to enforce the observance of any ordinance passed leading to or providing for the segregation of the races and to require the observance thereof by appropriate penalties.

Sec. 5. That this Act shall take effect from and after its passage and shall repeal all acts in conflict herewith.

Sec. 6. On account of the fact that there does not exist any adequate requirement or law conferring upon the cities of Texas the express power to pass suitable segregation laws between the whites and colored race, and whereas on account of the fact that the peace, quiet, and tranquility of such cities are greatly affected, as well as the public health greatly menaced, creates an emergency and an imperative necessity requiring the suspension of the constitutional rule that bills be read on three several days and it is hereby suspended, and this act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage and it is so enacted.

[Note.–The above act, though carrying the emergency clause, did not pass in the Senate by a roll call vote. Received in Executive Office March 15, 1927, and in Secretary of State’s Office March 16, 1927, without Governor’s signature.]

Effective ninety (90) days after adjournment.

H. P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1927: Supplement Volume to the Original Ten Volumes, 1822-1897 (Austin, Texas: Gammel's Book Store, 1927), 154 (link).

See also: Full Power to Define

“an analysis of the persons with mixed Spanish-Anglo surnames shows that this group, taken as a component part of the Tejano population, declined in the years between 1850 and 1900” (de León and Stewart)

1850-1900: Intermarriage – decline in “persons with mixed Spanish-Anglo surnames” as an index of decline in intermarriages or “blending into white society” generally:

Indeed, other evidence suggests that the urban Tejanos resisted adopting an Anglo American way of life with equal or greater intensity than their compatriots in the countryside….

First, an analysis of the persons with mixed Spanish-Anglo surnames shows that this group, taken as a component part of the Tejano population, declined in the years between 1850 and 1900. The presence of persons with mixed surnames is indicative of a propensity toward structural assimilation since such surnames would result from a variety of Tejano behaviors aimed at blending into the white society. Such behaviors may have ranged from intermarriages or interethnic sexual relations to simply modifying one’s name to better fit the Anglo mold. What statistics show is that the extent of such assimilating behavior decreased. In 1850, for example, for every 100 persons in urban environments with Spanish surnames, there were 14 with mixed Spanish-Anglo surnames. By 1900, this number had dropped to just 3, and in rural areas the trend was the same.[15] Thus, to the extent [89] that mixed names resulted from conduct aimed at merging into white society, then resistance to such behavior increased both in cities and in rural settings during the nineteenth century.

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 88-89.

  1. [15]There were 11 persons with mixed Spanish-Anglo surnames for every 100 Spanish surnames in rural areas in 1850. By 1900, the number of mixed surnames dropped to 1 per 100 Spanish surnames. Admittedly, other factors such as the leveling out of the sex ratio among Anglos between 1850 and 1900 may have influenced this decline in the number of mixed surnames. Nonetheless, we take it also to be an indication of the increased degree of resistance to assimilation on the part of the Mexicans of Texas.

“Residential segregation, therefore, did not occur in a single pattern in the cities of south, central, and west Texas during the nineteenth century” (de León and Stewart)

1900: residential segregation numbers for San Antonio, Brownsville, Corpus, El Paso, Laredo.

Table 5.8 reports the indices of segregation for five cities [87] in 1900.[14] The index of segregation is expressed as the percentage of Tejanos or Anglos that would have to residentially relocate from one of the city’s wards to another if both Tejanos and Anglos were represented in each ward in proportion to their presence in the total citywide population. Generally, a small index of segregation indicates residential diffusion of an ethnic group across the wards of a city, while a larger index results when an ethnic population is disproportionately clustered into only some of the wards.

Table 5.8
Indices of Segregation for Five South, Central, and West Texas Cities, 1900
City Tejanos Anglos
Brownsville 3.33% 20.06%
Corpus Christi 26.58% 34.39%
El Paso 25.64% 22.10%
Laredo 5.16% 34.38%
San Antonio 42.82% 10.59%

Overall, the indices in Table 5.8 demonstrate three different patterns of residential segregation among Tejanos and Anglos in the cities of south, central, and west Texas. The first is illustrated by the southern-most cities–Brownsville and Laredo–where the majority of the population were Tejanos. In these cities, the low index of segregation for Tejanos shows that Mexican Americans were quite generally distributed across the city wards, while the higher index for Anglos indicates more residential clustering. In San Antonio, where whites were a majority of the city’s population, the opposite patterns developed where Anglos were more generally distributed across the city and Tejanos clustered into a few wards. The third situation is illustrated by Corpus Christi and El Paso, cities where neither Tejanos nor Anglo Americans dominated the citywide population. In these [88] cities, the indices of segregation were relatively large for both groups, indicating that each group was residentially clustered into separate areas.

Residential segregation, therefore, did not occur in a single pattern in the cities of south, central, and west Texas during the nineteenth century….

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 86-88.

  1. [14]For detailed discussion of the index of segregation, see Otis Dudley Duncan and Beverly Duncan, “Residential Distribution and Occupational Stratification,”American Journal of Sociology, 60 (1955), 493-503. Also see, Karl E. Taeuber and Alma F. Taeuber, Negroes in Cities: Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Change (Chicago: Atheneum, 1965), pp. 195-245.

“Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs” (de León and Stewart)

1800s: Labor segregation, “Mexican work” and wage discrimination.

The Tejanos of the nineteenth century held a subordinate position within the state’s economy. Several factors contributed to this condition, with the most obvious one being the disparaging attitude of Anglos who stereotyped Mexicans as suitable for a certain range of low-level occupations. From the viewpoint of white society, “Mexican work” involved the restriction of Tejano laborers to sundry types of servant work plus grubbing and cotton picking in farm lands. Anglo lore even held that the Creator had meant the Mexican for certain ranch tasks, particularly sheepherding. Dual wage systems and unequal occupational stratification were the direct outgrowths of these beliefs.[1]

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 31.

  1. [1]Mario Berrera, Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 43-45.

“Further, they sought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as ‘non-white’.” Administrative classification, school segregation, and LULAC. (De Leon)

LULAC’s commitment was to improving the human condition for all within the Mexican community regardless of class, even nativity. Though the organization restricted membership to the native born, it did accept those who were naturalized (the organization argued that the foreign born had their defenders in the Mexican consul, but LULAC leaders worked closely with the consuls in cases involving Mexican nationals). Ideologically, LULAC sought to act upon old problems. LULACers still combated the entrenched racist sentiments holding that Mexicans were “unclean” and the Anglo contention that Mexican Americans were not white folks.[20] In response, the organization launched efforts to secure civil liberties and access to opportunity by trying to overturn segregation; in their view the practice stood out as the most personal reminder that Anglo Americans considered Mexican Americans second-class citizens.[21] Further, they fought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as “non-whites.” Protest from LULAC councils across the state forced the Census Bureau to retract the categorization. Similar pressure exerted upon the Social Security Administration that same year forced the Social Security Board to accept the application of Mexican Americans as white.[22]

Similarly, the league worked doggedly to pry open more opportunities in education. It initially challenged school segregation in the case of Independent School District, et al. v. Salvatierra (1931) arguing for an end to the deliberate segregation of Mexican children in Del Rio. A Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled that arbitrary segregation was unjust but sided with school officials who contended that the students’ retention of the Spanish language made segregation necessary.[23] Without funds to follow up on Salvatierra, LULAC pursued other tactics, such as going before school districts and conferring with administrators to argue for better teaching for Mexican-American children. To disseminate their faith in education, LULACers organized evening schools in barrios and conducted meetings that focused on the topic of U.S. citizenship. They also undertook fundraisers to subsidize the education of good student prospects who might become skilled workers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.[24]

De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 102.

  1. [20]De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, pp. 81, 86, 87-89; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 232.
  2. [21]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, pp. 301-302; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Let All of Them Take Heed”: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas, 1910-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), p. 76.
  3. [22]Mario T. García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” New Mexico Historical Review, LIX (April, 1984), 188, 198-199, 200-201.
  4. [23]Everett Ross Clinchy, “Equality of Opportunity for Latin Americans in Texas” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1954), pp. 188-189.
  5. [24]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, p. 272; San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” p. 81; Márquez, LULAC, pp. 28-29.