“The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms…” / “The White race was … ‘peculiarly fitted for self-government'” (Haney Lopez)

(Cf. 1836 Declaration from Texas on “unfit to govern themselves,” etc., which is cited in briefs in In re Rodriguez.)

The prerequisite cases also naturalized Whiteness by linking cognitive and cultural traits to physical difference. The prerequisite courts tied temperament, culture, intellect, political sophistication, and so on to physical features, treating questions of behavior as innate elements of human biology rather than as aspects of acquired identity.[16] Reconsider the justification offered by one court for the racial bar on Asian naturalization: “The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms.”[17] This language draws a direct link between race and political temperament, thereby making culture a function of racial rather than social variability. This view of race seems to undergird the prerequisite laws, rendering fitness for citizenship not a question of learned behavior but of innate predispositions. To see this, contrast the remark about “despotism” with the view commonly held at the turn of the century that the White race was, as a leading scholar put it, “peculiarly fitted for self-government. It submits its action habitually to the guidance of reason, and has the judicial faculty of seeing both sides of a question.”[18] Whites qualified for citizenship because they were fit by nature for republican government; non-Whites remained perpetual aliens because they were inherently unfit for self-rule. Putative differences in temperament and culture were naturalized as “racial” differences.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 162.

 

  1. [16]SMEDLEY, supra, at 27.
  2. [17]Terrace v. Thompson, 274 F. 841, 849 (W.D.Wash. 1921).
  3. [18]FRANCIS PARKMAN: REPRESENTATIVE SELECTIONS 380-82 (William Schram ed., 1938), quoted in THOMAS GOSSETT, RACE: THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA IN NORTH AMERICA 95 (1963).