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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Racism is Embedded in America’s History and Laws

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on August 7, 2019

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously declared America’s independence from Great Britain in the Declaration of Independence. On that day, Congress declared:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…..”.

Among the grievances the Colonies lodged against the King of England was this one:

“He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.”

To be clear, the European settlers in the Continental Congress formally designated Native Americans as “merciless Indian Savages.” Between the late 1500s and 1880, the Native American population of 60 million people was reduced to less than 306,000 by slaughtering these “Savages” and starving millions of them to death.

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, Congress pronounced that enslaved blacks in a state would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state for purposes of representation in Congress. This provision is found in Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. It declared that the slavery states would get extra representation in Congress for their slaves, even though those states treated slaves purely as “property.”  

Even cherished patriots like Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford that blacks in America – whether freed or slaves – "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

In short, America’s early settlers and European colonists denied and seized the rights, property and lives of tens of millions of persons of color. 

Racism in America’s Early Immigration and Naturalization Laws

America’s immigration policies have been laced with racism since the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited citizenship in America to "any alien, being a free white person.” In effect, the Act left out indentured servants, slaves, and most women.

The Naturalization Act of 1870, which was enacted by Congress during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, extended the naturalization process to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent." Other non-whites, including Native Americans, remained excluded from naturalization, as mandated in the Naturalization Act of 1790.

The Page Act of 1875 was the first federal law that prohibited the entry of immigrants who were deemed to be “undesirable.” These “undesirables” included migrants or contract workers from Asia (i.e., China, Japan, and any oriental country).

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years, prohibited Chinese naturalization, and provided deportation procedures for illegal Chinese. This law was race-based on its face. The Geary Act of 1892 extended and strengthened the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The Immigration Act of 1917 further restricted immigration from countries in the Asia-Pacific Zone (i.e., the "Asiatic Barred Zone") and introduced a reading test for all immigrants over sixteen years of age, with certain exceptions for children, wives, and elderly family members.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921limited the number of immigrants a year from any country to 3% of those already in the United States from that country, as per the 1910 census. Many white Europeans were able to fleece this system by simply migrating to Canada or Mexico and subsequently slipping into the United States illegally from these bordering countries.

The Immigration Act of 1924 established permanent numerical limits on immigration and began a national-original quota system. Immigrants from non-quota nations, notably those contiguous to the United States, only had to prove their residence in that country of origin for at least two years prior to emigration to the United States. Migrants from Asian nations were still excluded but exceptions existed for professionals, clergy, and students to obtain visas.

In the 1930s, federal immigration officials reportedly rounded up and deported more than 400,000 native born Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, many of whom were children and U.S. citizens.

The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and permitted Chinese nationals already in the country to become naturalized citizens. However, only 105 new Chinese immigrants were allowed into America each year.

In 1954, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service implemented “Operation Wetback” to roundup and deport undocumented immigrants in selected areas of California, Arizona, and Texas along the border. The U.S. Border Patrol later reported that more than 1.3 million people were deported or had left the United States voluntarily under the threat of deportation in 1954. Of course, “Wetback” is a racially derogatory term for a person of Hispanic descent. Undocumented white Europeans who entered the United States from Mexico were not targeted for roundup and deportation in “Operation Wetback.”

The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 repealed the national-origin quotas. The Act also (a) initiated a visa system for family reunification and skills, (b) set a quota for Western Hemisphere immigration, and (c) set a 20,000-immigrant country limit for Eastern Hemisphere migrants.

The Vestiges of Embedded Racism Are Present in American Society Today

Designating Native Americans as “merciless Indian Savages” in the Declaration of Independence cleared the way for white Americans to demean, degrade, and annihilate tens of millions of indigenous Americans between the late 1500s and 1880.

Counting black slaves as three-fifths of a man in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 reinforced the notion that slaves were the “property” of white men. In 1857, the Dred Scott case made it clear that blacks in America "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

From the Naturalization Act of 1790 to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, U.S. immigration laws and policies have shaped white America’s view of who is and who is not supposed to reside in the country and/or become an American citizen.

Today, America is open to white European immigrants and is essentially closed to migrants of color.

Throughout his campaign and presidency, Donald Trump painted migrants of color -- men, women and children -- as “thugs," “drug-dealers," “rapists,” “murderers,” and “gang members.” He has labeled their places of national origin as “shithole countries.” Last month, President Trump told four U.S. Congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which [you] came." All four women are U.S. citizens. Three of them were born in the United States. The fourth one is a naturalized citizen just like Trump's paternal grand parents, mother, wife and her parents.

America’s perpetual demonization and dehumanization of Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and migrants of color have made them “undesirables” for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, the vestiges of official racism still drive government policies, particularly with respect to America’s immigration policies.

PHOTO: On December 29, 1890, 300 Sioux Natives were slaughtered at Wounded Knee by the US 7th Cavalry to make way for gold mining in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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