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Race as a social construct: when white wasn’t white

Race as a social construct: when white wasn’t white

VOX reveals map from which covers a decade of immigration to the US, from 1892 to 1903 that shows how conceptualizing race has changed. Also the maps show how this continues to be used to “prove” some people are better than others and be used to perpetuate systemic racism:

Americans’ understanding of who counts as “white” has changed dramatically throughout the country’s history and even over the last century alone. This map — which covers a decade of immigration to the US, from 1892 to 1903 (via the JF Ptak Science Books blog and Slate) — is a dramatic illustration of what it looked like when “white” wasn’t the same thing as European.

…the breakdown of race doesn’t look terribly familiar to those of us who don’t live in the early 20th century: Teutonic, Keltic, Slavic, Iberic, Mongolic, and “all others.” In other words, it’s distinguishing among white, European immigrants — not-so-subtly implying that the more-established Western and Northern European immigrant groups (including Scandinavians, Irish, and Germans) were more firmly white than the “Slavic” and “Iberic” immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. …eugenics and social Darwinism hypothesized that the Nordic races were the most evolved, that southern and eastern Europeans were less so, and that non-Europeans (who are barely worth a mention on the immigration map) were the “lowest,” least-evolved peoples.

There wasn’t universal agreement on what the races actually were, but the federal government appears to have used “Nordic, Celtic, Slavic and Iberic” regularly to categorize the immigrants coming into America. A medical journal article published about a decade after this map expresses concern about the “preponderance of the Iberic and Slavic races” among recent immigrants, because of “their poorer physical and mental equipment, and their radically different ideals and standards of living as compared with the Celtic and Teutonic races.”

See maps and charts here.

More commentary on race as a social construct here.


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