Tuesday, August 23, 2005

No Such Thing As a Stupid Question. Right? Right?

I'd like to know about the anti-miscegenation laws of the 30s that forbade marriage between whites and "Negroes," Mongolians, or "mulattoes" (and—one can only laughingly assume—between whites and "Negro-Mongolian mulattoes"). Filipinos were briefly classified as Mongolians to keep them from, you know, systematically seducing every available white woman with irresistible promises of a life lived in luxury amongst the strawberry and asparagus fields.

Then a Los Angeles court decided we were not Mongolians after all. Which is a good thing, because I'm sure we were all a little confused by this.

*strikes the whatever pose*

Legislators sidestepped the ruling by ammending the original law to also outlaw white people from marrying a "member of the Malay race."

So, for years I've been wanting to ask my stupid question. It is: why use the words "Mongolian" or "member of the Malay race"? The lawmakers were clearly referring to Chinese and Filipinos; why didn't they just say "Chinese or Filipinos"?

I'm sure there's a simple answer to this and, believe me, I will be suitably embarrassed when one of you brilliant people reveals what it is.


barbara jane said...

good question. i do not know who/what dates samuel george morton/18th c. ethnography but i believe these racial classifications are/were anthropological, and i also believe morton had something to do with craniology - that is, attempts at "scientific" justifications for the inferiority of some races (larger classifications than "mongolian" and "malay") hence the superiority of the caucasian race.

circuitous and rambling enough for ya?

hope this helps.

tho, you may wanna ask sunny, the "anthropologist." :-)

barbara jane said...

doh! i mean "malay" and "mongolian" are larger classifications than chinese or filipino. ok. there you have it.

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Yep, I agree with BJ. Mostly it was a 'scientific' way to make a racial designation without sounding racist while also making sure other 'races' weren't left out by 'accident' - ie. then a different Asian descendent couldn't claim to be other than Filipino or Chinese, and thus not subject to the same racist tactics.

The whole argument at the time (and even now) being predicated on how races can be considered 'distinct' and implying 'superiority' by extension.

Which oddly just came up in conversation at work...there's a really weird moment when a white woman you know is conservative has the need to lump Australia with Western Europe, and India with the Middle East, while all the while claiming she is "American" because she can trace her ancestry in the US back 8 generations.

I should get a medal for not throttling her on the spot.

ver said...

Thanks you two coupla smartypants. Yes, this makes sense. It's almost...quaint?...that they would even bother to cloak such blatant racism by using the larger (and therefore somehow less obviously hateful—does that makes sense?) classifications.

Am also hoping our esteemed blogging, 80s music-loving, filmophile anthropologist weighs in...

Gura said...

Now did the woman just conveniently stop at 8 generations because she didn't want to know where the 9 and 10 generations really came from?

And people wonder why people don't see themselves as Americans when they are 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation and especially when they don't look like the "standard" 8th generation "American".

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the 8 generations. I'm about as white as anyone could get (and whiter than most would want to be) and I think we only go back 4 generations. I consider myself to be an American but not because of color, what my Great grandfather was or anything else. It's because it is who I are! And, isn't this why people take a citizenship test (of which I probably wouldn't pass)? The federal government now counts hispanics as being white if they have no other ethnicity. I think that's really strange. And, if I moved to the Philippines with my husband couldn't I be a citizen there?


Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Well, it seems that the 8 generation cutoff is a convention used by geneologists as a way to designate a definitive, single country of origin for a person. If PersonA can show they have ancestry in one country for 8 generations, then they are of that country - no hyphenations necessary. At least that's how I understand it from the awkward conversation I had with this gal.

She went on to explain that a African American person could then just say "American" (no need for the African part) if AAPerson can trace their ancestry back 8 gens in America. This apparently was a good thing in her mind.

When I pointed out that Native Americans could claim the same, having been here since before the Euros she ageed. They should just be called "American." Yes, I blinked too.

The conversation went south on me (yeah, it takes a while for me to pick up on these things) when I pointed out that Canadians and South Americans get offended when folks in the US call themselves Americans, thereby excluding them from the designation. To which she agreed - Canadians and South Americans, to her mind, are not 'real Americans.'

At this point, the color red was too much in my eyes that I had to somehow extract myself from the conversation and take a long calming walk with my hubby. I'll write more about it in my blog Binding Worlds Together soon.

In the meantime, thank you Ver for letting me vent here a bit.


ver said...

Oh, please, rant away! What a bizarre conversation with that woman...

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I don't think I know any "real" Americans by her standards.


the wily filipino said...

"Caucasian," "Mongolian" and "Negroid" were basically the three main racial categories used by anthropologists back then (they're still more or less the same categories that Cavalli-Sforza tracks down in his study of "genetic distances between different populations).

Salvador Roldan successfully argued that he was not "Mongolian" but "Malay" -- it depended, really, on the particular clerk / judge's interpretation of the anti-miscegenation statutes (in Section 69 of the Civil Code, how delicious), and which anthropologist they believed more accurate -- and so the L.A. County Clerk gave him the license to marry a white woman.

Two months later the powers-that-be amended the statutes to include "Malays."

However, that doesn't answer your question about why they chose to tiptoe around racial categories and not simply specify particular countries of origin. (Lawmakers certainly didn't shy away from targeting specific people, i.e., the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment.) One can imagine, though, that it was far more convenient to have a list of four legal/racial categories than having to enumerate a list of banned "ethnicities." (When the anti-miscegenation statutes in California were originally drawn up in... 1880, I think, Filipinos certainly weren't around; even Rizal wouldn't be using "Filipino" with a capital "F" until at least five years later, and even then, he wasn't exactly using "Filipino" in the same ethnoracial sense that we do today!)

ver said...

Class is in session!

"Convenient"? Yes, make sense. A very simple, elegant answer. Thanks for taking the time; I wasn't sure you were speaking to me 'cuz I drive a...you know...Suburban. Eeeeek!

DON said...

I am 'Old school' and know it. Caucasian,mongol and negro were the 3 races taught in school till 1974 when 'they' say I graduated.
Which of the 6 below are Nationalities NOT Races?
2008 Census Race Percentage Number
White alone 75.0% 228.2 million
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, of any race 15.4% 46.9 million
Black or African American alone 12.4% 37.6 million
Some other race alone 4.9% 15.0 million
Asian alone 4.4% 13.4 million
Two or more races 2.3% 7.0 million
American Indian or Alaska Native alone 0.8% 2.4 million
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone 0.14% 0.43 million

These figures add up to more than 100% on this table because Hispanic and Latino Americans are distributed among all the races and are also listed as an ethnicity category, resulting in a double count.