Plunging Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives; Studies Among the Tenements of New York. New York: Dover, 1971.

Riis begins his photojournalist muckraking book admitting that upper-class interest in the poor and tenement driven classes has lately spurred only because “the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent upheavals so violent, that [ignoring them] was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter” (1). The underclass ruptures towards the middle-class utopian dream, as the

hot-beds for epidemics that carry death to rich and poor alike; the nurses of pauperism and crime that fill our jails and police courts; that throw off scum of forty thousand human wrecks to the island asylums and workhouses year by year; that turned out in the last eight years a round half a million beggars to prey upon our charities…above all they touch the family life with deadly moral contagion. (2)

The theme of moral contagious will become especially vociferous throughout his book, but one can decipher that this scapegoating and unreal representations of the poor are persuasive tools to convince his audience—the white middle-class—that “the greed of capital that wrought the evil must itself undo it, as far as it can now be undone” (2). Indeed, Riis seeks to both increase stereotypes and racializations of “backwardsness” and savagery, while at the same time, placing these racial traits within a historical narrative of capital, greed and liberalism. As he says of the growth of the tenements: “As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor became the opportunity of the wealthier neighbors” (5).  The safety and the health of the tenants are de-prioritized, and with the appearance of the middle-man, yielded cholera epidemics and the “most densely populated district in all the world…packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile” (6). The rents are “twenty-five to thirty per cent higher” than uptown apartments, but the factories and ethnic enclaves are all located within the slums, where the inhabitants “look upon death in a different way from the rest of us—do not take it hard” (41).

Does his ultimate purpose of reforming the tenement housing make-up for the ethnic slurs, superficial racializations and voyeuristic descriptions of the slum-dwellers? “The Italian,” Riis says, “is a born gambler. His soul is in the game from the moment the cards are on the table, and very frequently his knife is in it too before the game is ended” (44). In the stale-beer dives, Riis opines that “Tramps and toughs profess the same doctrine, that the world owes them a living, but from stand-points that tend in different directions. The tough does not become a tramp, save in rare instances, when old and broken down. Even the usually he is otherwise disposed of. The devil has various ways of taking care of his own” (66). Whether these are descriptions merely of Riis or of a populous against the lower class, the moral argument is clear: their moral contagion puts our families in harm’s way. One explanation for these matter-of-fact descriptions may be that Riis is himself an immigrant, but is also a policeman. Stereotypes might make sense in a position of police power, where one must rely on snap-judgments of some kind in order to keep the peace, and himself as an immigrant who has climbed the social ladder may explain his belief in the immorality of beer dwellings and tramps. Yet Riis also masks the poor and especially the immigrant poor as bad in an ideal sense, as those who are naturally undemocratic: “Honors are easy, where two “machines,” entrenched in their strongholds, outbid each other across the Bowery in open rivalry as to who shall commit the most flagrant frauds at the polls” (75).

As Riis descends into the ethnic enclaves, such as Chinatown, his moral urgency against the poor turns into a contagion of race, drugs and backwardsness along with immorality. In Chinatown, Riis is convinced that “There is nothing strong about him [the Chinaman], except his passions when aroused. I am convinced that he adopts Christianity, when he adopts it at all…as he puts on American clothes, with what the politicians would call an ulterior motive” (79). Riis first describes the problem of young girls being taken into Chinatown, made addicted to opium in the dens, and then made again into a “wife”—always in quotes. Riis’ most affecting story is of a girl who claims to be sixteen but is really thirteen who “floated about until she landed in a Chinese laundry” (80). Riis further says of the Chinaman who has addicted her to the pipe: “Her tyrant knows well that she will come, and patiently bides his time. When her struggles in the web have ceased at last, he rules not longer with gloved hand” (80). His prescription for what to do about the China, one unexpected given the tone of his slum-touring, is to “have the door opened wider—for his wife; make it a condition of his coming or staying that he bring his wife with him. Then, at least, he might not be what he now is and remains, a homeless stranger among us” (83). In other words, though Riis sees these faults of the Chinese as particular to “Chinese” people, he certainly does not see them as traits that cannot be surpassed, but as symptoms of the lack of a moral center, and in the cult of domesticity, this could only mean bringing in an “angel of the house.”

Riis’ book is full of other prescriptions, ones that on the face of it, are practical applications of state funding, and become in fact the goals of many progressive candidates. The first it to tackle “the ignorance of the immigrants”: “they must be taught the language of the country they have chosen as their home, as the first and most necessary step. Whatever may follow, that is essential absolutely vital. That done, it may well be that the case in its new aspect will not be nearly so hard to deal with” (106-7). On Natural selection, Riis also seems able to look at human beings—always in groups defined by the pronoun “he”—as caught in a prescient scientific racism:

Natural selection will have more or less to do beyond a doubt in every age with dividing the races…but with the despotism that deliberately assigns to the defenseless Black the lowest level for the purpose of robbing him there that has nothing to do. Of such slavery, different only in degree from the other kind that held him as a chattel, to be sold or bartered at the will of his master, this century, if signs fail not, will see the end of New York. (115)

Indeed, Riis’ capacity to see through much of scientific racism, and more towards the interests of their espousers in marking blacks as racially inferior, is an admirable jewel to find in an otherwise questionable text. And that Riis wrote this in 1880 is perhaps the most unexpected thing. The idea that all the races and ethnicities whose character traits and racializations are set upon them by those holding more power is one that harks back to his claim that capital, which began much of the distress, can also solve it. Thus he takes time to praise philanthropists who begin “trade schools” and begin the practical program of “Philanthropy and five per cent” (209). This Riis calls “the gospel of justice,” which is similar to a movement around Christian economic/socialist thinking that he is credited for helping to bring into amore mainstream idea of justice.

For the women in the tenements, Riis sees hard workers and virtuous women who, when forced into slavery, do such suicidal acts as one women who “threw herself from her attic window, preferring death to dishonor” (183). And yet, as Riis later says, “who is to blame if their feet find the paths of shame that are “always open to them?…let the moralist answer. Let the wise economist apply his rule of supply and demand, and let the answer be heard in this city of a thousand charities where justice goes begging” (189). Indeed, the tenements to Riis have turned the angel of the house into a worker who, unlike most of the males that Riis has spoken of, cannot be blamed for their actions.

Riis’ final suggestions are reminiscent of the progressive movement which credits Riis as one of the founders, where government public service plans and institutions are created to relieve much of the poverty-stricken, less capable classes. The first is the “rapid transit” would solve the problem of people needing to be near the factories they work, and thus let them commute from the cheaper and healthier uptown apartments. Remodeled homes and public schooling are also expected suggestions, and “the State may have to bring down the rents that cause the crowding by assuming the right to regulate them as it regulates the fares on the elevated roads” (224). Yet Riis does not also forget private enterprise, which he says, “must do the lion’s share,” and shows that it is also “a matter of profit” that the tenements be remodeled and made to fit less people.

Plunging Darwin’s the Origin of Species.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: P.F. Collier & son, 1909.

Darwin’s immediate conclusions from his first chapter, that each species [has] not been independently created, but [has] descended, like varieties, from other species” (60), belies the “Special Introduction” of this 150th Anniversary version, written by Ray Comfort, where he asks the reader to “confess your sins to God, put your trust in Jesus to save you, and you will pass from death to life” (49). It seems Darwin’s been hijacked completely by Christian proselytizers in disguise.

Darwin’s ability to persuade his audience of a very contentious origins explanation are partially due to the way he eases his reader into the concept of Natural Selection, beginning with Human selection in breeding domestic animals: “it must be assumed not only that half-civilized man succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinary abnormal species; and further, that these very species have since all become extinct or unknown” (70). Albiet these selected traits are superficial and more beneficial to mankind than to the species being bred, selection by man is a means of putting some varieties into dominance over others, resulting in desired traits. With this in mind, it is an easy transition from human selection to natural selection, which Darwin, still perhaps uncertain of the reader’s feelings at this point, begins by observing the varieties of nature, point especially towards dominance, that “the species which are already dominant will be the most likely to yield offspring which, though in some slight degree modified, will still inherit those advantages that enables their parents to become dominant over their compatriots” (85). Here then is the process of natural selection, which is not only “a power incessantly ready for action,” but is also “superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of art” (89).

By setting up his audience from human selection to natural selection, Darwin is suggesting that mankind has intervened in nature’s job of selecting progressing species, to the fault of the natural order. “Under domestication,” Darwin insists, “the whole organization becomes in some degree plastic” while nature allows a “preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations”(98). Where mankind was mostly concerned with the appearances of a breed, nature “cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be made useful to any being” (99). Mankind thus injures the species with decoration and ornament, while nature improves utility, fitness and survival skills. A third selective type to all this is sexual selection, which Darwin calls “not a struggle for existence, but…a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few offspring. Sexual selection is, therefore, less rigorous than natural selection” (101). The “vigorous” males in this case win over the females, by virtue of “special weapons” or plumage.

Under all these regimes of selection, it is by “great diversification of structure”  that “the greatest amount of life can be supported” (114). Because natural selection works best on improving some varieties over others, the more diversity of types to withstand population “checks” the better. Modification of species, he adds, “will add to the beautiful and harmonious diversity of nature” (142). This value of diversity is beneficial to the individual, for it “gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure” (142).

Plunging Spencer’s Social Statics

Spencer, Herbert. Social Statics: The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1954.

Spencer begins his polemic on the attack, identifying utilitarianism as one which cannot rationally be taken up in a realm of scientific inquiry, where “agreement as to the meaning of ‘greatest happiness’ [is] theoretically impossible” (10).  Instead of the utilitarian method he points to the “method of nature,” where “we find in ourselves some prompter called desire; and the more essential the action, the more powerful is the impulse to its performance, and the more intense the gratification derived therefrom” (16). Desire for Spencer is the natural drive behind forces human and animal, and if left on its own, will grow to fit “essential action.” Social ways of acting, Spencer shows, are just as natural to our desires as “appetite and parental,” and that a “moral-sense” prompting right actions exists in every human being: “every feeling is accompanied by a sense of the rightness of those actions which give it gratification—tends to generate convictions that things are good or bad, according as they bring to it pleasure or pain” (20). Since this sense is innate and moved by desire, the utilitarian rationalizations need not stuff men into artificial regulations.

It is important to note that Spencer is deriving his social evolutionary philosophy in this book not from Darwin himself (Social Statics was published in 1850, Origin of the Species in 1859) but from Darwin’s predecessor, (xx). Signs of Spencer’s later evolutionary reliance is found most abhorrently in his 1892 footnotes, where he attempts to summarize what appears to be superfluous information:

the fact that some races of men appear to have no consciences at all and that in other races of men conscience gives verdicts quite unlike, and sometimes opposite to, verdicts it gives among ourselves, are not even hinted. The evidence of this were not at that time before me. To prevent misapprehension it may be well here to say that the foregoing views concerning moral sense are applicable only to races which have been long subject to certain kinds of discipline (23-4).

The connections to Darwin naturally do not cease in the footnotes, but are fundamental to Spencer’s overall moral project, where good comes innate to human desires, and “all evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions” (28). For Spencer the natural desires of mankind creates a “good” harmony, one that can quickly turn to an “evil” when “its organization and its circumstances has been destroyed”—by the very same organism whose desires were good. Spencer utilizes concepts we would now call Darwinian, “fitness for surrounding circumstances,” “law of adaptation,” to show how men who are suffering evils in a state of existence are simply “not completely adapted to such a state” because he “partially retains the characteristics appropriate to an antecedent state” (31). The social state, of course, is reified into a single noun, “state” that “the human faculties [must] be mould into complete fitness for” so that “man [must] become perfect” (32). Which social state is Spencer referring to? “The social state” he seems to say.  His 1892 footnotes are of course revealing about this state: “Various races of mankind, inhabiting bad habits, and obliged to lead miserable lives, cannot by any amount of adaptation be moulded into satisfactory types” (32). Indeed, it was his own social state all along!

It is up to each man then to “fulfil his own nature” (34), but as not to “irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbors,” though in some cases “it is not his behavior that is wrong, but their characters that are so” (37). This devision between who is right and wrong in these “irritating” circumstances is answered quickly by those more “unfit” for the social state, in this case the offended, because “they ought not to have so tyrannical an intolerance of other opinions than their own” (37). Therefore, to Spencer, the “liberty of each, limited by the like liberties of all, is the rule in conformity with which society must be organized” (45). It takes him many pages to lead up to this point, and even more derivations to repeat this principle with the authority of stating a moral law, one that follows in tandem with “an instinct of personal rights” that “leads him to claim as great a share of natural privilege as is claimed by others” (48). This instinct however is not to be confused with that of “sympathy” outlined by Adam Smith, but is only an instinct of personal rights, and the notion of sympathy as a right to Spencer is “nothing but a sympathetic affection of the instinct of personal rights—a sort of reflect function of it” (50). Spencer’s one and only discovered moral instinct is that of a moral law: “Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man” (55).

As fundamental as this law is to human nature, Spencer seems to assume that only certain races of men are capable of doing it well and within a civilized social state, and for the “uncivilized man, even under the most hypothetical conditions—cannot be made even to recognize those actions [of pure morality] so as to pass any definite sentence upon them” (62). Nature wields a double-standard, or is simply a trickster cartoon character, promising innate sentiment but then taking it back when it comes time to use it, trading it for the lit stick of dynamite, or in the case of European cultural dominance that this book reinforces—cannon balls. Here also one can find the influence of Malthus, when Spencer rages against socialism, positing that the ideas are “correct in theory” but “impracticable,” for “if an equal portion of the earth’s produce is awarded to every man…a breach of equality is committed” (65). If violates the first principle. On the full equality of women, Spencer is much more aligned with today’s standards, that when women have “clear perception of what is due to them, and men to a nobility of feeling which shall make them concede to women the freedom which they themselves claim—humanity will have undergone such a modification as to render the equality of rights possible” (78). Spencer’s liberalism here is accounted for in the hidden complexity of his well-stated principle, and women’s equality is one branch leading from it.                 The inequality of women and slavery of others denotes to Spencer a “low social life,” one that perhaps belongs to the realm of the uncivilized.

The fear of “low social life,” the uncivilized, the barbarians, and the very idea of sympathy, becomes ever more contagious as Spencer finds that assimilation into a social state always works both ways, and that “whoso is placed among the savage will in process of time grow savage too; let his companions be treacherous and he will become treacherous in self-defense” (100). Spencer goes on to say:

Among a people not yet fitted for [a representative form of government], citizens, lacking the impulse to claim equal powers, become careless in the exercise of their franchise, and even pride themselves on not interfering in public affairs…they will watch the passing of the most insidious measures with vacant unconcern. (107)

And yet, “on the other hand, among a people sufficiently endowed with the faculty responding to the  law of equal freedom, no such retrograde process is possible” (107). If “the man of genuinely democratic feeling loves liberty as a miser loves gold,” then the miser, or anyone not of genuine democratic feeling, certainly cannot love liberty, but must, as a type, love something completely different, and therefore cannot assimilate well into a democratic society.

If one is looking through this books for how and why it became such a strong influence in American thought, Spencer’s staunch individualism surely molded well into American ideals, especially I the post-civil war era when reparations to African Americans, as well as total enfranchisement, was stymied by the insistence that they be treated by individual merit, not by social responsibility to the group. Valuing always the individual rather than the group, Spencer opines that “of the many political superstitions, none is so widely diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent” (93). The best government for Spencer is that which “places less restraint upon the individual” (106). When the state creates new taxes, they act not the “part of the protector” but that “of an aggressor,” and worse, “retards adaptation instead of hastening it” which we will remember Spencer considers as “all evil” (127).

Perhaps the most shocking result of Spencer’s individualism mixed with evolutionary thought, is his ideas on the reformation of poor-laws, simply that “a poor-law tries to make men pitiful by force,” for it counteracts nature in its competitive form, which provides “merciful provision” and “universal welfare” by ending one’s existence “before it becomes burdensome” and making room “for a younger generation capable of the fullest enjoyment” (149). This type of welfare of course is immediate and pathetic death, one meant to “weed out the sickly, the malformed, and the least fleet or powerful,” making room for what Spencer calls “the ideal man” (149). Realizing this may sound harsh, Spencer doesn’t retract, but softens the blow, promising that “widows” and “orphans”—whom he takes for granted are already the weakest of the social state—would struggle and die “in connection with the interests of universal humanity” (150). For those who disagree, they are merely “disabled” “by their sympathies with present suffering [and]…pursue a course which is injudicious, and in the end even cruel” and that the “spurious philanthropists” “to prevent misery, would entail greater misery on future generations” (151). Spencer continues advising would-be philanthropists and do-gooders:

Blind to the fact that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillitating, faithless members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation—absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent. (151)

To end, Spencer’s moralism and its impulses are made either more complex or simply jarring when he theorizes that one cannot do evil if one is ignorant that what they are doing is evil—i.e. slave owners had no obligation to feel guilt over owning slaves until it was put into public thought (by natural progression) that their practice was abominable. Since amoral action retards growth, those doing altogether disturbing deeds need not be slowed down, for many “have not yet reached a development great enough to be offended by such doings” (240). Spencer explains: “while the injustice of conquests and enslaving is not perceived, they are on the whole beneficial; but as soon as they are felt to be at variance with the moral law, the continuance of them retards adaptation in one direction more than it advances in another” (241). By now it is all too obvious why this text was so appealing not only to Darwin, but to the British empire and to ex-slave owners of the American south.

Plunging Gilman’s Women and Economics

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Women and Economics A Study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women As a Factor in Social Evolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

Though it was discussed widely in both the U.S. and Europe following its publication, Women and Economics has now dropped out of economic discussions, though its questions and study of women beyond enfranchisement and toward full equality remains an important one. Her purpose in this study is defined first in a lengthy poem, then in a short preface:

This book is written…to show how some of the worst evils under which we [women] suffer, evils long supposed to be inherent and ineradicable in our natures, are but the result of certain arbitrary conditions of our own adoption, and how, by removing those conditions, we may remove the evils resultant. (xxxix)

Not only are her questions surprisingly pertinent to our contemporary era, but her language even seems easy to confuse with a post-modern theorist, emphasizing arbitrary conditions of possibility over inherent, natural ways of being in the world. Her subject in this book is the working women, the mother and her working power, whose food and clothing “bear relation only to the man she marries, the man she depends on—to how much he has and how much he is willing to give her” (21).

Despite the fact that Women and Economics was published within the same year as Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, many of the ideas in the book speak to Veblen, especially Gilman’s proposal that “the immediately acting cause of sex-attraction is sex-distinction” and that “the more widely the sexes are differentiated, the more forcibly they are attracted to each other” (31). For Veblen, sex attraction of the male was formed through idleness and conspicuous consumption, but for Gilman, it is a willing dependency on men, an overt performance of weakness in constitution, a background of good racial stock, and others that will be elaborated upon, its fundamental idea being that “because of the economic dependence of the human female on her mate, she is modified to sex to an excessive degree” (39). It is through women also that this social norm is reproduced in children, where it is “steadily implanted in the human constitution the morbid tendency to excess this relation” (39).

Gilman uses the concept of “sex-distinction” to identify ways of acting and thinking that is meant to distinguish femininity or masculinity. For males she identifies sex distinctions as “the intensity of male passion,” “the tendency to fight…to protect and provide for,” “the belligerence and dominance of the male,” while for the female it is the “modesty and timidity,” the “comparative smallness and feebleness,” and “the relative weakness of women” (46). Yet all of these sex-distinctions for women are always thought to be “feminized,” while those of the male—“passion” and “fight”—are those of human kind in general.  Therefore sex-distinctions are seen greater in the female than in the male, and they are over-sexed.

Having become used to weakness as a sex-distinction vital for attracting a mate, the woman’s power and “impulse to create” have been kept always in the home, and only on a level competitive with other women for the attention of the male, never on that of the professional or artist:

She might work as she had worked from the beginning—at the primitive labors of the household; but in the inevitable expansion of even those industries to professional levels we have striven to hold her back. To work with her own hands, for nothing, in direct body-service to her own family—this has been permitted—yes, compelled. But to be and do anything further from this she has been forbidden. Her labor has not only been limited in kind, but in degree. Whatever she has been allowed to do must be done in private and alone, the first-hand industries of savage times” (67).

Specialization, professionalization and organization have been forbidden to women, often with the justification that love and marriage are best suited. Women for Gilman then are sacrificed for love, to seek gain through love and in the end become victims of it. One of the effects of de-professionalization in the name of love, has been “to produce an elaborate devotion to individuals and their personal needs—not to the understanding and developing of their higher natures, but to the intensification of their bodily tastes and pleasures” (120).

By working only within the home, and stressing all strains of innovation and intensity onto the family life, maintains “an exaggerated sense of the importance of food and clothes and ornaments to themselves, without at all including a knowledge of their right use and value to us all. It develops personal selfishness” (120). The excessive consumption of the female then, to Gilman, is not simply an act of conspicuous consumption, but a symptom of the inability to use one’s intellect and cunning towards a greater purpose than self-ornament. Economically, the result is the creation and maintenance of a “false market, this sink into which human labor vanishes with no return” that seeks no value in “industry,” “art,” “science, discovery, and progress” (121). Rather, the commercialization of sex-distinction—the over consumption by women—“hinders and perverts the economic development of the world.”

Gilman follows the social Darwinism of her time when she focuses not only on race-preservation as “almost entirely a female function,” which perhaps we can all agree with, but that a main reasoning behind full equality with males is that “it has been proven better for the race to have two highly developed parents rather than to have one” (131). The freedom of women, too, is not only good for the children, but good for a fully democratic society, where attention to the family seems to deny individual liberty, and rather, full equality would make possible “the full social combination of individuals in collective industry…also a union between man and woman such as the world has long dreamed of in vain” (145). As with many arguments for the abolishment of slavery, Gilman takes a wise position here by portraying the full equality of women as a social good, a parental good and a political good.

Among the working classes, children mean extra burdens, and women’s place, to Gilman, is devalued by the “strong feeling against large families,” but among the wealthy, the daughters and mothers also need not perform domestic duties, and are instead “absolutely non-productive in goods or labor of economic value, and consumers…limited only by the purchasing power of their male relatives” (170). Maternity then gives no pleasure to the female in either of these cases, and Gilman finds that overall “the force of economic advantage acts against maternity instead of toward it” (171). Yet, of course, motherhood is assumed as an essential life experience and sometimes even the only life goal of the women. For Gilman, this assumption is “more sacred than religion, more binding than the law, [and] more habitual than methods of eating,” and so engrained that few consider “whether or not we will enter upon the duties of maternity, but how best we can fulfill them” (178).

Though the rule of women as housewife makes little economic sense, but she tests out the motherly roles in women as reproducers and educators, and finds naturally, that without determined professionalization in either, women have not proved effective at these, especially when they are subjected to it and are not allowed education or labor for themselves. What is really being achieved in the motherhood of women is the omission of “the father and his responsibility, and that when the women is able to fully incorporate equally in a professional society, she “will make better men,” “will hold herself socially responsible for her children,” and “will do half duty in providing for the child” (186). If the women is denied “enlarged activities,” “developed intelligence” or “education of the will which only comes by freedom and power,” the

children of humanity are born into the arms of an endless succession of untrained mothers, who bring to the care and teaching of their children neither education for that wonderful work nor experience therein: they bring merely the intense accumulated force of a brute instinct—the blind devoted passion of the mother for the child. (196)

Gilman spends the rest of her book elaborating on the effects of these blind and devoted passions, particularly on the effects in raising children that seek more after the appreciation and pleasure of the household rather than their well-being and education. As she says of purchasing groceries, “the dilution and adulteration of food products is a particularly easy path to profit [for companies], because the ultimate purchaser has almost no power and very little intelligence” (227). If the food itself is diluted or against nutritious living, the mother further adds ingredients only for flavorful effect rather than health benefits, catering

to the palate instead of faithfully studying and meeting the needs of the stomach. For uncounted generations the grown man and the growing child have been subject to the constant efforts of her who cooked from affection, not from knowledge—who cooked to please. This is one of the widest pathways of evil that has ever been opened. (232)

Gilman’s answer for these “injuries to the race” is both cooperation and professionalization. Cooperation she defines as “the union of families for the better performance of their supposed functions,” and finds in it a hopeful alternative to family-centered life, since cooking, cleaning, education and the purchasing of goods, would be done by specialists who are well trained and educated in their tasks, rather than left to the ignorance of women who have been forbidden an education. Therefore cooperation leads to “trained professional service,” for “it is a trained hand that the baby needs, not mere blood-relationship” (291).

Plunging Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. With an Introd. by John Kenneth Galbraith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

The son of Scandinavian peasants who spoke no English and lived in rural Wisconsin, Thorstein Veblen was known as a purely scientific thinker who by in large deviated from most moral and cultural ways of thinking in his own time, siding with ways of life deemed amoral, and refusing even fundamental assumptions such as social evolutionism to seek a more logical theory of class structure. His atheism also marked him as a scholar, and much of his life he spent between universities, writing books in his downtime, but always saw himself as a teacher. His book can be seen as both an astounding diatribe against the upper-class and an anthropological study of what it means to be leisurely and the influence of the leisure class onto those with lesser means. His data is “by preference drawn from everyday life, by direct observation or through common notoriety” (xxix).


His first way of categorizing the upper-class is that they are “non-industrial,” and are rather employed under “government, warfare, religious observances, and sports” (21). Thus a there is an effort whereby industrial work is discriminated against as “ordinary” or “vulgar,” where “virtually the whole range of industrial employments is classed as woman’s work in the primitive barbarian community” (23), marking the leisure class not as an ahistorical human structure, but as something that has emerged gradually from “a peacable to a consistently warlike habit of life” (24). Types of labor here are never gendered neutral, but are divided strictly between “aggressive assertion of force and sagacity” and “the women’s assiduous and uneventful shaping of materials” (28). The man has agency, in other words, and must remain in an active workmanship that “works out in an emulative of invidious comparison of persons” (29). As comparisons are made, success must be made overtly visible to those it seeks to disqualify or feminize. The drive to bring home booty, and to show booty off, makes labor that does not immediately result in a form of visible booty, such as industrial labor, seem “irksome” (31). In this predatory phase of mankind, therefore, visible booty becomes meaningful as a sign of dominance and male power.

The earliest form of this booty is symbolized by the “ownership of the woman by the man” (33). The acquisition of the female creates that “motive that lies at the root of ownership,” emulation:

the possession of wealth confers honor; it is an invidious distinction. Nothing equally cogent can be said for the consumption of goods, nor for any other conceivable incentive to the accumulation of wealth. (35)

Wealth now confers honor, and wealth acquired passively more “honorific” than work acquired by effort. Pecuniary emulation then becomes a struggle for honor by individuous comparison, to meet the new standard of wealth that offers “greater satisfaction,” to “gain the esteem and envy of one’s fellowmen” (38-9).              For the lower classes, who have little choice in the matter, honor is conferred by building “a reputation for efficiency in their work,” and rather than conspicuously displaying their wealth, move towards gaining prestige among the workplace through greater efficiency. In contrast, the leisure class make their wealth or power always “in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence,” ever-conscious that their way of life is being envied by those around them, that their “life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilized man’s eyes” (42). Especially at a time when wealth consisted of the ownership of cattle, women and slaves, “productive effort [was] to be shunned as being unworthy of able-bodied men” (43). From this point on in the text, Veblen redefines the leisure class from simply those employed in non-industrial work, to an aversion to productive work itself: “the characteristic feature of leisure-class life,” he says “is a conspicuous exemption from all useful employment” (44).

Idleness, then, comes to symbolize wealth. Though the buying of expensive clothes, of playing sports and participating in warfare also symbolize wealth, none of these activities would be possible without significant leisure time to spend on them. “decorum,” Veblen states, “is a product and an exponent of leisure-class life and thrives in full measure only under a regime of status” (48). But how to measure idleness—couldn’t one make their purchases in a speedier fashion, or find ways to participate without giving up a directly even amount of time as everyone else? For Veblen, this problem is remedied by a canons of taste, which “are constantly under the surveillance of the law of conspicuous leisure, and are indeed constantly undergoing change and revision to bring them into closer conformity with its requirements,” and in most cases this simply means that “the pervading principle and abiding test of good breeding is the requirement of a substantial and patent waste of time” (51). In other words, it is by societal conventions that leisurely activities come to symbolize wealth, and that certain matters of form, including good stock, allow for only certain types of leisure to symbolize “booty.”

That type of leisure which Veblen calls “vicarious” is that done by “housewives and menials,” which is nearly the same leisurely activities as those of the upper-class, but are simply “performed by others than the economically free and self-directing head of the establishment” (55). Veblen goes to great lengths to justify the use of this term:

where this happens, the domestic service which comprises the duties of this servant class might aptly be designated as wasted effort, rather than as vicarious leisure. But the latter term has the advantage of indicating the line of derivation of these domestic offices, as well as of neatly suggesting the substantial economic ground of their utility; for those occupations are chiefly useful as a method of imputing pecuniary responsibility to the master or to the household on the ground that a given amount of time and effort is conspicuously wasted in that behalf (55).

This class then is a derivative leisure class, whose leisure shows not only their own high status among their own class, but the status of their masters, which is “presumed to enchance the master’s own well-being and fullness of life” (56). If all servants were engaged in constant work, it would “imply inability to pay for the consumption of time, effort, and instruction required to fit a trained servant for special service under an exacting code of forms” (57). The members of a leisurely household then are “required” to spend time “ostensibly…in a performance of conspicuous leisure, in the way of calls, drives, clubs, sewing-circles, sports, charity organizations, and other social functions” (59). In other words, little or no pleasure need actually be derived from participating in these activities, rather, it is a duty that they be carried out, and are therefore may be “irksome” but are still “unavoidable.”

Those who undertake conspicuous leisure inevitably come to participate in a “new range of duties,” those of conspicuous consumption, its most obvious form in the “wearing of liveries and the occupation of spacious servants’ quarters” (60). Here Veblen must separate the productive consumption of the housewife, to whom he sees as “merely incidental to their work,” and the unproductive consumption that is “honorable, primarily as a mark of prowess and a prerequisite of the more desirable things” (62). The buying of necessities, like the work for production, is marked as feminine and tabu, while “certain victuals, and more particularly certain beverages, are strictly reserved for the use of the superior class” (61). As Veblen states, “the consumption of luxuries, in the true sense, is a consumption directed to the comfort of the consumer himself, and is, therefore, a mark of the master” (63). Yet, like the canons of taste that guide leisurely activities, something must guide the form of this consumption, in this case it is “high bred manners and ways of living” that serve as “items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption” (64). The goods identified through this system as signs of obstinate wealth then becomes “a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure,” inserting him into a “more or less elaborate system of rank and grades” that makes up a class, where those below it are otherwise ranked within a hierarchical “class of impecunious gentlemen of leisure” who “affiliate themselves by a system of dependence or fealty to the great ones…they become his courtiers or retainers, servants; and being fed and countenanced by their patron they are indices of his rank and vicarious consumers of his superfluous wealth” (65). For the wife, she becomes “the ceremonial consumer of goods which he produces,” and in this act serves as “his chattel in theory; for the habitual rendering of vicarious leisure and consumption is the abiding mark of the unfree servant” (69).

What is most important about these acts of consumption of leisure, is not quite that they fit the norm, are done in high degree, or that they offer some sort of pleasure (often they do not), but that they are conspicuous, and therefore, seen by an audience of less prestigious persons. “The observances of these standards,” Veblen explains, “becomes incumbent upon all classes lower in the scale” (70). The result of these acts being conspicuous then, is that “the members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal. On pain of forfeiting their good name and their self-respect in case of failure, they must conform to the accepted code, at least in appearance” (70). In an age of mass communications and mobility, this becomes an even more pivotal requirement, as the leisure class begins to “have no other means of judging his reputability than the display of goods (and perhaps of breeding) which he is able to make while he is under direct observation” (71). For Veblen the anthropologist and social philosopher, there is an instinctual motivation of workmanship present in all human beings that “asserts itself even under very adverse circumstances,” so that “however wasteful a given expenditure may be in reality, it must at least have some colorable excuse in the way of an ostensible purpose” (75).

The display, performance and conspicuousness of leisure and consumption is the purpose behind what is often called “wasteful spending.” However, from an economic standpoint, this purpose of spending and aversion to labor “does not satisfy the economic conscience,” and must be questioned “whether, aside from acquired tastes and from the canons of usage and conventional decency, its result is a net gain in comfort or in the fullness of life” (79). In other words, conspicuous lifestyles do not pass the “principle of pecuniary reputability or relative economic success,” and are wasteful to a growing American economic agenda. Yet unconsciously such expenditure has been accepted in American societal codes, and is present “as a constraining norm selectively shaping and sustaining our sense of what is beautiful, and guiding our discrimination with respect to what may legitimately be approved as beautiful and what may not” (95).

For academics, perhaps the most poignant chapter of Veblen’s is his last on higher education as “an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,” where Veblen identifies higher learning itself as a “vicarious leisure performed for the supernatural power with whom negotiations are carried on and whose good-will the service and the professions of subservience are conceived to procure” (235-6). This move towards the supernatural of course is Veblen’s anthropological side speaking, which sees higher education within this tradition where superior knowledge became a type of control over the elements, a magic that got one closer to the supernatural. Yet to Veblen a greater impulse of this higher learning lies in its direct contrast to feminine learning that focuses around “a better performance of domestic service” (243). For Veblen, “knowledge is felt to be unfeminine if it is knowledge which expresses the unfolding of the learner’s own life, the acquisition of which proceeds on the learner’s own cognitive interest, without prompting from the canons of propriety, and without reference back to a master” (243). In other words, the knowledge Veblen means here is that which does not by any means need to be learned, but that which follows an interest or metaphysical problem.

Plunging Jacboson’s Barbarian Virtues

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.

Tracking the years of new immigration, from 1876 to 1917, Jacobson offers another insightful look at how immigrants were racialized, yet unlike his previous work, this time Jacobson seeks to discover how developments on the frontier zones—the Battle of wounded Knee ending the continental zone and the hegemony of Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines beginning the transnational one—as well as modern military and the administrative state began to map the foreigner as a figure locked in an ideology of global labor and export markets (7). One reason for looking at this period in this way, is not because any of these themes have solidified into a single era, but that “the reformation of American nationalism in this cauldron of immigration and imperialism is worth looking at so closely precisely because neither the processes nor their results are safely fossilized in a bygone epoch” (8), and that it challenged to ponder how “dominant notions of national destiny and of proper Americanism draw upon charged encounters with disparaged peoples whose presence is as reviled in the political sphere as it is inevitable in the economic” (9).

Foreigners in this period were cast as both consumers abroad and producers at home, as “auxiliary consumers in a vast, worldwide export market, and as auxiliary workers in an ever-expanding domestic labor market” (13). As markets, the foreigner would not just be convinced to buy new amenities, but would transformed entirely in the way they live in a transformation “both spiritual and material,” where commerce very often followed the missionary (17). Jacobson provides convincing figures of the mid-1880s for how this occurred: “Standard Oil shipped over 90 percent of its kerosene abroad (70 percent to Europe and another 21 percent to Asia). U.S. exports overall climbed…from $526 million in 1876 to over $1 billion per year by the late 1890s” (20). Due to these staggering figures, it soon became obvious that “the nation’s economic survival itself would require an aggressive conquest of foreign markets” (21).

If markets abroad made for fantastic opportunities of consumerist potential, China was perhaps the most exotic locale of new consumerism that came into the imaginations of the American public sphere. “China occupied a central place in American economic fantasies throughout this period” Jacobson explains, “although it never did become an actual outlet for U.S. goods on the scale suggested by its enormous population” (25). China, as well as much of South America, became reduced to a “series of ‘wants’” and its population of immigrants to the United States became examples of what the Chinese nation might eventually become if properly annexed to the imperial ambitions of the Western frontier (26). All of this would have had great potential, especially following the colonization of the Philippines in 1898, if not for the Boxer Uprising in 1900, where foreign missionaries, railroads and telephone were identified in China as unwanted foreigners and cast out in a wave of antiforeignism (33).

While Chinese markets were exoticized as a mountain of potential wealth and new desires, attitudes of Latin American countries as potential buyers arose from convictions that “Latin Americans were mostly savages” on the one hand, and that “destiny had provided lands south of the border as a mere extension of the North American ‘frontier’” on the other (38). The Monroe Doctrine in 1823 had declared Latin America as a region off-limits to Europe but up for grabs to the United States. Unlike the Chinese problem, however, America faced Latin America mainly with its armed forces and used military coercion to dominate new markets. As savages, “’backwardness’ seemed to cry out for U.S. goods, and they provided justification for whatever action or intervention the United States deemed necessary to exert its will outside its own borders” (49). Such backwardness was convincingly told by the evolutionary hierarchies of Darwin’s Descent of Man, as well as the very value judgments within the notion of ‘civilization’ and the ‘savage,’ which often justified “total extermination on one end of the spectrum to paternalistic assimilation on the other” (50-1). The shoeless barbarians then, must be introduced not only to the concept of shoes, but to the U.S. produced shoes that happen to be over-produced. For Latin America, unfortunately, the stability of these global markets—as well as the reassurance that they got our shoes and not someone else’s or their own—was often “defined on U.S. terms and secured, increasingly, by U.S. military might” (55).

At home, foreigners were seen in the context of markets for labor rather than consumption, which meant ongoing competition to the “powerful strains of nativist thinking” (61). The New Immigration was often seen as oncoming groups of unskilled, illiterate, non-English speaking, leftist, poor, job-seeking migrants, who, after the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885 was signed, forbidding the importation of “contract laborers,” often arrived on U.S. soil by drawing on “existing, informal ethnic networks and family ties” (67). The racial typing of these new arrivals—done through both news papers and scholars like Peter Roberts—often came down to “general questions of workforce management—their inherent tractability, for instance—and the specific kinds of labor, the precise task, for which various groups were suited because of their particular ‘racial’ make-up” (70). Such racial “types” like an “inborn docility” made low wages and low ceilings on skilled work seem like natural limitations on the abilities of immigrants, and thus the immigrant, while typed by capital interests, had often “come to symbolize the ugliest features of corporate capitalism amid rapid industrialization—its exploitative wages, its inhuman hours, its physical dangers, its degradations—and, ironically, so did the immigrant become a scapegoat for those very excesses of capital” (73). In other words, rather than being seen as filling in the lowest of jobs, they were seen as the very reasons for lowly jobs, as if they had brought the work with them upon arrival rather than sought it within the United States.

In many cases where capital and labor seemed at odds, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the immigrant question and the labor question were conflated so forcefully that unruly strikers were almost synonymous with “unruly immigrants” (90). In these and events like the Haymarket Riot, “threats posed by immigration were threats to national sovereignty, and therefore the state held the same rights and duties to curb this foreign menace as it did to protect its citizens in times of war” (93). This outlook culminated in the creation of the Immigration Bureau and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where immigrants were repressed by “speech codes, unforgiving alien laws, and ever-vigilant government bureaucracies” (95).

On the cultural end of these historical events, was the travelogues of writers like Mark Twain and the exotic fiction led by the Tarzan series, which

now provided myriad fables on the backwardness of distant lands, on the field of opportunity they presented, and on their peculiar inhabitants, whose evolutionary shortfalls and whose lives ostensibly outside of history seemed to recommend either extinction, removal, or reformation under the stewardship of the West. (107)

Theordore Roosevelt’s idea of the world of the savage as “waste spaces” that could be put to better use by the West soon caught on, presenting a timelessness in the barbarians—a static ethnic—presented upon “a hierarchic scale of human development. It is one thing to say that two cultures are vastly different, quite another to say that one is grossly behind the other” (118). By debasing the foreigner in the form of bemused condensation or suggestive ways of inheriting the land, this ideology of progress became an important lead in the imperial project “in the era of rapidly internationalizing markets” (121). The lack of the foreigner could be easily remedied through the participation within new markets.

The ways of seeing the foreigner abroad naturally occurred alongside similar ways of seeing the immigrant at home, one still determined within an ideological regime of progress. As figured through journalist such as Jacob Riis, Jacobson finds that these immigrants were seen not as fellow citizens in need of a helping hand, but were exoticized and became examples of a “lack” just as the foreigners abroad. “Yet,” Jacobson says,

The lingering attention to the denizens’ foreignness rather than to their economic circumstances and their levels of exploitation tacitly suggest a contrat conclusion: these pockets of poverty in the modern industrial city are explained, not by the ravages of capitalism, but by the innate racial character of their inhabitants. (127)

The theories of man as a myriad of separately evolved races promulgated by intellectuals like Darwin and Herbert Spencer eventually solidified three main value-assumptions in American racial thought: first, that “natural growth is from simplicity to complexity,” meaning that the less evolved other was simpler, second, that “human control over nature is the primary criterion for measuring development,” so that scientific progress and technological innovation became the primary indicators of advancement, and third, that “objective science pointed the way to frank assessments of relative human worth,” and since natives had no say in objective science due to a lack of language and instruments, they were in a sense of human history, remnants of a lost time, and wasting the space (145). While this scientific racism was prevalent on all racial formations at this time, Jacobson finds it interesting that “much of the research ensured that the differences within the white race would actually receive more attention” (155). This was perhaps due to the fact that “the case was so thoroughly closed on nonwhite races,” and yet this attention on white difference during an era of mass immigration from Eastern Europe may have had some part in the creation of nativist organizations such as the Immigration Restriction League founded in 1894, which very often “assumed without question that the new immigrant races disproportionately carried undesirable unit characters like feeble-mindedness” and that “even for those whose mental capacities were normal, migration to a more complex society could pose some real challenges” (167).

If the “old stock” of Americans needed to be preserved as the very constitution of the proper American, then new ways of seeing the immigrant as directly antagonistic towards American values—specifically that of democracy—needed to be established. For this, “Machine politics” “burst upon the national consciousness in the 1860s and ‘70s” (182). At first identified through English-speaking immigrants like the Irish, machine politics was a way “of using the ballet box as a weapon of the weak…once they had the right to vote and hold office, the Catholic working class and poor relied on their sheer numbers to wage a campaign to wrest a modicum of political power from their wealthier neighbors” (183). Though naturally the immigrations in office worked in the interests of immigrants on the street, often machine politics became villianized as an anti-democratic practice because it was a vote based on the last name of the politician running. For Jacobson, however,

machines gave a human face to the abstract relationship between citizens and state…bosses did funnel important goods and services to the populations who most needed them before the birth of the modern welfare state; and they ushered unskilled workers into suitable positions in the public sector in the era before public works programs. (189)

By utilizing the vote as a weapon of the poor, machine politics in fact allowed the immigrant to participate in an estranged political system, and was perhaps the very means by which the immigrant could become a republican citizen. For Asian immigrants, however, the Chinese restriction of 1882, the naturalization clause that permitted only “free white men” to become U.S. citizens, the many literacy and other voting bills that sought to limit enfranchisement, and finally the creation of the Asiatic Barred Zone by the 1917 immigration act, “was a dramatic sign of just how powerfully and overtly race thinking was shaping the public debate” (201). However,  by this time the labor competition and emergence of new markets abroad seemed to be eclipsed somewhat by the “racial lexicon of ‘fit’ and ‘unfit’ citizenship” (218). The Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885, Jacobson sees as perhaps the last instance of an economically rather than civically minded immigration law.

For American imperial interests abroad, the search for new markets of course never grew irrelevant, and ideologies of empire were sustained in a regime of American stewardship, which sought that “inferior peoples ought to be brought under American influence, but, emphatically, they ought not to be brought close enough to influence America” (247). Naturally it was “the nation’s racialized minorities—African Americans and immigrants—who tended to articulate the sharpest, most egalitarian, and most democratically animated critiques of empire” (248).

Plunging Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Jacobson’s book, noted from its title, is the story of how a racial consciousness carrying firm divisions between Jews, Poles, Germans, Scandinavians, and other “whites,” rose to prominancy in the American consciousness, and then fell into the single category of Caucasian. As with his book Special Sorrows, Jacobson is not shy in using multiple methods and sources to explore racial consciousness, through state laws, scientific papers, popular discourse on sexuality and race, immigrant literature and even the curriculum of public schools—from Mark Twain to the New York draft riots and New Orleans lynchings.

Making Jacobson’s obvious are scholars of race who too often conflate race with color, which is Jacobson seeks to historicize as a “late-twentieth-century understanding of ‘difference’” (6). To Jacobson, “by looking at racial categories and their fluidity over time, we glimpse the competing theories of history which inform the society and define its internal struggles.” This refies a monolithic whiteness to Jacobson, and underestimates the power of racial categories to shift depending upon historical circumstance, and that there is some genuine truth to the current racial categories that have emerged as more truthful than racial categories in the past.

To put race in historical perspective, Jacobson names three epochs, the first emerging in the nation’s first naturalization law that names citizenship to “Free white persons” in 1790, the second in the period of mass European immigration from the 1840s to 1924, where whiteness was put into a hierarchy of difference and scientifically defined white races mapped around both capital and their “fitness for self government,” and finally, after the 1920s, where the caucasion race counterbalanced the African-American migrations into the urban centers. As one might immediately tell after reading this list, Jacobson may implicitly be dealing only with a certain America, that of the Northeast, as the impact of heavy Asian immigration is missing from this analysis, as is the African American racialization before urban migration began.

What is perhaps the most enlightening running theme of this book is introduced in the first part, which is that economic forces and capital had one hand in the racializations of immigrants, yet, there was another force just as powerful and determining a factor of how different kinds of whiteness was valued. What defines whiteness in the first place, is the naturalization law of 1970, where:

Deeply embedded racial assumptions of republican ideology, then, in combination with the practical “necessities of a slaveholding, settler democracy on a “savage” continent, led to an unquestioned acceptance of whiteness as a prerequisite for naturalized citizenship.  (30)

Due to this assumption of whiteness, Republicanism in this period “would favor or exclude certain peoples on the basis of their ‘fitness for self-government,’ as the phrase went, and some questionable peoples would win inclusion based upon an alchemic reaction attending Euro-American contact with peoples of color” (17). Because whiteness was the defining factor of citizenship, and America itself was a democracy that heavily relied on the education and participation of its members, republicanism was embedded within the racial ideology of the period. As Jacobson says:

the political history of whiteness and its vicissitudes between the 1840s and the 1920s represents a shift from one brand of bedrock racism to another—from the unquestioned hegemony of a unified race of white persons to a contest over political “fitness” among a now fragmented, hierarchically arranged series of distinct “white races. (43)

The illogics of racism become paramount in eras of racial riots and heavy European immigration, where “nativism” becomes redefined to fit certain white races and not others, to include those who might bring better stock into citizenship. As Jacobson says, “at issue now was simply which ‘white persons’ truly shared what an earlier generation had indiscriminately conceived of as…the ‘white man’s gifts’” (69). The naturalization law would continually redefine racial consciousness with court cases where racial minorities lay claim to whiteness, beginning with Ah Yup(1878, Chinese, “scientific evidence,”) culminating in Halladjian(1909, Armenians are white),Yamashita(1902) Ozawa(1922, Japanese not white)¸and Thind(1920, Indians are not white) in the 1910s and 1920s (75).

What helped define whiteness in law as Caucasian rather than a hierarchy, was first eugenics, where “the full authority of modern science [was brought] to bear on white identity [and] did so in a way that challenged the scheme of hierarchically ordered white races” and popular belief, led primarily by naturalist writers such as Frank Norris, Jack London, and Owen Wister (94). To Jacobson, “literary naturalism was defined by the very notions of race that drove the immigration debate,”  and naturalist writers “imbibed and popularized the racial truth of indivisible whiteness” (89). Finally, the third factor in culminating white races into a single category, “caucasion,” was the racial imagination of barbarian others that took hold of American consciousness from travel literature and the Spanish-American war. Jacobson explains:

Discourses of nationhood, savagery, and civilization throughout [the early twentieth century] also gathered European immigrants—however grudgingly—into the community of European conquerors. The manufacture and maintenance of “Caucasion” whiteness depended in part, as Humphrey Desmond had it in 1898, upon national encounters with “barbarian dominions” even more problematic than the immigrants themselves—from constant (and constantly narrated) contact with “black morsels” like the nations of the plains, Mexico, Hawaii, Samoa, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or the Philippines. (222)

At stake in Jacobson’s writing is the notion, handed down by Robert Parks, that racial consciousness is generated by “an awareness of otherwise unnotable physical markers,” and that color is the primary marker that distinguishes race. For Jacobson, the primary markers of difference are fluid, and are at times color, but are always directed towards particular groups when they are “socially or politically important for one reason or another” (105). The Celts, for instance, were grouped as “monkey-like” and often pictured with large jaws, and tilted noses—like a monkey. The marker of racial difference, in other words, depends not merely on the physiognomic differences between peoples, but on the need to recognize difference in political or social interests.