Race—yes, it matters

And immigration too. If we think about it, we, as individuals, families, communities, and a nation are conflicted about both race and immigration, and always have been. This came to mind this week with news that White House advisor Stephen Miller was exposed as having advocated blatantly white nationalist literature. This is the same Miller who designed many of the president’s border and overall immigration policies: the anti-Muslim travel bans, border policies on separating children and families, etc.

I say we are conflicted about immigration and race because most of us in this country trace ourselves—proudly—to immigrant forbearers. My family arrived from Germany and Norway in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I lived in California, many of my Mexican classmates and neighbors lived in ancestral places and houses, when they were part of Mexico! Anyone who can trace ancestry to African-American slaves has, along with the Mexican-Americans sited above—and many more in Arizona and New Mexico—been “American” in Read The Article

What DNA says

Viking Travels

A few years ago my sister had a DNA profile done. To her surprise, the family stories, passed down from Minnesota Germans and Norwegians, that said our mother’s people were pure Scandinavian and dad’s side was all German, turned out to be more complicated.

Our maternal grandfather came to Minnesota from Hadland, Norway, in the early 1900s, when he was in his teens. He married another Norwegian, whose family had arrived in Minnesota in the 1880s, and they made a family. They spoke Norwegian at home—until mom, their first child, went to school and was made fun of by other kids. Although grandpa spoke with a severe accent, the slap at his daughter rankled him, and he had enough English to declare himself American and English as the language spoken in the house from that day forward.

Dad’s side is a little murkier, but Wandschneiders and Steindorfs came to the States in the great migration out of Germany Read The Article

Manifest Destiny and white identity

American Progress, by John Gast 1872

Manifest Destiny was an idea long before it had a name, and what it was really about was not the “white man’s burden,” but an Anglo-American one, the idea that the arrow of civilization and mantle of world leadership had passed from the British Empire to the emerging Anglo-American Empire. The accession of Mexican lands and the Philippines, adventures in Central America, and most importantly for our own national history, the Westward Expansion that displaced Indians and seized tribal lands across the continent, were all part of a grand idea that Anglo-American civilization was destined to lead the entire world.

From the founding of the United States forward, Anglo-Americans were in political control: immigrants from other European places grouped themselves in Eastern city neighborhoods and on Midwestern farms—Greeks, Irish, Scandinavians, Bohemians, Slavs and Jews from Central Europe and more. German immigrants—the largest share of all immigrants between 1850 and 1900—built factories and Midwestern cities. Read The Article

Some thoughts on the new racism

I believe that Manifest Destiny was the nineteenth century idea that the United States of American—led by Anglo-Americans—was picking up the mantel of world leadership and the white man’s burden from the British Empire and would become greater than its predecessor.  I think it was an idea that began decades before its formal declaration, and continues in some diminished way to the present.

I think that Manifest Destiny was not about white Greeks and Bohunks, Irishmen, and Swedes. I think that “white” didn’t become a standard classification to include all Americans of European ancestry until after WW 2, when Bohemians and Swedes, Greeks, Italians, and Irishmen all served together.  Until then—even through the Dutch-American Roosevelts, Anglo-Americans were the ideal, and the story of Manifest Destiny their story of crusading against and bringing Civilization to a vast wilderness. (Which of course leads to totally ambivalent attitudes towards American Indians—but that is another story.)

If you look at one factor only, the Read The Article

Indentured servants and other old world influences on the new

1738 Indenture contract signed with an X


I was looking for information on Scottish indentured workers in America—remembering something from Charles Mann’s book, 1491, about indentured Scotsmen dying of malaria on southern plantations  so quickly that owners turned to African slaves. Googling around, I realized that my memories had simplified the story, but, as always, I bumped into other facts and ideas that, meshed with current interests and reading and rereading Josephy, have me relearning U.S. history.
I didn’t remember learning much about indentured workers at all on my first, school-time run through American history. Certainly not that as many as 80 percent of white immigrants to North America—those from the British Isles and the Continent—from the early 1600s to the Revolution, were indentured. Feeding and keeping the laborers shipboard cost more than a year’s plowman’s wages in England, some workers did not survive the long voyage, and there was
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What might have been

I was thinking about this blog post on my morning bike ride, and out of nowhere came a remark made by an old professor of mine about 50 years ago—“the United States has never been a melting pot, unless you think of it as all melting towards Anglo-American.” They are certainly not the exact words, but the sentiment is right, and it comes across strong as I read and reread AJ’s work.
For the past few weeks I have been concentrating on The Civil War in the American West in preparation for a talk at the Pacific Northwest History Conference in Tacoma last week. (Thanks, by the way, to good friends who came down from Seattle and over from Roslyn to fill chairs!) 
Again and again the idea that the westering thrust of US history is inevitable, and that Indians have had few choices in dealing with it comes through
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