America's History of Racism In Politics Provides Unlikely Hope

America's History of Racism In Politics Provides Unlikely Hope
Library of Congress

With hate crimes on the rise and a President elect who's openly endorsed by White Supremacists, it seems America is at an all time low.

Though we're definitely having a difficult moment in history, these jingoistic moods are not new to the US. Since white people came in and claimed the land, there were groups that always hated any newcomers.

First it was the German and Irish that were ruining the country and "taking our jobs," then the Chinese, then black, Latino, Muslim and on and on. Though America is based on the idea of being a haven for people seeking a better life, we've never really welcomed any immigrant group with open arms.

So, are we just a hopeless, racist mess of a country? Definitely not. For every cry to keep out foreigners, there were people going out of their way to embrace the new cultures of our country. And though the racist claims were loud and hateful, in the end, they never win.

Taking a look at how some of the horrendous racist moments of our political history can bring a weird form of hope. Look at this screed against the Irish from Harper's Weekly from 1867:

"Irishmen…have so behaved themselves that nearly seventy-five per cent of our criminals and paupers are Irish; that fully seventy-five per cent of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen; that the system of universal suffrage in large cities has fallen into discredit through the incapacity of the Irish for self-government.”

Sounds a lot like Trump blaming Mexico for bringing in only "criminals" and "rapists." Or how he's mentioned that African-Americans are living in desperate inner cities that are so terrible that they have nothing left to lose.

The good news is that people overall didn't end up rallying to push out the Irish. The Irish thrived and became an integral part of American culture. The overall population did not take the racist bait of blaming everything on the immigrants.

Though many Chinese workers were allowed to enter our country to build our railroads, people were appalled by the idea that they could be considered Americans. An editorial from Montana in 1870 said  “The Chinaman is no more a citizen than a coyote is a citizen, and never can be.”

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed to greatly limit immigration from China. Americans were so afraid that the Chinese would somehow overtake and alter our precious way of life.

Sadly, the Exclusion Act wasn't overturned until 1943, but since then Chinese immigration has boomed. Though it took awhile, the majority of Americans wouldn't allow bald faced exclusion to stand.

Now, we're not saying that Asians don't still suffer from racism or that our country is nothing like the xenophobic land it used to be. Obviously, there's still a strong contingent of people who want the easy scapegoat of immigrants to blame for all their troubles.

But history shows that keeping a group out never works. In the end, we are progressive and take a path of acceptance. 

We can learn from these dark times in history to not repeat our mistakes. Instead of taking more than 50 years to overturn exclusionary acts, we need to act immediately. We can remind the population that far from everyone agrees that building a wall or starting a Muslim registry will solve any of our problems.

Though we aren't proud of the horribly racist actions of the past, seeing that they never triumph can give us hope for the future.


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