The Chicago Tribune reprinted an article in its "What other
newspapers are saying" section that may be of interest to this
list--it certainly begs some difficult questions. BTW, the cite for
the article is "Political correctness suffers a loss." Chicago
Tribune. 16 July 1994. sec. 2, p. 21. [reprinted from the Orange
County (Calif.) Register]
According to the article: "Raymond Tittman is an African-American
whose ancestors for many generations lived in Tanzania. He applied
to Georgetown University Law School in Washington, listing himself as
"African-American." After accepting him for this fall's semester,
Georgetown canceled his admission when it found out he was white.
Then it charged him with misleading the school.
"Defying the science of geography, Georgetown maintained that an
American whose ancestors hail from Africa could not call himself an
"African-American" just because he has light skin pigmentation. What
next, DNA testing to assure racial purity?"
Mr. Tittman apparently contacted the California-based Individual
Rights Foundation (IRF) who notified Georgetown that it faced a civil
lawsuit. According to the article, Georgetown "backed down."
Before being contacted by IRF, Georgetown, according to the article,
placed information concerning Mr. Tittman's alleged misleading
application on file with the Law School Admissions Council which
would be forwarded, I believe, to any other law schools requesting
information on Mr. Tittman.
If Mr. Tittman is not an African-American, what is he?
Georgetown has, if the article is accurate, linked race with
ethnicity (can't be African-American because he is "white"). Is this
possible? Must all African-Americans be "black"?
Is there a time element to aquisition of ethnicity? That is, must
one's family live in Italy, for example, for x-many generations in
order for descendents to come to America and claim Italian-American
Further, what happens when one divides and sub-divides these
categories? I have reviewed several law school applications (U.
Chicago, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard) and am finding that some
"ethnic" categories are actually racial categories and quite vague
(viz. "Caucasian"), some categories that seem "ethnic" but too vague
(e.g., "Asian-American"), and some categories that are essentially
'national-origin' (e.g., "Chicano/Mexican American"--Berkeley lists
six categories from Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino,
Korean, Polynesian) where Harvard lists one (Asian American)).
As is probably obvious from this post, I am a poli. sci. student and
not and ethnic studies student, so please forgive the questions. I
would appreciate any thoughts on the subject and, more importantly,
some cites for articles, books, etc. that attempt to work out the
problems of defining these terms.
John Streeter <gstreet@UXA.ECN.BGU.EDU>
See below. For purposes of affirmative action, African-American is a
legal definition. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that a person
born in Africa may not meet the legal requirements of being an
Walter Dean <email@example.com>
Chair, Academic Computing
Baltimore City Community College
Well, the case of the Tanzanian immigrant who applied for acceptance
under Affirmative Action as "African American" is funny, in a way,
but also silly and disingenuous. Those preferential categories were
set up to correct past injustices the person suffered, directly or
indirectly, as a member of a group living in America.
It is simply a matter of poorly specified language--the term used
to be Negro or Black American, and now the preference is African
American, but it refers to the same group. This student (of white
racial background) certainly should not qualify as an affected
group. Of course, the validity of such preferences is another matter,
and I have a feeling that those who sympathize with him are hostile
to the whold notion of race- or ethnic- (or perhaps gender-) based
preferences to compensate for past group-based discrimination.
I'm an art historian, and new to this area of study, so
please pardon me if the two comments below are excessively
I would add that we not only need to consider class as
a parameter in the inflection of the race/ethnicity interface,
but religion as well. For example, one part of my family's
non-white (Brazil) status seems to have been partly eased by
their protestantism. Thus they were able to participate in important
mainstream midwestern social practices (church related) very early.
I have been trying to sort this out, as my current research
partly concerns the changing status of eastern europeans and Jews
in the late 1930s-mid 1940s....
As to historical shifts in U.S. thinking about race/ethnicity,
I have a question: (1) how big an impact did the integration
of the armed forces in W.W.II have? From the (limited) research
I have done, it seems that right around this time southern europeans
became less "non-white." Or is it really the Civil Rights movement
that brought issues of skin color to the fore, overshadowing the
intra-european ethnicity issues?
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
(I hope everyone understands--in light of my last post, especially--that
I am not claiming that "race" is an "essential" category--but that dark
skin, and not "Africanness", is a structural disadvantage in the U.S.)
Kenny Mostern <kennym@UCLINK2.BERKELEY.EDU>
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group
Against: racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For: the truth--and the funk!
Actually this very issue was raised in my Black Psychology class last winter.
A white female student who was born and raised in African and whose family
recently moved to the U.S. asked the class if she was African-American since
she is now a naturalized citizen.
You can imagine that the class (especially the Black students) had a fit. My
question to the class was How should someone with that background be
classified? The class gave similar responses but I don't think anyone was
convinced to change their perspective.
Does anyone hear have any ideas on how someone like that would be designated.
I guess we could defer to race then she would be a White American...the same
with ancestry I guess. I do agree that on one hand it is important to keep the
racial classifications for affirmative action purpose, but the devils advocate
in me wants to expose the social construction of race and free my self from
being defined by someone outside of my self. To me that changes nothing about
identifying culturally as an African-American...to me being an African-American
is more than a color it is a cultural identity..
Now my students also said the same, being African-American is more than an
ethnic label, it is a way of being in the world that has been shaped by a
glorious heritage (whether you count Kemet or not) and a history of oppression.
That's my two cents....what do you think?
My sense of what I've read in this area is that "New Immigrants" and their
children (Poles, Italians and other Southeastern European immigrants) get
redefined as "white" during and (in a sense) *by* World War II. Gary
Gerstle has a fascinating article on this: "The Working Class Goes to
War," Mid-America: An Historical Review 75 (October 1993). He argues
that these groups came to feel accepted by the ("old stock") nation during
the war, but that this redefinition into the category of "American" was
simultaneously a redefinition into the category of "white." And since this
new "American" identity was hinged on being "not-black," Southeastern
Europeans and their children ended up accentuating their "whiteness" in
the 1940s by stressing their separation from African Americans; hence, to
an extent, the housing/race riots described by Arnold Hirschman (in
Chicago) and Thomas Sugrue (in Detroit). I would add that I think the
racial dimension extends beyond white ethnics being redefined in
opposition to African Americans; the pervasive anti-Asian (specifically
anti-Japanese) racism of the war years in the United States (as described
by John Dower in War Without Mercy) looks to me like another vehicle by
which Southeastern Europeans could be transformed into "white" (that is,
not-Asian). Anyway, that's my $0.02 worth.
Matt is presently working on his second book, entitled *Becoming
Caucasian: The Racialization and Re-racialization of European Immigrants,
1840-1950*. I believe it's under contract with Harvard.
At his request, I'm putting out a call for queries and correspondence
from all interested parties. He's pretty eager to establish contact with
other experts in the field.
Unfortunately, he can only be contacted through regular snail mail
(at least until the fall when he expects to get on-line) at the following
Professor Matthew Jacobson
Department of History
SUNY at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, N.Y. 11794-4383
History dept. telephone number: (516) 632-7500
Would the moderator of this list be kind enough to post this request on
H-Labor and other appropriate lists to ensure the widest possible
dissemination? Thanks for your help.
Department of History
SUNY Stony Brook
I have a number of South African Jewish friends who are naturalized
Americans, and we have discussed this issue of appropriate nomenclature. If
it is essential to keep a racial designation, it should be less euphemistic
than "African-American." What about "Ethnic African?"
Re: what to call "white" people from Africa.
The white South Africans I know refer to themselves as "South
Africans." People from Zimbabwe who are the descendents of European
settlers are considered Zimbabweans; in South Africa the ANC accepts
whites as citizens of South Africa although there are other political
organizations that believe the descendents of settlers are not legitimate
citizens. So politics is as always an element of constructing identity
In any case, most people, I believe, identify themselves by
nationality. "African" denotes a continent and is no more specific than a
German saying they are a "European," which most Germans would not. Here
in the United States we have a culture that has constructed racial
categories that have no scientific basis. "African American" represents an
effort by descendents of African slaves in the U.S. to denote a cultural
(even national) experience and collective identity not founded on "race"
even if that experience was forged through racist oppression. The trend of
European immigrants in the U.S. to consider themselves "white" is, I
agree, an effort to be "not black", a response to the racialization of
american society. According to Winthrop Jordan, "white" does not enter the
american (colonial) vocabulary until 1680, when slavery was beginning to
become prevalent.("White Over Black") The Irish in the 19th century
began to call themselves "white" to distinguish themselves from slaves,
as the work they often did was the same. (see David Roediger, "The Wages of
"Nation" is also an "imagined community" to use Anderson's phrase,
but nation or country has more precise demarcations in time and space,
that is, they are historically specific and can be used as more reliable
or legitimate categories. The historical specificity of nation-states is
quite evident in the problem posed recently in this discussion regarding
groups from eastern europe and the former soviet union, for whom
ethnicity or even nationality have not been consistent with state boundaries.