Tag Archives: race/ethnicity

Cartooning the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act

During the 19th the United States received many new residents from China.  Sometimes they came voluntarily; sometimes they were imported forcibly.  The term “Shanghaied” originally described the forced stealing of Chinese men to come work in America.  Many of them worked on the transcontinental railroad, built between 1863 and 1869.  Ninety percent of the workers on the central Pacific track, for example, were Chinese.

After the railroad was completed, however, many Chinese went to work in industries in which they competed with white American workers, especially mining, and they became scapegoats for white unemployment.  For some examples of anti-Asian propaganda, see our collection of “yellow peril” posters and cartoons.

Animosity towards the Chinese culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The Act meant that Chinese in America, most of whom were adult men, had little hope of reuniting with their families if they stayed in the U.S.; it also allowed the U.S. to deny re-entry if a Chinese person already in the U.S. left the country; and it excluded the Chinese in America from getting U.S. citizenship.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is an ugly moment in U.S. history that was supported by many Americans.  But this support wasn’t universal.  The political cartoon below attacks the Act.  “No admittance to Chinamen,” it reads.  But “communist nihilist-socialist fenian & hoodlum [are] welcome.”  The punchline reads, sarcastically, “We must draw the line somewhere, you know.”

(Image from Time.)

The Fenian, by the way, were Irish political groups, suggesting that the embrace of one minority group did not necessarily translate into the embrace of others.   Or maybe the cartoon was meant to go the other way: “If we’re going to exclude the Chinese, let’s exclude others as well.”

UPDATE: Loki offered the following helpful correction to my description of the word “Shanghaid”:

A bit of disagreement: The verb to Shanghai someone was more often used with respect to the practice of crimps or other people to use force, intimidation or outright kidnapping to man merchant ships during the 18th century.

I’m not about to claim that there weren’t cases of people from Shanghai being forcibly relocated to the US to work on the railroad – but the term refers to one of the abuses of common sailors that was considered usual practice in the age of sail.

Wikipedia article here, for some background of the maritime history of the term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghaiing

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

White Privilege, “How Lucky They Are”

In 1989 Peggy McIntosh published an essay that is assigned in nearly every Sociology of Race and Ethnicity course in America.  Titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, the essay included a list of things that white people, but not others in a white-dominated society, can count on.  Here are a few:

I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

I thought of Peggy McIntosh when I saw this personal confession at PostSecret:

For more on white privilege, see our posts on Colin Powell being called a traitor, Sotomayor’s Supreme Court hearings, the privilege to shoplift, and “flesh” and “nude” colors.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?

Why do the Japanese draw themselves as white? You see that especially in manga and anime.

As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why?  Because to them white is the Default Human Being.

If I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being. For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc.

The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.

Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.

You see the same thing in America: After all, why do people think Marge Simpson is white? Look at her skin: it is yellow. Look at her hair: it is a blue Afro. But the Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white.

When you think about it there is nothing particularly white about how anime characters look:

  • huge round eyes – no one looks like that, not even white people (even though that style of drawing eyes does go back to Betty Boop).
  • yellow hair – but they also have blue hair and green hair and all the rest. Therefore hair colour is not about being true to life.
  • small noses – compared to the rest of the world whites have long noses that stick out.
  • white skin – but many Japanese have skin just as pale and white as most White Americans.

Besides, that is not how the Japanese draw white or even Chinese people. The otherness of foreigners is clearly marked by physical stereotypes – just as Americans do with people of colour. In anime White Americans are stereotyped as having yellow hair, blue eyes and a long or big nose:

Gone are the big round eyes and the strange hair colours. Because those things have nothing to do with whiteness.

Note that the Japanese drop the markings of otherness if the action is set in a foreign land, like China or America. In that case the characters are drawn in the regular anime style. Because for that story the Default Human Being is understood.

Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it.  But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.


Julian Abagond is a middle-class, West Indian, New Yorker; he is also a computer programmer who enjoys ancient Greek.  He writes whatever he wants at his blog.  In the borrowed post below, he explains that the question is really “Why do Americans think that the Japanese draw themselves as white?”  Enjoy.

All images are from Google images; Abagond retains no rights.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Recovery of the Lower 9th Ward

The Lower 9th Ward was one of the neighborhoods in New Orleans most seriously devastated by Hurricane Katrina. As a largely working class, black neighborhood, it was also one of the slowest to recover. State disinvestment, residents low on resources, and unscrupulous insurance companies made for a tough time finding the funds to re-build. The first photograph is of the Lower 9th five years after Katrina; the second, looking significantly worse, is of the region at the four year anniversary (source):

Dmitriy T.M. sent us a link to an interactive graphic at NPR that allows you to virtually travel along Flood and Forstall streets in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010 simultaneously.  You’ll see that many destroyed homes weren’t even demolished till years after the storm, and most new homes weren’t built until the last couple years.  Here is one screen shot:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Racial Violence in the Aftermath of Katrina

Trigger warning: racial violence and racist language.

A disturbing picture of racial slaughter emerges in the days following Katrina, at the hands of private residents and police officers. Racially-motivated murders were carried out in Algiers Point, a predominately white enclave nestled in mostly black Algiers, not far from Gretna. This part of the city is connected to the rest of New Orleans by bridge and ferry only, and it did not experience flooding. After the storm, a band of 15 to 30 white men formed a loose militia targeting anyone whom they deemed “didn’t belong” in their predominately white neighborhood (source). They blocked off streets with downed trees, stockpiled weapons, and ran patrols.

At least eleven black men were shot, although some locals expect that the actual number is much higher. On July 16, 2010, Roland Bourgeois was charged with shooting three black men in Algiers in the days following Katrina (source). He allegedly came back to the militia home base with a bloody baseball cap from Ronald Herrington, a man he shot, and told a witness that “Anything coming up this street darker than a paper bag is getting shot.”

To date, this is the only arrest of militia members, but the FBI is investigating the situation and will likely make more arrests given that two Danish filmmakers interviewed multiple residents who admitted shooting black people. In “Welcome to New Orleans,” militia member Wayne Janak smiles at the camera: “It was great! It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it.” A woman nearby adds “He understands the N-word now… In this neighborhood, we take care of our own.” Many of the victims reported that militia members called them racial epithets during attacks, and a family member of militia members reports that her uncle and cousins considered it a “free-for-all—white against black,” and her cousin was happy they were “shooting niggers.”

Malik Rahim, a long-time Algiers resident and activist who co-founded Common Ground Relief after the storm, took me on a tour of bodies in his neighborhood a week or so after the storm. I only made it through one viewing – a bloated body of a man under a piece of cardboard with a gunshot wound to his back. I assumed that this death was being investigated, but should have known otherwise given that the state had essentially sanctioned these actions with a “shoot to kill” order that allowed civilians to make their own assessments of who should live or die.

One of Many New Orleans Vigilante T-Shirts Slogans:

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s blog.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

Not Thinking About Race: Accidentally Illustrating Evil with Skin Color

Last week NPR reported on a scale developed by a forensic psychologist, Michael Stone, on which murderers could be placed according to how evil they are (from slightly evil to really, really really evil).  To illustrate the scale, NPR developed this graphic:

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the artists designing this graphic did not purposefully associate darker skin-like colors with more evil and lighter skin-like colors with less evil.  I think this is a fair assumption, though I don’t know for sure that this is true.  But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they didn’t do this on purpose, then race never consciously entered their minds.  Once you notice that the colors are skin-like colors, and if you are a member of a society that discriminates against darker-skinned people, you immediately see that this graphic reproduces those stereotypes… AND YOU CHANGE THE COLORS.   Any color, going from light to dark, will illustrate intensity.  How about red?  In Western societies, red is associated with anger.   If you insist on using black because black signifies evil in our culture, how about using a true black (that is very rarely if ever seen on people) and a gray scale?  How about any color other than brown?

I think this is likely a case in which the producers of the image did not think.  And not thinking is one of the most insidious ways that racism and other bigotries get reproduced.  People who don’t think about race are the most likely to endorse racial stereotypes.  When people who think about race are distracted — with another task, or loud music, or some other intervening stimulus — they are more likely to think stereotypically than when they are not distracted.  We can’t be colorblind.  Our unconscious is steeped in racial meanings.  Consciously fighting those associations is the only way to be less racist.

Not thinking about race is a cousin to thinking racist thoughts.  Only thinking hard about race helps alleviate racism.  And this graphic is an excellent example of why.

UPDATE: Some readers say that the colors, on their computer, look yellow, orange, and red; others see the skin colors that I see. So there may be significant variation in how these colors appear on different monitors… which is a whole other interesting problem for people who produce web content!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Guest Post: The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Human

The following are all of the immediately visible images representing modern humans (as distinct from either earlier human species or animals) from the 10 separate stories NPR published this July and August as part of the series titled How Evolution Gave Us The Human Edge.


In case you missed the obvious, this is just one recent example of a long history of discourse relating whiteness and humanity which has its roots in racial science and ethical justifications of colonialism, slavery, and genocide (google it or something). I would argue that it matters in these contexts more than just the general vast overrepresentation of whites in the media and as allegedly race-neutral “humans” because the context here is one explicitly about defining what is human, what separates humans from animals, and about evolution as a civilizing process.

By presenting whites as the quintessential humans who possess the bodies and behaviors taken to be deeply meaningful human traits, whites justified, and continue to justify white supremacy. This is what white privilege looks like (pun fully intended): being constantly told by experts that you and people like you represent the height of evolution and everything that it means to be that incredible piece of work that is man. (irony fully intended).

The last four images are from What Does It Mean To Be Human?, a slightly more diverse online exhibit from the Smithsonian linked from NPR. The main sidebar pictures, the iconic Michelangelo Creation of Adam pose, and the majority of the images are still of whites.


Benjamin Eleanor Adam is a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he studies the American history of gender and sexuality. Benjamin also teaches courses in Women’s and Gender Studies at Hunter College which focus on intersectional approaches to thinking about race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality. Benjamin casually blogs about these issues at Thinking Makes it So.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Race, Femininity, & Benign Nature in a Vintage Tobacco Ad

In Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers, Joane Nagel looks at how race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are often used to create new national identities and frame colonial expansion. In particular, White female sexuality, presented as modest and appropriate, was often contrasted with the sexuality of colonized women, who were often depicted as promiscuous or immodest. qout sent in an 1860s advertisement for Peter Lorillard Snuff & Tobacco that illustrates these differences.

According to An Empire of Plants: People and Plants that Changed the World, the ad drew on a purported Huron legend of a beautiful white spirit bringing them tobacco. There are a few interesting things going on here. We have the association of femininity with a benign nature; the women are surrounded by various animals (I can’t tell what they all are, but I think there’s a fox and a rabbit) who appear to pose no threat to the women or to one another. The background is lush and productive.

Racialized hierarchies are embedded in the personification of the “white spirit” as a White woman, descending from above to provide a precious gift to Native Americans, similar to imagery drawing on the idea of the “white man’s burden.” And as often occurred (particularly as we entered the Victorian Era), there is a willingness to put non-White women’s bodies more obviously on display than the bodies of White women. The White woman above is actually less clothed than the American Indian woman, yet her arm and the white cloth are strategically placed to hide her breasts and crotch (I can’t tell if we can just barely see her left nipple or if that’s shading). On the other hand, the Native American woman’s breasts are fully displayed. (This pattern continues; for instance, in Reading National Geographic, Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins discuss the way non-White women’s breasts are frequently displayed in the magazine while only recently have a few exceptions occurred where topless light-skinned women were included, all shot from behind rather than the front.)

So the ad provides a nice illustration of the intersection of race/ethnicity, gender (particularly ideas of feminine gentleness and innocence), sexuality, and marketing.