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Between Black and White: What Life Was Like for Other Races During the Racial Segregation

The racial segregation that took place in America from 1896 to the 1950s is an example of one of the many horrendous things that should never be repeated. It reeks of the repugnant discrimination that African-Americans experienced on a daily basis and how inferiorly-treated they were by Caucasian people (slavery, lynching, etc).

Public facilities were made and separated only for white people and black people, and it is no doubt that white people were at the top of the social hierarchy and black people were at the bottom–but what were the other races doing at the same time era, the era of racial discrimination and the peak of racism?

Most people would say that there were barely any other races during the racial segregation in America as most history textbooks never talk about them; nevertheless, they did exist in huge numbers and were fully functioning and living American citizens.

According to the racial census done in the 1940s, there was a total amount of 18 million non-whites living in America. Although 12 million of them were black, the other 6 million were other races among the 132 million people in America during that time.

The American 1940s census showing the population number according to race. Source: United States Census Bureau

Mixed (Black and White):

Although it was illegal, interracial marriages did exist during the segregation which resulted to mixed children. The children were naturally neither 100% white nor 100% black as they are a mix of both; hence,

“…there was no place for them in the Black and White America.”

They were treated just the same as pure blacks even though it was evident that they were not just black. Any person who has even just the littlest fraction of black ancestry was considered black and required by law to only use black facilities. There was even a whole rule about it–the “one-drop rule” where it states that any person who has even a drop of black blood would be considered black according to law.

Homer Plessy was ⅛ black and ⅞ white and had an appearance of a white man. He boarded a vacant “white-only” car in a passenger railway and he was immediately detained for occupying a car that was apparently not designated for him, as he was “just not white enough” to legally occupy a “white-only” car.

Mixed peoples who lived at the time of the segregation struggled with identity issues as their black and white beings were not accommodated in a black only and white only America. They also dealt with the same discrimination that all-black people did and received the same racial slurs and distasteful experience in school, and at work.

Asians:

Records show that Asians were treated variously throughout the states when the Jim Crow laws were in effect. Some states considered them to be “white” and brought them into the white society of privilege and a higher spot in the hierarchy, while some were labeled as “colored” or “black” and were segregated and pushed back to the bottom of the social status ladder.

Being an Asian immigrant–or even an Asian-American–in the segregated South was not different from being African-American in the Southern states.

A hefty amount of Chinese people immigrated to America right after the American Civil War–most of them headed towards the South. The Mississippi Chinese were a group of Chinese people who had migrated to Mississippi during 1865 to 1877, and that time period and region was considered to be societally dominated by Mississippians of British and African descent.

The Mississippi Chinese immigrated to America for financial purposes, hoping to help fund their families back in China with the money they earn overseas. They were seen as “peasants” and from poor artisan families by Native White Americans; hence, also being labeled as “colored” and received discrimination from them, although less than what African-Americans get.

They were also just as segregated as black people. Although not centralized in Mississippi, the Chinese communities in San Francisco and some other states had separate schools, theaters, etc–this also meant that they were involved in the ‘separate but equal’ idealism, having fewer quality facilities and fewer accommodations than white people.

Although not coming from white people, Filipinos endured discrimination and hatred in the 1930s for supposedly ‘taking jobs away’ from other minorities. There was a huge need for agricultural workers at that time after the exclusion of Chinese and Japanese people, and Filipinos were called in to fill the empty spots.

They were brought in as ‘strikebreakers,’ or people who work in place of others who are on strike, and these Filipino workers encountered heated tensions with Mexicans and other minorities who were protesting against their employers as they felt that they were taking away the work. Preserved documents show that Filipinos received hateful letters coming from the people they subbed in for and even had their camps destroyed.

Filipino agricultural laborers at work.
Source: Wood (James Earl) Photograph Collection Relating to Filipinos in California, ca. 1929-1934

Filipinos were also seen as a threat to white people as they felt that Filipino men were taking their local European women; hence, they were strongly against Filipinos marrying white women giving Filipino men no dispensation regarding the Anti-Interracial Marriages Law.

Much similar to Filipinos, it was mostly men from India who immigrated to America for agricultural labor. Although records show they lived a decently peaceful life, the Congress barred immigration from India in 1917. It is unknown when the immigration ban was lifted, but it was evident that because of it, there was a great gender imbalance. Consequently, Indian men married local Mexican women–a bizarre dispensation from the Anti-Interracial Marriage Law.

Interestingly enough, black men would try to pass off as anything but black to avoid being lynched. They witnessed how untouched the Indians were, especially Sikhs, and decided to sport one as well to get around racial discrimination. Turbans helped black people go incognito during the Jim Crow Era, and it worked out well for them as they were often not questioned once seen wearing the traditional accouterment.

A turban isn’t limited to just Indians–it is also commonly worn by Middle Easterners, East Asians, and North Africans in different variations–but it was classified as the “racial marker” for Indians and thus, anyone who wore a turban during the racial segregation was Indian.

A newspaper article telling the story of how a black pastor was given ‘white service’ simply because he wore a turban.
Source: ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database

 

A black pastor wearing a turban to avoid black discrimination
Source: ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database

 

Mexicans, Latinos, and Hispanics:

The 1940 American census above doesn’t show a category for Mexicans, Latinos, and Hispanics and that only indicates how inferiorly treated they were. Although not as much as African-Americans, these groups experienced extreme discrimination and lynchings, and were also subjected to more inferior segregated facilities.

A local American restaurant (possibly a white-only restaurant) banning the entrance of dogs, Negroes, and Mexicans. Source: Library of Congress

Mexicans immigrated to America after Mexico and the United States had formed the bracero–a labor program in which Mexicans were encouraged to move to the U.S. as contract workers. The braceros were desperate for jobs and kept them despite being paid very low wages, and often worked under inhumane conditions that other ethnicities, especially whites, would be unwilling to accept. Mexicans were treated so poorly in the United States that at one point, the Mexican government refused to send any more workers to the country.

Much like other non-white and non-black ethnicities, Mexican communities were also given separate schools for their children. These schools were much more inferior and alienated than other races’ schools (example: Chinese Schools); so much so that they filed many cases to the Supreme Court, claiming that their rights were being challenged.

Discrimination amongst Hispanics and Latinos, revoltingly enough, were based on how light or dark their complexions were. Lighter skin Latinos and Hispanics, since they could pass as white, experienced no discrimination at all unless they tell them what their last names were. Even if they did, they would change their last names to “white” last names. For example, one woman would change her last name “Purcell” to “Purcella” or from “Juan” to “John.”

American Baseball teams set a conspicuous example of this malpractice. Sports teams during the Jim Crow Era were, unsurprisingly, also segregated to White Leagues and Negro Leagues. There were no separate leagues for Latinos and other ethnicities, therefore, they were ‘smuggled’ into the two existing leagues depending on their complexion. Light-skinned Cuban baseball player Adolfo Luque played for the Cincinnati Reds for example, while dark-skinned Cuban baseball player Martin Dihigo played for the Negro Leagues.

The Jim Crow Era in America was, undoubtedly, the worst times for blacks as they were treated inhumanely and were killed simply because they were of darker complexion. It is appreciated that history textbooks were formatted to highlight both their sufferings and excellence in that time era of peak racism, but most often they forget to talk about other ethnicities and how they were treated–whether they were just as alienated as black people or not.

Their stories are unsung and they need to be told in order for this generation, and generations to follow, to understand the conditions of International Relations between America and other countries.

It seems as if their stories are forgotten and are completely omitted from America’s history by the way they were documented. Lest we forget the way other minorities were treated in history to learn why we shouldn’t do it in the present and to avoid it in the future.

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Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize is a Canadian high school sophomore who hails from the Philippines and takes interest in both Canadian and Philippine politics, as well as American Civics.

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize is a Canadian high school sophomore who hails from the Philippines and takes interest in both Canadian and Philippine politics, as well as American Civics.

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