Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
2Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Sarah Gualtieri - Becoming "White": Race, Religion, and the Foundations of Syrian/Lebanese Ethnicity in the United States

Sarah Gualtieri - Becoming "White": Race, Religion, and the Foundations of Syrian/Lebanese Ethnicity in the United States

Ratings: (0)|Views: 262 |Likes:
Published by M. L. Landers

More info:

Published by: M. L. Landers on Mar 27, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

04/10/2014

pdf

text

original

 
Becoming"White":Race,Religionandthe Foundations ofSyrian/Lebanese
EthnicityintheUnitedStates
SARAHGUALTIERI
Noonewaswhitebeforehe/shecametoAmerica.Ittookgenerations,andavast amountofcoercion,beforethis becameawhitecountry.
?JamesBaldwin
"OnBeingWhite andOtherLies,"Essence,April(1984).ON14SEPTEMBER1915,GeorgeDow,aSyrian1immigrantlivingin South Carolinaappearedbeforeacircuitcourtjudgeand waitedtohearthefateof hispetitionfor naturalization.Twicealready,ithadbeendeniedinalowercourtbecausehewasdeemedracially ineligibleforcitizenship.Specifically,Dowhadbeen refused naturalizationonthegroundsthathe didnotmeetthe racialrequirementoftheUnited Stateslaw,whichlimitednaturalizationto"aliensbeingfree whitepersons,andtoaliensof Africannativityandtopersonsof Africandescent."2GeorgeDow couldnot,therefore,beacceptedinto the foldof Americancitizenry.TheSyrian community?whichbyconservativeestimatesnumberedaround150,000personsnationwide?wasoutraged bythe refusaltonaturalize Dow.3Hiswasnotthefirstcase toigniteacommunityresponse,butarounditSyrianimmigrantsmobilizedtoadegreethatwasunprecedented.Their effortswouldultimatelyproveeffective,forinthis,GeorgeDow'sfinalappeal,thejudgeruled thatSyrians"weretobeclassedaswhitepersons,"andwereeligiblefornaturalization.4Althoughitwasnotthe lasttimeaSyrianappearedbeforethecourtsattemptingtolitigatehis(thecasesinvolvedmenonly)racialstatus,theDowcaseestablishedaweightylegalprecedentinfavorofSyrianwhite
ness.
MuchoftheliteratureonSyrianandLebaneseimmigrantsintheUnitedStates celebratesthefinalrulinginGeorgeDow'scase.DeclaringtheSyrianstobe"whitepersons"(atthe CourtofAppealslevel)isinterpretedasarightingofahistoricwronginflicteduponahard-work
 
30Journalof American EthnicHistory/Summer 2001ingandhighlyassimilablecommunity,andavictoryoverdiscriminationandprejudice.5Insomeinstances,theSyrian struggleforrecognitionas"whitepersons"is describedas anearlyassertion of ethnicpride.6Theunderlyinglogicineach of theseinterpretations,though,isthat theSyrianswere"infact" white andsimplyneededtoberecognizedassuchbythecourts.Myanalysisstartsfrom theoppositepremise?thattheracialclassification ofSyriansas"white"wasbynomeansobvioustotheapplicantsforcitizenship,ortothe officials whoheardtheircases.Thisessay arguesthatSyrians,like otherimmigrantgroups,became whiteonlyaftertheyhadsuccessfullyclaimed whiteness,and whenlaw andcustomconfirmedit.7Thisdidnothappenwithoutconsiderabledebate.If,asthe literatureargues,therulinginDowv.United StatesrepresentedavictoryforSyrians,itwasbecauseithad beenpreceded bysomuchuncertaintyastotheir racial classification.Isuggestinthe conclusionthat,whileSyrianshadcausetocelebrate thelegal recognitionof theirwhiteness,therewere(andstillare)reasonstobeprofoundlyambivalentabouttheprocessbywhich theirclaimstowhitenessweremade.Tobegin,thisessayfocusesonthefollowing question: whydidSyrians,andnototherimmigrantgroupsappearinginthecourts atroughlythesametime,emergeonthe white side of the "color line"? Whatscientific,legalandreligiousrationales made theSyrianclaim of whitenesspossible?The first sectionanswersthisquestion throughananalysis ofthejudicialrulingsinSyriannaturalizationcasesheard between1909 and 1915.FollowingIan F.Haney L?pez,thecaseswillbereferredtoas"racialprerequisitecases" sincetheyrevolved around thequestionofwhetherornottheapplicantmetthe racialrequirementofthe naturalizationstatute.8Racial classificationwasnot,ofcourse,anaffair of thecourtsonly.Legaldecisionswereinfluentialinproducinganddisseminatingadiscourse onrace,buttheyalonecannotfully explainhow andwhy Syriansparticipatedinthis discourse andproduced knowledgeabout themselvesasracialbeings.The secondpartof thisessay,therefore,exploresthereaction ofSyrianstothenaturalizationissue,specificallytoitsracialdimensions.Simplyput,Syrianswantedtoberecognizedaswhite becauseitmade themeligibleforcitizenshipandtheprivilegesitafforded(suchastherightto voteand travelmorefreely);butbeingwhitewasnottheonlywaytogainnaturalization.Itwasalsopossible,since theamendmentofthenaturalizationstatute in1875,toarguefor naturalizationonthe basis ofAfricannativityordescent.Yet,notasingle appli
 
Gualtieri31cantinthe racialprerequisitecases?Syrianorotherwise?attemptedtomakethisargument.9One couldarguethatitwouldhave beeninherentlyillogicalforSyrianstoarguefor naturalizationonthebasisofAfricannativityordescentsinceSyriawasnotin Africa.However,asthisessayattemptstoshow,argumentsin favorofSyrianwhitenesswererootedmoreinideologythanlogic,for therewasnothingmorefanciful,ridiculousandillogicalthanthe idea thatwhiteness couldbelinkedtoasingleskull;that ofaGeorgianwomanfoundinthe
Caucasus.10
ThemainreasonSyrianschosetostake their claimtocitizenshiponthe basisofmembershipin the "white race"wasthat therewas something compelling,evenalluring,aboutwhiteness thatwentbeyondthestrategicandthepractical.HistorianDavidRoediger,drawingonW.E.B.DuBois,has calledthis the"wagesof whiteness"?thepsychologicalcompensationofbeing"notblack"inaracist,exploitativesociety.11Thistheoryhelps explainwhyworking-classimmigrantsclaimed whiteness,but there isalso thequestionofhowtheydidso.AsRoedigerandNoelIgnatiev'sworkontheIrishshows,immigrantsparticipatedinandtransformedinstitutionsandculturaltraditionsthatmarkedthemas"white" andblacksas"others."12"Toenterthe whiterace,"Ignatievremindsus,"wasastrategytosecureanadvantageinacompetitivesociety,"andwhitenesswas,ultimately,the"result of choicesmade."13Thisessayexaminesachapterinthehistoryof howSyrians"entered thewhiterace"inAmerica andit isespeciallyconcernedwith howtheyparticipatedasactors inthishistory.Forexample,Syrianswroteletters,publishedarticles,hiredlawyers,formed associations andraisedmoneyalltosupporttheclaimofwhiteness.Moreover,aswillbearguedbelow,theyinitiallymadesenseof Americanracialcategoriesbyusingtheirownunderstandingsof difference.Theydidnotsimply"buyinto"Americannotionsofrace,buttriedtoincorporatetheseideas intopreexistingpatternsofthinkingorinterpretive grids.TheSyriannaturalizationcasesarethereforeimportantforunderstandingthedevelopmentofSyrianethnicity throughtheuseofkeyinstitutionslikethepress,voluntaryassociationsandreligious organizations,buttheracialization ofSyriansbefore the law hadbroaderimplications.Membersofasmallimmigrantcommunity, Syriansweredisproportionatelyrepresented (justunderonethird)intheracialprerequisitecasesheardin UnitedStates federalcourtsbetween1909and1923.Moreimportantly,thefirstSyrianracialprerequisitecase wasalsothe firstcaseinwhichanapplicantforcitizenshipprevailed by

Activity (2)

You've already reviewed this. Edit your review.
1 thousand reads
1 hundred reads

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->