Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Totalizing Ethnic Stereotypes from How the Other Half Lives

My Progressive Era class tomorrow is reading Jacob Riis' classic 1901 expose of tenement housing, How the Other Half Lives. Figured I'd keep a tab of some of the more egregious totalizing ethnic statements.

1. "With all his conspicuous faults, the swarthy Italian immigrant has his redeeming traits. He is as honest as he is hot-headed."

2. "Like the Chinese, the Italian is a born gambler."

3. "The Jew runs to real estate as soon as he can save up enough for a deposit to clinch the bargain... But abuse and ridicule are not weapons to fight the Israelite with. He pockets them quietly with the rent and bides his time. He knows from experience, both sweet and bitter, that all things come to those who wait, including the houses and lands of their persecutors."

4. "The Irishman does not naturally take kindly to tenement life, though with characteristic versatility he adapts himself to its conditions at once."

5. "The Irishman's genius runs to public affairs rather than domestic life."

6. "The Chinaman does not rise at all; here, as at home, he simply remains stationary."

7. "Between the tabernacles of Jewry and the shrines of the Bend, Joss has cheekily planted his pagan worship of idols, chief among which are the celestial worshipper's own gain and lusts. Whatever may be said about the Chinman being a thousand years behind the age on his own shores, here he is distinctly abreast of it in his successfu scheming to 'make it pay.'"

8. "Ages of senseless idolatry, a mere grub-worship, have left him [the Chinese] without the essential qualities for appreciating the gentle teachings of a faith [Christianity] whose motive and unselfish spirit are alike beyond his grasp."

9. "It is not altogether by chance that the Chinaman has chosen the laundry as his distinctive field. He is by nature as clean as the cat, which he resembles in his traits of cruel cunning, and savage fury when aroused."

10. "Thrift is the watchword of Jewtown, as of its people the world over."

11. "The Czech is the Irishman of Central Europe, with all his genius and his strong passions."

12. "Cleanliness is the characteristic of the negro in his new surroundings, as it was his virtue in his old. In this respect he is immensely superior to the lowest of the whites, the Italians and the Polish Jews."

13. "The German has an advantage over his Celtic neighbor in his strong love for flowers."

I could go on.