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It is no secret that our country, the United States of America, was founded on the

premise, as it states in our Constitution, that “all men are created equal.” We cite the

“unalienable rights of all mankind”, and for the past 230 years, have written the laws and

treaties governing our nation, along with the millions of textbooks used to teach the youth

of our county on these beliefs…or have we?

In the first chapter of “A Different Mirror” by Ronald Takaki, (1993) we begin to

learn of the many stereotypes and biases of the white, Eurocentric American attitudes that

have ruled our nation for centuries. Beginning with the story of the Asian taxi driver, it is

apparent that it is the practice of the white American to not only judge those different

from us at face value, but to attach, along with our superficial judgments, many

assumptions regarding their ethnic origin, level of intelligence and ability, societal class,

and general “worthiness” to inhabit our soil and breathe our air!

If we begin to explore the history of the founding of our nation as an independent

country from England, we must also begin to examine the flavor of righteousness we

have attached to not only our accounting of said history, but also the means by which we

have acquired the great wealth and status that we have, as well as the reality of those still

suffering in deprivation within the boundaries of our modern land.

Beginning with the early colonists and their treatment of Indigenous Americans,

we see a pattern emerge of the misappropriation and acquisition of land, goods and life!

According to Takaki (1993), the early European settlers judged the Indigenous people as

“lacking everything the English identified as civilized—Christianity, cities,


letters, clothing and swords. They do not bear arms or know them, for I
showed them swords and they took them by the blade and cut
themselves through ignorance.” (p. 31)
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It never occurred to the early American settlers that the Indigenous citizens simply

were not familiar with these types of weapons because they were a peace loving culture,

and did not use violence as a means of settling differences, acquiring that which they

desired, or winning battles. They created many sophisticated types of tools out of

“buffalo horns, stone, wood and antlers” (Prindle, 1994, p.22). They designed many

efficient tools and weapons for hunting and gathering food, building their somewhat

unsophisticated homes and shelters. Early European settlers used Shakespearean theater

and characters known as Caliban, which were “cruel, barbarous and treacherous

savages,” Takaki (1993, p. 31), to depict their opinion of the Indigenous Americans.

In Social Studies curriculum programs in the United States, students are taught

about fair trade, and our literature supports that fair trade was always used by the colonial

settlers to acquire the states from the Native Americans (Mifflin). That coincides with

what, on paper, was promised to the Native Americans by President Jefferson, who,

promised,

“ We take from no nation what belongs to it. Your lands are your own.
Your right to them shall never be violated by us; they are yours to keep
or to sell as you please.” Takaki (1993, p. 48),

This, according to the land treaty made between the early members of government

and the Native Americans, guaranteed them that their land was sacred and could not be

overtaken by the new settlers. What our history books have omitted, however, are the

“conditions” surrounding such treaties and agreements. I do not ever recall reading about

the savagery and unjust means of attack at such battles as Wounded Knee in history

books growing up. As Takaki (1993) points out, “along with seemingly honorable and

generous promises on the part of Jefferson and his government”, (p. 48) came
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deliberately mandated conditions that these officials knowingly put into place that would

make it impossible for the Native Americans to keep their land.

For example, in Jefferson’s “Confidential Message to Congress” in 1803, he

encouraged Congress to increase the trading houses and push the selling of merchandise

to the Native Americans so that they would acquire more debt than they could possibly

repay, which would then allow the government to claim their land as payment. In small

print, also, were the conditions stating that if the Native Americans decided to rebel and

“take up a hatchet” against the United States, that individual’s entire tribe would be taken

for execution, or removal from the country!

It is not hard to imagine why these details have not been included in grade school

history accounts of our country for decades. In our schools, we present an image of our

nation as one of solidarity, one that ‘reaches out’ to its neighbor to offer help, safe haven,

and equity of opportunity, education and property ownership. We would not be able to

uphold this attitude toward the United States in our students if they read and learned

about some of the underhanded ways in which we acquired this great land that we now

call our own.

Even today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 1.5% of the

population of the United States is made up of Native American and Alaskan natives.

Those that are here have been pushed to the western-most part of the nation, and many

still live in segregated communities.

Moving away from the history of the Native Americans, we begin to explore the

early African Americans and their experiences on U.S. soil. According to Takaki, (1993)

the Shakespearean Caliban characters “could have just as easily represented the African
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Americans”, (p. 51) once they began to travel to the United States seeking safety and

freedom. Like the Native Americans that the early settlers had encountered before them,

the African people had an unfamiliar color to their skin, and were thought to be

unintelligent and “savage” by the European Americans. “The character Caliban, in The

Tempest, which was the popular theatrical performance for decades, was dark, and was

the child of a demon and a witch! Darkness (be it of skin or other) brought with it the bias

of “foul, malignant, or sinister” (Takaki 1993, p. 52). The English found a great

similarity in the Caliban and what they perceived the African people to be. They were

believed to be barbaric and uncivilized, and only capable of manual labor. The early

Americans decided that they should be owned as property and used as slaves on the farms

and plantations, if they wanted to remain in the United States. Their vile mistreatment,

interestingly, is, for the most part, fairly accurately depicted in much of the Social Studies

curriculum in schools across the United States.

Growing up in the northeastern United States, I recall my grandmother, who was

born in 1899 to wealthy European American parents in Racine, Wisconsin, telling me to

“never look ‘em in the eye” when referring to African Americans. She tried to instill a

fear in us as children that anyone of African American descent was dangerous and violent

and that if we merely looked them in the eye passing them on the street we might be

beaten or killed! It wasn’t long into my childhood and early adolescence that I found her

dispositions to be ludicrous, although there were very few, if any, African American

students in the schools I attended in southern New Jersey in the 1970’s. There were none

living in our neighborhood, and none attended the Catholic church that my family

belonged to for fifteen or twenty years. I recall that there were communities of African
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Americans, but that many of my parents’ associates considered those to be the “bad

neighborhoods” and “projects.” Since I grew up in a small rural town, there weren’t any

such neighborhoods that I can recall, but when you traveled into the surrounding cities,

there were.

There were very vast details regarding the treatment of slaves, however, that were

not included in the history books that I read growing up, and are still not included in them

today. For example, in a Virginia court case that addressed the occasional happenstance

of white American land owners and/or their children or white servants running away with

African American slaves, the courts stated, “Whereas six English servants and Jno, a

Negro servant hath run away and absented themselves from their masters Two Months, it

is ordered that the sherriffe take care that all of them be whipped and each of them have

thirty-nine lashes well layed on them.” (Takaki 1993, p. 55)

In 1630, in Virginia Vs. Davis, the courts decided that Hugh Davis, was to be

“whipped before an assembly of “Negroes” and others for abusing himself to the

dishonor of God and the shame of Christianity by defiling his body by lying with a

Negro.” (Takaki 1993, p. 55)

Slavery and segregation plagued the United States well into the twentieth century,

and the attitudes of white supremacy and superiority are still actively part of our

Eurocentric culture. Even though we now have federal laws that forbid businesses to

discriminate against prospective employees, promotions, performance awards, etc. based

on race, according to the NAACP, there have been recent studies that prove that

discrimination against African Americans is still alive and well in many industries,

particularly the advertising industry.


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What is probably most appalling is the realization that the brutal and savage

treatment of African slaves was not only legal and acceptable according to the U.S. courts

and Constitution for so long, but that it far surpassed what we now consider felonious

animal cruelty. We send citizens to prison for beating their dogs less severely than the

way these citizens were treated for generations.

Coming to America was the promise for freedom and prosperity to people in

many less privileged countries, one of which was Ireland. Many Irish made the voyage

to America between 1815 and 1920, and landed on U.S. soil, many during the reign of

Andrew Jackson’s presidency. They came to escape the rule of England’s government.

Just as the Native Americans and Africans had been bitterly oppressed in the United

States, the Irish were oppressed by England, under the rule of King Henry II, who,

invaded and took over all but 14% of Ireland by 1700.

In coming to the United States, the Irish were forced by the colonists to abandon

their Protestant faith and become Catholics. They lived in small peasant communities on

U. S. soil, working as subsistence farmers. When the U.S. colonists decided to begin

cattle farming, they gradually began reclaiming their land and pushing the Irish farmers

off of their farms. Since the Irish workers were only skilled in plant farming, they were

no longer useful on cattle farms and were reduced to severe poverty.

Although the Irish were not discriminated against due to skin color and the

presumption of savagery, as were the Native and African Americans, they were

considered less intelligent and slovenly because of their status in England before coming

to the United States. The United States government took advantage of their sense of

desperation for freedom from the rule of England. Between 1815 and 1845, one million
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Irish migrated to America. Former potato farmers, they had lived on small plots of land,

in tiny one room homes. Many of them had to return to Ireland and work construction

jobs seasonally, to earn enough rent to come back to the United States and carry their

families through the next season. In 1845, a potato fungus destroyed the crops, causing

one million Irish to die of hunger and illness by 1855. This period became known as The

Great Famine. The inability to grow potato crops and earn their rent caused the Irish

families to be evicted by the land owners, leaving them homeless. In their desperation,

any means of survival and earning a living was a relief to the Irish immigrant. In the

United States, they were viewed, much as the African Americans, as laborers, only fit to

serve and work. They became road construction and railway workers, along Connecticut,

Rhode Island and New York. They were ordered around and mistreated by their

employers, and treated like animals. Charles Dickens, (as cited in Takaki, 1993),

referred to them and their homes as “hideously ugly women and very buxom young ones,

pigs, dogs, men, children, babies, pots, kettles, dung hills, vile refuse, rank straw and

standing water, all wallowing together in an inseparable heap, composed the furniture of

every dark and dirty hut.” (p. 147)

Their bathing and housekeeping habits were not of the same standards as what

colonial Americans considered to be “civilized,” which added to the bias against them as

dirty and uncivilized people. At one point in 1870, the exploited Irish laborers formed a

union and initiated a strike against their employers, demanding better treatment and

increased wages. Instead, the labor laws at that time allowed their employers to force

them back to work with a 10% reduction in pay!


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This is another example of historical data that has been conveniently omitted from

the textbook publications in our school curricula. We have avoided educating our

children (and ourselves) about the creation and enforcement of laws that benefited the

Anglo centric and Eurocentric people, and boldly exploited and abused the populations

and change the rights and lack of rights of people at will. Congress was so exclusively

Anglo-European during these years, there was no one to protest the white supremacy and

privilege being put into practice century after century.

Around the 1840’s, the United States of America began to expand westward, to

California, which we seeked to take from Mexico. Once we took over, it became the

place for Mexican immigrants, who, by virtue of their skin color and descent, were

considered only capable of being used as laborers. In fact, the stratified “class” system in

California at that time held the fairest skinned people at the highest levels, and classes

degraded down by increased darkness of skin, from there, with the Native Americans still

at the bottom of the lot. The Mexicans worked as personal house servants, ranch hands,

and farm laborers, and fought in the war against Mexico, during which we overtook

Texas during the Mexican American War. We overtook Texas, much the same as we did

land from the Native Americans, by virtue of violent military surges and taking of

prisoners. As Ulysses S. Grant himself described, it was through unnecessary violence

that we acquired that part of the western U. S. “About all of the Texans seem to think it

perfectly right to impose on the people of a conquered city to any extent, and even to

murder them where the act can be covered by dark. And how much they seem to enjoy

acts of violence too!” And George Meade added, “They have killed five or six
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innocent people walking in the street for no other object than their own amusement. They

rob and steal the cattle and corn of the poor farmers.” (Takaki 1993, p. 175)

Herein is yet more evidence that the very treaties and laws we established in our

Constitution with regard to murder and theft, were only written for those whom our

government decided they pertained to. Our armies, troops, and those under governmental

direction were not held to the same laws if it came to conquering those weaker than us, or

taking from them land that we wanted for ourselves. Even as we purchased from Mexico

the states now known as California, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and Utah

through Manifest Destiny, the doctrine itself was written to “embrace a belief in Anglo-

Saxon superiority—the expansion of Jefferson’s homogenous republic and Franklin’s

America of the ‘lovely white!” (Takaki 1993, p. 176)

By the point, the patterns of oppression begun in the 1600’s had followed us all

the way to the late 1800’s, and were engrained in the minds of the American population.

The next set of immigrants to brave the journey across deep waters to find peace

and wealth in the United States were the Asians, who were first imported over by the

suggestion of Aaron Palmer, in his effort to help in the building of a transcontinental

railroad across the States, and begin farming in California. Within a year of his

suggestion, Chinese began to migrate to the United States, but not necessarily for the

reasons that the Americans wanted them here! They came seeking safe haven from the

conflicts in China that came about as a result of the British Opium Wars, which were the

result of Britain smuggling opium into China, in defiance of China’s strict trade

restrictions. “China confiscated a large amount of the British Opium, for which Britain

harshly retaliated, and went to war with China” (Waley 1958, p. 67).
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Under the Qing government at that time, many Chinese were forced to pay

unaffordable indemnities, and so migrated to the United States seeking economic relief.

Much like the Irish farmers being forced from their lands, a similar pattern was emerging

in China. Peasant farmers who could not pay their land taxes were evicted, and so many

made the long journey to the western United States, hoping for solace, freedom and a

richer economy.

The American labor brokers took advantage of the Chinese immigrants’ desperate

circumstances and circulated literature promising generous pay, housing and food to

Chinese laborers, but instead our government instated an absorb anent miner’s tax, taxing

their earnings between 25-50%, if they were “unwilling” to become U.S. citizens.

Ironically, willing or not, there were laws in place that stated that one had to be

naturalized (born in the U.S.) to BE a citizen, so there was no recourse for them but to

pay the huge tax. At this time, 24,000 Chinese laborers were working in mines, and due

to the excessive taxing of their earnings, were forced to live in tiny, one-room cabins with

their rather large families. In addition, in order to meet deadlines for finishing the

railroad, they were forced to work through deadly winter weather, under tunnels of snow,

well into night. Many died due to hazardous work conditions.

Once again, we see that the Caliban could have also been the Chinaman. U.S.

industrialists knew that these immigrants came from extreme poverty and oppression, and

assumed their illiteracy and inability to consider whether they were truly being treated

fairly in our country, since the conditions still appeared somewhat “better” than those

which they had left behind in their own land. When they attempted to “unionize” and

strike against the unbearable working conditions here, their food supply was cut off and
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they were isolated on their work camps, and forced to go back to work for their same low

paying wages and horrendous working conditions. Judged by their “yellow” skin and the

plight of their life before coming to America, we oppressed yet another race different than

ourselves, who did not fit the Anglo- or Eurocentric model of white America.

The next group of immigrants to America came in the 1890’s, with the arrival of

the Japanese. America’s expansionists had crossed over into Tokyo Bay, Japan, and

forcing in western trade. With American commerce moving in, Japan imposed stronger

taxes to its citizens to strengthen its government and military, which, in turn, forced some

Japanese farmers into poverty. Desperate for their survival, many immigrated to the

United States, but had to go through stronger governmental screenings in order to leave,

than the Chinese had undergone before them. There was also a shortage of female vs.

male Japanese, which led to the terribly biased “Picture Bride” system, where relatives of

Japanese women wanting to immigrate to the United States sent pictures of them to

prospective interested husbands in the U.S. and arranged marriages. This was to insure

the “quality” of immigrants, both by the Japanese and American governments. Because

these women were then considered better “quality” than the Chinese women, this led to

further oppression of the Chinese. Chinese women were restricted to farm and home

work, where Japanese women were allowed to enter the work force once they immigrated

and married in the U.S.

In another form of oppression, the business owners, in order to disallow their

workers to form unions and strike, would not hire more than a small number of each

nationality of workers. Knowing that the Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, African, and

Native Americans always forged bonds with their own “kind” when it came to organizing
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a labor strike, this was a fool-proof way to be able to continue overworking them and not

pay fair wages. It also led to the importing of Koreans to the States around 1903. This

came after the Japanese tried to demand more wages and better working conditions. The

United States government was aware of the disengagement between Japan and Korea,

and thought this a worthy solution.

These workers underwent the same patterns of oppression as the other immigrants

before them. They labored long hours under treacherous working conditions as farm

laborers, and many lost their lives. Unlike the Chinese and Japanese governments, the

Korean government did not tolerate the mistreatment of their migrant workers, and in

1905, made emigrating to the United States illegal in Korea.

In reaction to losing Korean immigrants, planters then began importing workers

from the Phillippines, in order to “discipline and diversify their workforce.” (Takaki

1993, p. 253) Assuming their ignorance, such as the others, based on skin color and a

background of economic hardship, and in order to benefit financially, the U.S. planters

used a new and creative form of oppression with this group of workers. They decided to

breed competition amongst the races, by goading the Phillippino’s to work as hard as the

Japanese and “show them up.” Then they would, in turn, threaten the jobs of the

Japanese by reminding them that the Phillippinos would work just as hard for less wages,

and therefore were justified in cutting the wages of the Japanese workers, or firing them.

“To strengthen their authority over their ethnically diverse work force, planters stratified

occupations according to race: white occupied skilled and supervisory positions, while

Asian immigrants were the unskilled laborers.” (Takaki 1993, p. 253) This allowed the

Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association to restrict supervisory, or higher wage earning jobs,
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strictly to U.S. citizens.

Another group to emigrate to “freedom and financial independence” was the Jews

from Russia and Eastern Europe. They had been severely persecuted minority in Russia,

and never intended to return after earning a living here in America. Due to their

impoverished state in Russia, they also were assumed to be “Caliban.” As they boarded

the boats to venture to the U.S., they were “herded together in a dark, filthy compartment

in the steerage.” (Takaki 1993, p. 281) They came into ports in New Jersey and New

York, beginning in 1880. Although they were assumed to be ignorant, a large percentage

were actually educated. Because they were not citizens, they were forced into factories

and paid very low wages, resulting in them having to pack large numbers of people into

very small living places and tenements. Some became street merchants, selling goods out

of small carts or stands. This was culturally conflictive for the Jewish man, who came

from a background where the women worked and labored so that the man could become

more educated and study. They had to forfeit their religious and cultural beliefs and

conform to the American way of living, and earning a living, if they wanted to survive

here. “What the Jewish peddler in America represented was not so much the transference

of ‘middle class’ values from the Old World as Jewish adaptation to American culture.”

(Takaki 1993, p. 287)


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Reaction

Having heard the harsh tales of the Native Americans, the African Americans, the

Mexicans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Phillippino’s and the Jews from

Eastern Europe, the patterns of oppression that each of these ethnic groups underwent in

their venture to come to the United States for freedom and for hope, are remarkable.

In the country that professes liberty and justice for all, and is founded on the

equality of all mankind, the treatment, and the ongoing oppression is both ironic and

hypocritical. We welcome other nations, as long as they are willing to forfeit their

customs and traditions, their religious beliefs and practices, their families, and their pride,

and conform to the American way of life.

In order to live here, you must work here, and in order to work, you must earn a

wage. In these early days, if you were not eligible for citizenship, you could not be paid

a top wage, regardless of the worth of your labor. Thankfully, we have evolved in our

systems of fair wages for fair work, and we now have labor laws that protect people from

the great exploitation that these millions before us underwent. We also can no longer

legally discriminate against employees based on race, although the reality is that such

bias very much still exists in our nation.

The most important question for us to ask ourselves, in our pride as Americans, is

if we can feel proud, knowing the means by which we have acquired all that we have.

We must assess whether there is justice and fairness, and if we have preserved the dignity

and respect of human life in our practices and policies, both historically and in the present

moment. How do we practice what we preach, what we write, and what we proclaim to

be the tenet of this great nation we call the “United” States of America?
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References

Author Unknown. (2008). Social Studies: United States History, grade 6. Houghton-
Mifflin Harcourt School Publishers.

Mehri, C. & Skalat, S. (2004). Research perspectives on race and employment in the
advertising industry. NAACP News.

Prindle, T. (1994). Native American pottery in New England. Available at:


http://www.nativetech.org.

Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror. Back Bay Books / Little, Brown & Company.
Time Warner Books.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Available at: http//www.census.gov.

Waley, A. (1958). The opium war through Chinese eyes. Stanford University Press.