“Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.” (Haney Lopez)

fluidity & contested nature of racial categories / WBL p. 63

Not everyone agreed with Wigmore in his willingness to support Japanese but not Chinese naturalization. Wigmore’s preference for the Japanese contrasts with the preference articulated by the editor of the Fresno Republican, Chester Rowell, in 1909. While against both Chinese and Japanese immigration in principle, as a businessman Rowell favored the Chinese: “Taking for the moment this [businessman’s] viewpoint, we find the Chinese fitting much better than the Japanese into the status which the white American prefers them both to occupy–that of biped domestic animals in the white man’s service. The Chinese [63] coolie is the ideal industrial machine, the perfect human ox.”[41] Rowell’s argument demonstrates that views regarding the race of Japanese and Chinese persons and their fitness for citizenship turned on racial prejudice. Wigmore’s determined advocacy, however, shows that many other factors also entered into debates about who qualified as White. Race is often seen in fixed terms, either as a biological given or a static social category. However, as the debates about race at the turn of the century demonstrate, racial categorization is a fluid process that turns not only on prejudice, but also on factors ranging from dubious science to national honor.

An extraordinary number of rationales surfaced as criteria in the prerequisite decisions. However, in the complex task of racial definition, judges deciding prerequisite cases relied principally on four distinct rationales: (1) common knowledge, (2) scientific evidence, (3) congressional intent, and (4) legal precedent….

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 62-63.

 

  1. [41]Chester Rowell, Chinese and Japanese Immigrants–A Comparison, 34 ANNALS OF AM. ACAD. 223, 224 (July-Dec. 1909).

“Black was a generic term encompassing all non-Whites” in People v. Hall, California 1854 (Haney López)

California – People v. Hall (1854) — Chinese testimony grouped with Black and Indian by construction, “Black” as generic term =df non-White, the reverse of arguments made in Texas 1845 state convention. / WBL 51ff

Unsurprisingly, this early social treatment of Chinese as akin to Blacks also found legal expression. For example, in the 1854 case People v. Hall the California Supreme Court heard the appeal of a White defendant challenging his conviction for murder. He appealed on the grounds that he was convicted only through the testimony of a Chinese witness, and that this testimony should have been excluded under an 1850 statute providing that “no Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a White man.”[6] The court agreed with the defendant that the Chinese witness was barred from testifying by the 1850 statute, reasoning that Indians originally migrated from Asia, and so all Asians were conversely also Indian, and that, at any rate, “Black” was a [52] generic term encompassing all non-Whites, and thus included Chinese persons.[7] This legal equation of Chinese and Black status was not temporally or geographically unique. Three-quarters of a century later and across the country, Mississippi’s Supreme Court reached a similar decision, holding in 1925 that school segregation laws targeting the “colored race” barred children of Chinese descent from attending schools for White children.[8] Given their social and legal negroization, it may well have been easier for the Chinese and other immigrants to argue their qualification for citizenship as Blacks rather than as Whites.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 51ff.

 

  1. [6]Ozawa, supra, 260 U.S. at 198.
  2. [7]Ichioka, supra, at 9-17.
  3. [8]