“Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners … had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served” (Foley)

1956: Ávila, Arizona Mexicans are learning to act white, i.e., not serve Negroes in restaurants

Educating Anglos to acknowledge the white racial status of Mexican [137] Americans represented a major political goal of the American GI Forum. To become white–and therefore truly American–required members to distance themselves from any association, social or political, with African Americans. When the AGIF News Bulletin, for example, printed an article in 1955 titled “Mexican Americans Favor Negro School Integration,” Manuel Ávila, an active member of AGIF and close personal friend of Hector García, wrote to state chairman Ed Idar that “Anybody reading it can only come to the conclusion [that] we are ready to fight the Negroes’ battles… for sooner or later we are going to have to say which side of the fence we’re on, are we white or not. If we are white, why do we ally with the Negro?”[38] Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners, who normally served Negroes, had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served. If Mexicans refused to serve Negroes, Ávila wrote, Anglo restaurants might begin serving Mexicans. Mexican Americans, he argued, must say to Negroes “I’m White and you can’t come into my restaurant.”[39]

A sympathetic white woman from rural Mississippi, Ruth Slates, who owned a store that served many Mexican and Mexican American cotton pickers, wrote to Dr. García in 1951: “My blood just boils to see these farmers… trying to throw the Spanish kids out of schools… and into negro schools. She pointed out that although some of the “Spanish kids” “hate negroes,” others, unfortunately, “mix with them.” She then advised Dr. García that Mexicans needed a strong leader to teach them “right from wrong,” because some “even marry negros and some white girls.” Slates was giving Dr. García a quick lesson in southern racial protocol: if Mexicans want to be white, then they cannot associate with, much less marry, black folk, and she also implied that marrying white girls, in Mississippi at least, might not be a prudent thing to do.[40] Ruth Slates liked “Spanish kids” and hoped that Dr. García would provide the kind of leadership required, as it is now fashionable to say, to perform whiteness.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 136-137.


  1. [38]Manuel Ávila, Jr. to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 26, folder 28, HPG; News Bulletin 4, nos. 1 and 2 (Sept.-Oct., 1955): 1, HPG.
  2. [39]Manuel Ávila, Jr., to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 46, folder 28, HPG. See also Isaac P. Borjas to Hector P. García, June 2, 1940; Newspaper clipping, Caracas Daily Journal, [1960?], box 114, folder 22; and Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.
  3. [40]Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.

“In the name of racially regulating behavior, laws CREATED racial identities” — Tennessee use of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants” (Haney Lopez)

Second, positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features. In a sense, this is the heart of the prerequisite cases, which at root embody the efforts of the courts to inscribe on the bodies of individual applicants the term “White” or “non-White.” These cases established as legal precedent the racial identities of the various faces and nationalities entering the United States at the turn of the century. Again, however, the racial prerequisites to naturalization are not the only laws that explicitly defined racial identities. Almost every state with racially discriminatory legislation also established legal definitions of race. It is no accident that the first legal ban on interracial marriage, a 1705 Virginia act, also constituted the first statutory effort to define who was Black.[6] Regulating or criminalizing behavior in racial terms required legal definitions of race.[7] Thus, in the years leading up to Brown, most states that made racial distinctions in their laws provided statutory racial definitions, almost always focusing on the boundaries of Black identity. Alabama and Arkansas defined anyone with one drop of “Negro” blood as Black; Florida had a one-eighth rule; Georgia referred to “ascertainable” non-White blood; Indiana used a one-eighth rule; Kentucky relied on a combination of any “appreciable admixture” of Black ancestry and a one-sixteenth rule; Louisiana did not statutorily define Blackness but did adopt via its Supreme Court an “appreciable mixture of negro blood” standard; Maryland used a “person of negro descent to the third generation” test; Mississippi combined an “appreciable amount of Negro blood” and a one-eighth rule; Missouri used a one-eighth test, as did Nebraska, North Carolina, and North Dakota; Oklahoma referred to “all persons of African descent,” [119] adding that the “term ‘white race’ shall include all other persons”; Oregon promulgated a one-fourth rule; South Carolina had a one-eighth standard; Tennessee defined Blacks in terms of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants, having any blood of the African race in their veins”; Texas used an “all persons of mixed blood descended from negro ancestry” standard; Utah law referred to mulattos, quadroons, or octoroons; and Virginia defined Blacks as those in whom there was “ascertainable any Negro blood” with not more than one-sixteenth Native American ancestry.[8]

The very practice of legally defining Black identity demonstrates the social, rather than the natural basis of race. Moreover, these competing definitions demonstrate that the many laws that discriminated on the basis of race more often than not defined, and thus helped to create, the categories they claimed only to elucidate. In defining Black and White, statutory and case law assisted in fashioning the racial significance that by themselves drops of blood, ascertainable amounts, and fractions never could have. In the name of racially regulating behavior, they created racial identities.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 118-119.
  1. [6]Finkelman, supra, at 2088. According to Finkelman, “This act also made the first stab at defining who was actually black. The law declared that anyone who was a child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a black was a mulatto under the statute. this meant that persons who were of one-eighth African ancestry were black for purposes of Virginia law.” See generally A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Barbara K. Kopytoff, Racial Purity and Interracial Sex in the Law of Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, 77 GEO. L. J. 1967 (1989).
  2. [7]See Raymond T. Diamond and Robert J. Cottrol, Codifying Caste: Louisiana’s Racial Classification Scheme and the Fourteenth Amendment, 29 LOY. L. REV. 255, 265 (1983) They argue that “[s]tate supported or initiated discrimination required racial definitions. The law could not separate what it failed to categorize.”
  3. [8]Paul Finkelman, The Color of Law, 87 NW. U. L. REV. 937, 955 n. 96 (citing PAUL MURRAY, STATES’ LAWS ON RACE AND COLOR [1950]).

“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]