Final Reflection

This class has changed the way that I ask questions about what is happening in a time period.  I used to simply look for the obvious things like racism or sexism and not really ask questions beyond that, but through our work I’ve learned that the structures of the time (law, education, power dynamics created, etc.) tend to cause the symptoms that I see.  While I had some kind of sense that that was the case in the past, it was not something that I considered at a level that allowed the full comprehension of the issue.  I realized that African Americans were kept in a lower class position by the kind of education (if any) they received, but it was something that I took for granted and did not really question beyond making the statement. This increased awareness is helpful when thinking about American Studies.

This change effects both my critical questions and my methodology.  The questions themselves are more critical than they had been, but they are also the right questions rather than ones that skirt the issue due to this thought process.  I now consciously look at an argument of an author and say, “That could be extended because this structure isn’t considered in his or her approach,” rather than just thinking, “Alright, there is probably more to this, but this is good, I hadn’t thought about it this was before.”  This illustrates a change in the method of thinking as well.  Through considering structures used to effect a time period as well as the structure of the argument of an author,  I am able to think about the period and it effects in a deeper, more rounded way than I had before.  In that way, that change effects both critical questions and methodology and will serve me well in thesis next year.

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Unit Writing Assignment 3

The literature of this unit has been about the lives of individuals and groups, fictional and real, but the power dynamics and the effects of those dynamics have been relatively constant across the body of works we have used.  Within the literature we have read and groups of people we have studied this unit, people of higher classes retain more power.  For the purposes of this argument, power us defined as the ability to control one’s own actions (i.e. have agency) and property with a limited amount of difficulty or public resistance.  This sort of power grants greater freedom to those who retain power and almost imprisons those who do not retain power.

Groups in which there is a vast difference between the lowest and highest classes best exemplify the dynamics of power.  The strongest examples of the higher classes retaining more power can be found among the African American community.  People of the highest class were able to retain much power and in many ways have a life almost identical (if not completely identical) to that of their white counterparts, but people of the lower/lowest class (i.e. sharecroppers, etc.) retained virtually no power whatsoever.  Foley does an excellent job of illustrating this fact for the lower classes, but the discussion of the upper class is outside the scope of his book.  For this reason, this argument can be seen as an extension of the explanation of power that he gives.  Foley writes, “Instead of paying sharecroppers in wages, however, owners sold the cotton at the end of the harvest and paid them one-half of the proceeds of the sale, minus any debts the sharecroppers owed for the supplies… They owned no tools or work animals, which the owner supplied” (Foley, 10).  This meant that sharecroppers had little control over their income and even less control over the property in their possession, since it commonly was not actually theirs.  This translates into a lack of power retention. The tenant farmers were not in a position that was much better.  Their power was also very limited and the power that was exuded over them by the landowners, though not as severe as that exuded over sharecroppers, was great.  Tenants owned their own tools, animals, and plows (Foley, 10), but still worked land that they did not own and did not receive all of the profits from the cotton they grew.  In chapter 5, Foley regales the story of George Rhodes who was a tenant farmer and was “‘stopped’ by Taft management when he attempted to gin his cotton at the independent gin of Dale Walker, although the Walker gin charged slightly more than the Taft Ranch gin” (Foley, 124).  Because the tenants could not use their money the way they wanted or use the facilities they wanted, they retained very little power.

The power that was retained by the middle class (whether lower-middle class or upper-middle class) was enormous.  Many of them were able to live their lives largely as they pleased, even through the Great Depression.  Although an African American entertainer’s income would have been considered middle or lower-middle class before the Depression, there was the possibility that they could remain in work through the Depression.  Little Brother Montgomery was one such man.  In Hard Times, he says he “was making a dollar a night on Sunday nights.  And a spaghetti dinner.  Playing house rent parties.  On a Saturday night, I was playing for $3.  No supper there… Tuesday night, I was playing for $2.  My weeks were filled with two, three dollars a night… Monday night, that was the biggest night I had.  $4” (Terkel, 377).  Although the wages were not high, he was one of very few men (especially African American men) who was able to retain a job and thus self-sufficiency and power through the Depression.  He had a place to live, food to eat, and could spend the money he earned as he pleased which was more than most people (including many whites) could say at that time.  That meant that he had more power than many at the time.  The power of the upper-middle class was even greater.  In Nella Larson’s Passing, Irene could not have done many of the things she did if she were not upper-middle class.  She could not have passed as well as she did because she would not have been dressed or behaved in a manner that would have allowed it.  She could not have paid the taxi or gone to the white restaurant for tea after almost fainting (Larson, 8) if she had not been upper-middle class.  In all likelihood, the cab driver would not have been as concerned with her if she looked like a middle class African American woman rather than an upper-middle class white woman.  While her light skin gave her power, her class gave her more power because it made her light skin more convincing.  Furthermore, the upper-middle class was able to be a part of clubs like the Negro Welfare League, which allowed for a great power in that it functioned just as the clubs and societies of whites and even attracted whites to its events.  The ability to do that gave great power; especially whenthose whites were important men like Hugh Wentworth (Larson, 49-56).  Being able to choose to be a part of a respected society and interact with important people freely fulfills every part of the definition of power.  Although Larson’s novella is fictional, reflects the lives of people who lived in the twenties.

Power also functioned on a basis of class among whites, though the divisions were not always as extreme.  Foley makes it clear that white tenant farmers experienced many of the same things that the African American tenant famers did.  In fact, after the explanation of George Rhodes’ experience with the Taft company, he explains that when a white tenant tried to do the same thing, “the company ‘got rid of him’” (Foley, 124).  He also explains that Walker (the man who owned the gin) was unable to get a loan for a gin he opened in Portland because the superintendent of the Taft Ranch, Joseph Green, was “a member of the Board of directors of the First National Bank of Gregory” (Foley, 126) and the bank itself was owned by some of the principle stockholders of the Taft Ranch…” (Foley, 126).  This meant that the upper class whites retained power over the whites of lower classes in addition to their power over African Americans.  Walker and others were unable to control their own property and actions without the upper classes interfering.  In fact, the upper class held enough power that they could limit the economic competition within a community.  Foley alludes to, but does not fully explore the extent of this power.  The fact that the upper class was able to limit not only the actions, but the economic well-being of the lower class meant that they had retained power and reduced the power of the lower class.

This sort of power continued through the Great Depression.  In “A Personal Memoir,” Terkel describes the hotel his parents operated, the Wells-Grand.  All of the boarders paid their rent weekly before the Great Depression, but after the Depression, his mother kept some people on the books even when they were not able to pay.  The ability to do that came from the fact that she (or at least the hotel’s owner) was of a higher class.  Mrs. Radnor in “Matewan” could not have done this at her boarding house because she was of a lower class and thus did not have the power (control over her actions and property) that Terkel’s mother did.  This was compounded by the fact that her house was technically owned by the company, so they could do as they pleased with it (as the company men did).  This meant that not only did she not have much power, but that the power she did have was further decreased upon the arrival of the company men.  Although Radnor was also fictional, her story reflected that of real people, as did Irene’s.

The one group that this would seem to apply less to is Mexicans and Mexican Americans.  They were newer immigrants and commonly on similar class levels.  However, class made a difference here as well.  Mexican Americans had a higher likelihood of being tenants than Mexican immigrants did, but this was still not common (Foley, 10).  The difference in class here came from the fact that Mexican Americans were able to claim to be American.  This not only gave them a better place as far as class, but gave them the ability to lobby the government to decrease immigration and thus increase their status further (Foley, 8).  This meant that they were not only increasing their power but through increasing their power, decreasing the power of the lower classes of Mexicans (newer immigrants and migrant workers) further.  Thus, the idea that the upper class retained power and thus freedom and the lower class did not retain as much (and even lost) power which essentially imprisoned them, held true here as well.

Although these examples mix reality and fiction, all are based in reality and represent true experiences.  Furthermore, the mix of sources allows for extension of this argument about power that Foley alludes to but does not fully make.  The argument that more power is retained by the upper classes than the lower classes, and that power retained gives freedom whereas those with less power are almost imprisoned becomes clear and can be seen as the logical extension of Foley’s argument in The White Scourge.

 

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Comments for Alyse 2.0

I was unable to find a post to attach this to as a comment, so I’ll post it on my blog for now:

Does the module frame a clear inquiry question for the user? What is it? Even if it doesn’t, take a stab at articulating the question that is implied in the module. Alyse does a good job of introducing an inquiry question upfront on the intro page of the module.  the question is “To what extent are Mormons in-between people and how did Mormons become integrated into American Society?”

Can the inquiry question be answered with the sources that the author has assembled? i.e., if you had to write an essay answering the question with these sources, could you?  What other kinds of sources would you suggest that might improve the cohesion of the module?I would assume that this will be the case once everything has been out together. From the example of a source that is there I think Alyse is on the right track and that the finished product will answer the question.  I would add another court case if she can find one and definitely newspaper articles, maybe one with a picture.

Furthermore, I think that the example of Thomas L. Kane helps to show how Mormons began to be accepted by outside groups and how Mormons worked to change to integrate while others worked to help them integrate without changing their beliefs or customs.  I’m not sure if this will be the most helpful sources, but if Alyse continues to frame it the way she has it should prove worth using.

Does every page of the module have its own implied question that supports the larger inquiry question?  What is it? Do the sources on that page work with that question? When there are more pages, I would like to see them to be able to help make sure that I can determine a question and if the sources work to answer it.  As it is, the intro is good and the page on Thomas L. Kane could be useful.  I’m not really sure what the question of this page is supposed to be in relation to the rest of the inquiry module though.  If it is meant to question how outsiders helped to integrate Mormons into society it could be really good provided there is further framework created and/or more sources added.

Does the framing narrative on each page offer the user enough background and support to work with the sources and the questions?  What is missing from this narrative? (Best to consider this on a page by page basis.) From the outline, it seems like the framing narrative will flow and offer enough background information to support and work with the sources.  The intro does a good job of beginning the framing narrative and the paragraph about Thomas L. Kane is good, but could really go further to frame the source.  As previously stated, I’m not sure what question Alyse is trying to answer with that source, but if it is the question of outsiders accepting and helping to integrate Mormons, it is beginning to be clear, but a little revision would work to make it much clearer.

Does the framing narrative effectively integrate secondary research and interpretive strategies? If so, what are they and how do they aid the user in working with the module? I would have liked a brief explanation of the sources so that I could think about how they would fit into the narrative, but I think that Alyse will be able to incorporate them well.  From the example of the Kane page, I think that (just as I need to do) there could be a better integration of the secondary sources here though.  How does this narrative fit with the info she’s giving and where did it come from?

Do the sources have complete metadata? Does each one have a fully formed description that summarizes the source, contextualizes it, and guides the users analysis? I assume that Alyse will include this when she adds the sources. The Reynolds v. United States case will be the perfect case study of the need for Mormons to change their practices to become “civilized” and fully American.

What did you know at the end of the experience of working with the module that you didn’t know at the beginning? What new questions do the sources and the framing narrative raise for you? I didn’t know that there were as many Mormons as Jews in America.  That is an interesting fact.  It makes me wonder just how big the Mormon religion is becoming.  It’s something I hadn’t really thought about despite having a Mormon candidate for 2012.

What other comments and advice do you have for your partner?

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Fear and the Usefulness of Lyrics

In reading Hard Times, I noticed two things.  The first was that the word “fear” was found in almost every section of the book.  The second was that in many sections he would begin with song lyrics. I began to question these two things and wonder why fear seemed to be so prevalent throughout the interviews and wonder what the lyrics did for each section.  I realized, that they did a similar thing.  The word fear helped explain the feelings of the people who lived in the thirties and the song lyrics helped connect the reader to and prepare the reader for the themes that were present in the interviews.

The word “fear” was found in almost every section of the book and it really became the main feeling expressed.  In “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” all of the people in their late teens, early twenties that Terkel interviewed talked about the fear that was conveyed by the older generation who had lived through the depression.  The word is a full sentence in the interview with Marshall and Steve in the Chapter.  Marshall says, “Fear.  It unsettled the securities, apparently false securities people had.  people haven’t felt unfearful since.  Fear of Communists, fear of people living in sin, fear of the hippies- fear, fear, fear.  I think people learned it from the Depression” (Terkel, 27).  As a person who grew up with grandparents who were children of the Depression, I can see why he would say that and understand that it was true. This idea of fear is continued in the rest of the book, but was particularly striking in “Hard Travelin’.”  Pauline Kael relates a story about the people in her neighborhood being angry with her mother for feeding hungry men at their door. She then says, “… It wasn’t until later, I realized the fear people had of these men” (Terkel, 35).  The many references to the sense of fear during and after the Depression helps to convey the feeling in a way that each reader will begin to understand what kind of fear was felt and why it was felt in the era.  There is definitely room for different examples and expressions of this feeling, but the ones that Terkel uses do the job they are meant to do.

The song lyrics are also excellent instruments to relate the chapter to the reader.  Here again, I have to reference “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.  This was a particularly striking lyric to include with this chapter.  In fact, it was where I first began to understand the use of the song lyrics in this chapter.  In the same way that John and Paul’s immortalized words began the song and gave you an idea of what was to come later, the lyrics introduce the chapter and give you a sense of what you’ll learn from that chapter.  In high school papers I had thought that this technique was genius, but have not used it since.  In reading Hard Times, I realized that I may have been right.  Music has a way of reaching across time and communicating a feeling, and by using the lyrics from well-known songs, Terkel does that.  The problem with this is, he does not use this technique for every chapter.  After realizing that in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and having it confirmed in “Hard Travelin’,” there were no lyrics to clue me into and connect me to the content of “The Big Money.”  This fault of the book is minor, but one that Terkel could have easily avoided.  There are many songs written about money that he could have included at the beginning of the chapter that one begins to wonder why he did not find and include one.

These two techniques were extremely influential in my understanding of the book and the story Terkel was trying to convey.  Although they probably could have been stronger in the ways explained, they were genius to use and helped me understand the era (and the thought process of my grandparents) in a way that I hadn’t previously.

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My comments for Alyse

I was unable to find a post to attach this to as a comment, so I’ll post it on my blog for now:

Does the module frame a clear inquiry question for the user? What is it? Even if it doesn’t, take a stab at articulating the question that is implied in the module.To what extent are Mormons in-between people and did changing their practices allow them to become “civilized” Americans?

Can the inquiry question be answered with the sources that the author has assembled? i.e., if you had to write an essay answering the question with these sources, could you?  What other kinds of sources would you suggest that might improve the cohesion of the module?I would assume that this will be the case once everything has been out together.  From the example of a source that is there I think Alyse is on the right track and that the finished product will answer the question.  I would add another court case if she can find one and definitely newspaper articles, maybe one with a picture.

Does every page of the module have its own implied question that supports the larger inquiry question?  What is it? Do the sources on that page work with that question?When there are pages, I would like to see them to be able to help make sure that I can determine a question and if the sources work to answer it.

Does the framing narrative on each page offer the user enough background and support to work with the sources and the questions?  What is missing from this narrative? (Best to consider this on a page by page basis.) From the outline, it seems like the framing narrative will flow and offer enough background information to support and work with the sources.

Does the framing narrative effectively integrate secondary research and interpretive strategies? If so, what are they and how do they aid the user in working with the module?I would have liked a brief explanation of the sources so that I could think about how they would fit into the narrative, but I think that Alyse will be able to incorporate them well.

Do the sources have complete metadata? Does each one have a fully formed description that summarizes the source, contextualizes it, and guides the users analysis? I assume that Alyse will include this when she adds the sources. The Reynolds v. United States case will be the perfect case study of the need for Mormons to change their practices to become “civilized” and fully American.

What did you know at the end of the experience of working with the module that you didn’t know at the beginning? What new questions do the sources and the framing narrative raise for you? I didn’t know that there were as many Mormons as Jews in America.  That is an interesting fact.  It makes me wonder just how big the Mormon religion is becoming.  It’s something I hadn’t really thought about despite having a Mormon candidate for 2012.

What other comments and advice do you have for your partner? Please finish over break and ask me about things during study days so I can help!  Looks like it’ll be a good project though, Alyse!

 

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Are Figures Good?

As I was reading the second half of The White Scourge, I realized that Foley uses a lot of figures (numbers) to prove each of his contentions.  This is a very interesting way of going about proving one’s point because it gives some hard evidence for the statement made.  However, when one begins to think through this further, one realizes that this may not have been the most reliable way of proving these contentions due to the fact that statistics can be manipulated.

As I was first reading I was very impressed by Foley’s use of statistics to prove many of the statements he makes.  He seems to be able to not only navigate the records of the past but use them effectively to persuade the reader to believe his assertions.  He is able to quote statistics about everything from the crop yields and cultivation rates to the price per acre for land to be cleared.  For example, he explains in chapter five that in six years Green had increased the number of acres under cultivation from 2,300 to 12,000 (Foley, 123).  He also explains that a company had originally said they would charge $1.50 per acre but later charged $3.50 per acre to clear the land because Woods had shown a surplus at the end of the season.  He also uses percentages many places to show that significant numbers of people did a certain thing or participated in a certain activity.  For example, in chapter 6 he says, “Of 207 African American women on cotton farms, 87 percent performed fieldwork, compared with 46 percent of white women” (Foley, 146).  This seems like a very convincing argument for the construction of a racial hierarchy.

Upon further consideration, however, this method begins to break down, or at least develops some holes.  When we consider that the basis of all communication and the most direct and reliable form of information is numbers, this seems like a very good way to bolster a claim.  The problem with this is that any high school student learns that one can manipulate statistics to say whatever they want.  If a number is not convincing enough one can use a different form of that statistic to technically communicate the same number but sound far more significant.  An over-exaggerated example of this would be saying that 4/5 white womyn worked in the field where as half of the Mexican womyn did and 5/8 of African American womyn did.  On the surface that sounds like a vast difference, but when calculated it simply means that 40% of white womyn, 50% of Mexican womyn and 62% of African American womyn worked the fields.  Those seem like much smaller differences than the fractions do.  Further when we consider that the difference is merely 12% it seemes even less significant.

This argument can be furthered when sample size is considered.  Saying that 80% of the surveyed population were sharecroppers makes sharecropping sound highly prevalent, but when the information on the full population size versus sample size is included it may not actually have been as significant.  If there was a population of 200,000 and it was claimed that 80% of the surveyed population was sharecroppers, it would seem that 160,000 of those people would be sharecroppers.  The problems is that if the sample size was only 200, that would mean that not only was the sample size far too small, but that for all we know, only 160 of that population was sharecroppers since 160 is 80% of 200.

He has a good example of all of these possibilities in chapter 6.  He says, “A Study found that of 207 African American farm families in central Texas, none owned a radio, only 2 had telephones, but 112, or more than half, owned automobiles” (Foley, 154). If Foley had done an approximate reduction to 6/11 rather than using the “over half” that statistic would not have been as convincing.

While it is highly doubtful that Foley would have skewed his numbers so terribly in any section of the book, we would have to go look at the data to be 100% sure.  Because of this fact (combined with the fact that none of our class will do this, even if we can be relatively positive that someone at some point did since this was a scholarly publication), we

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Post for Peer Review

Alyse!!!!! (You’re probably the only one that will read this, besides Prof. Leon)

Ok, I know I need to use more secondary source info, but I’m not sure where to put it.  I know that’s largely my call, but if you see anything screaming, “Cite me!” let me know.most of it in the intro.  Let me know what you think of the intro, it could probably be fleshed out better, I don’t know if I frame the thing as well as I should.  Otherwise, we’ll start at the beginning and head down.  I’m trying to set up the Influential Doctrines page as a comparison to show the change, let me know if you get that and how it could be more clear. I know it should probably have a super short intro paragraph, but let me know what you think.  Roosevelt’s Opinions and Personal Philosophies is sticky in the fact that I should probably talk more about imperialism and/or stick in the stuff about why he thought what he did (secondary source business) here.  I’m thinking I may rework a major portion of this page, so let me know what is clear, what is not, how you think flow could be better, and if you think that’s a good idea.  I think Wilson’s changing Policies is pretty ok.  I have secondary stuff that needs to go into it, but I can’t find the book at the moment (problem? yes) so it’s not there yet, but will be.  Otherwise, take a look at the end of it and see if you think there should be quotes from the text or not, I’m debating whether or not I should add them since I think it’s a little top heavy as far as that goes right now.  Roosevelt’s Affect on Wilson has the first problem in the title, grammar.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be Effect or Affect (my worst grammar point and the computer isn’t telling me this time), if you know, let me know.  Otherwise, do you think I should use it as kind of a conclusion as it exists or do a complete work up of the cartoon and add another page for the conclusion.  I’ve played with it both ways and can’t really decide.  I think that’s it. Excited to hear from you and look at yours!

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Unit Writing Assignment 2

There are many structures of inequality and they have been used in many ways for generations to keep in-between people in a disadvantaged place.  Law is one of the most detrimental structures of inequality to any person who is in-between.  There are many reasons law is such a powerful structure of inequality, but the four main reasons are that it encompasses other structures, it allows those structures to effect society in a more direct way, it causes people to think that the inequalities are natural, and it is the largest contributor to the cycle of perpetuation of inequality.

Law is extremely detrimental to in-between peoples because it encompasses other structures of inequality, most notably science and language.  Science is used most prominently to substantiate or give evidence to support laws.  The practice of using science for this purpose has been prominent throughout our history. Lawmakers will use statistics as well as scientific principles and theories to persuade others to vote for a bill so that it will be passed and become a law.  This commonly happened with the eugenic studies that followed Laughlin’s (which will be discussed later).  Goddard’s work with the Kallikaks and other families could also be used for that reason.  In a series of charts, graphs, and studies, he had shown that “feeble-mindedness” ran in families[i], which served as evidence for laws that were later passed regarding the treatment of those classified as feeble-minded.  Language also strengthens the structure of law.  Language can be interpreted in many ways and often has connotations that change over time.  This serves to make law stronger because a law can be written in a way that allows many interpretations in the future.  This concept of law encompassing other structures was exemplified in Buck v. Bell.  Goddard’s science was used to show that feeble-mindedness ran in families thus providing substantiation for the Virginia sterilization law.  The law stated:

…the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard, &c.; that the sterilization may be effected in males by vasectomy and in females by salpingectomy, without serious pain or substantial danger to life…[ii]

This law was used to require Carrie Buck to be sterilized.  The Supreme Court then upheld the law saying that “three generations of imbeciles” was enough to prove that feeble-mindedness ran in her family and that “the principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11.”[iii] The Supreme Court used both science and language to uphold Buck’s sentence.

The ability to encompass other structures makes law one of the most detrimental structures of in-equality for in-between people because it causes the other structures to affect people’s daily lives in a way that they otherwise would be unable to.  Law gives structure to our society, as Lopez points out in White By Law.  Because of this, law becomes one of the main ways that the other more abstract structures of inequality, like science, language, and the gender system, actually have a lasting effect on society.  Laughlin’s work with eugenics is one of the best examples of this.  His studies were believed to show that certain groups of people were less desirable than others because they had a higher tendency to commit crimes, exhibited greater tendency toward mental illness and insanity, and had a higher rate of dependency, among other undesirable qualities.[iv] These studies were then used to justify and institute the immigration quota system that went on to affect the lives of thousands if not millions of people in the forty-one years that the quotas were in effect.  Other laws caused other structures to affect people’s lives in similar ways.  The effects of the other systems would not be as visible if law did not encompass them.

The encompassing of other structures combined with the way that law is embedded in society enables lawmakers to structure inequality in such a way that people think it is a natural part of society.  Laws that embody other structures of inequality are passed every day.  That kind of frequency causes people to simply accept laws without being aware of how they affect every aspect of their lives, as shown in class by the example about the color of Band-Aids.  Lopez begins to consider this, but does not do so as fully as he might.  Lopez says, “Law, then, constructs racial differences on several levels through the promulgation and enforcement of rules that determine permissible behavior.”[v] This means that law has the ability to “shape and constrain how people think about the world they inhabit…”[vi] With the concept of promulgated law in mind, he explains, “Law thus defines, while seeming only to reflect, a host of social relations, from class to gender, from race to sexuality.”[vii] While this is very true, he does not fully consider that the power of law does not end there, laws that are not promulgated have just as much, if not greater, effect on society.  When laws are not promulgated, they can be enforced in a way that will help to affirm the stereotypes and studies that contributed to the laws in the first place.  For example, many cities have had laws prohibiting spitting on the sidewalk on the books since the early 1900s (Milwaukee’s has been in place since 1902), but that law was not only poorly promulgated, but also generally unequally enforced.  If it were enforced for a minority that would technically increase the crime rate that Laughlin referenced in his studies and thus reinforce the stereotype about minorities being more likely to commit crime.

The final reason law is the most detrimental structure of inequality for in-between people is that it contributes to the cycle that perpetuates inequality in a larger way than most of the other structures.  This was demonstrated in the example about spitting on the sidewalk.  Law can be found at the beginning and end of the cycle of perpetuation of inequality.  If the authority is watching people of a certain race or ability level closer than those of another, there will inevitably be more people of that race or ability violating laws than those of any of the races or levels of ability.  That then allows people like Laughlin to point to higher crime rates, which in turn serves to substantiate arguments for laws restricting the activities of that group.  Those laws then seem to reflect the feelings of society.  This can be seen as an extension of Lopez’s argument about perception of the laws.

These qualities and effects cause law to be one of the most detrimental structures of inequality for in-between peoples.  Law structures society in a way that not only perpetuates inequality but tends to go unnoticed by the general public.  There can be no greater power than that to which the public consents to without thought, which is exactly the power of law.


[i] Goddard, Henry Herbert, The Kallikak Family: A Study In The Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912).

[ii] Holmes, J.  Opinion of the Court: Buck v. Bell. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0274_0200_ZO.html, accessed 11/1/11

[iii] Holmes

[iv] “Analysis of America’s Modern Melting Pot,” Harry H. Laughlin testimony before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/image_header.pl?id=1137&printable=1&detailed=0, accessed 11/1/11

[v]Lopez, Ian F. Haney, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 121.

[vi]Lopez, White By Law, 122.

[vii] Lopez, White By Law, 124.

 

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Feeble-Minded?

In reading both the decision in Buck v. Bell and Henry Goddard’s The Killikak Family, I realized that there are a few problems with each of them.  Both suggest very strong solutions to the “problem of feeble-mindedness” including colonization, segregation and sterilization.  The problem is that not only is there no solid explanation of any tests to determine whether an individual is feeble-minded, but there is no concrete definition of what feeble-minded means.

I must commend both sources in their documentation of reason behind their argument and the through explanation of the lengths to which they went to determine whether a person was feeble-minded and the consideration for the community that went into the creation of a solution.  They go through careful detailing of how to “deal with” these people and how they went through family histories to identify the start of the feeble-mindedness as well as to show that it is indeed a genetic trait.  Goddard even says that they used “careful psychological tests” as though that gives further credit to the effort.  Furthermore, he says, “…[W]e have not marked people feeble-minded unless the case was such that we could substantiate it beyond a reasonable doubt” (Goddard, ix).

Despite these efforts, there are some fatal errors to these documents.  The first problem is that Goddard never explains what those “careful psychological tests” consisted of or what people of a certain age were expected to be able to accomplish.  Rather than simply saying that Deborah tested a few points above the age of 9, he should have given some explanation of what that meant.  What tasks was she asked to complete, what are the questions he constantly refers to by number (i.e. Question 4), etc.?  Furthermore, exactly what does feeble-minded mean?  Does it mean that people are sexually promiscuous? Does it mean that people have alcoholic tendencies?  These things seemed to be the common thread among the Killikak family.  Are these people who cannot do math quickly?  That was the largest point that he made about Deborah.  If these are the things that determine of one is feeble-minded far too many Georgetown students could be considered feeble-minded.  Without a concrete definition there is no way to say that the authority isn’t simply going to label people they deem undesirable feeble-minded to get them out of their communities.

Finally, the solutions proposed are rather extreme since there is no concrete definition.  Forced sterilization and segregation are very serious measures to go to to prevent these people from plaguing society with “immorality”, “alcoholism”, “incompetence”, and “imbecility”.  Even if the idea that “[t]he principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes,” as the Buck v. Bell majority opinion claimed what they are trying to vaccinate society against and how they are determining the infected individuals is not made clear in these documents.

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Unit Writing Assignment: The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine is one of the most important documents to the creation of the “self-image” of the United States because of the things that it asserted about the US and US power.  While this is important to the idea of a national story or “creation myth”, upon close reading of the document and contextualization within the period, it becomes apparent that an important stipulation is missing.  The intention of the Monroe Doctrine was to assert power at a time that the US felt threatened.  Furthermore, though it, the US sought to dominate the Western Hemisphere and avoid any threat to its authority.  Finally, through the argument that the US had not been involved in affairs of the Eastern Hemisphere, sought continued neutrality in wars that posed a threat to its well-being as a nation.  Despite the good intentions and true expression of the goals of the US, there was little substantiation for or enforcement of this assertion of dominance.

Then President, James Monroe introduced what would later be termed the Monroe Doctrine in his December 2, 1823 message to Congress.  This message came at a time of uncertainty for the United States and a time of turmoil in the world.  The great powers of Europe were fighting for colonies and new nations were beginning to form.  Greece had revolted against Turkey, and Latin America was experiencing wide spread revolts.  Because of these revolts, Spain was in a compromised position and “talk swept Europe of an allied move to restore Spain’s Latin American colonies or establish in Latin America independent monarchies.”[i] Despite the United States being a young and inexperienced country, it was desperate to ensure this talk would not lead to action because it would allow Spain to regain too much influence and possibly influence American affairs.  Finally, the United States was worried because Russia was asserting its power in Alaska, which threatened American power and posed a threat to New England traders because of the restrictions put on shipping by the Russians.

Monroe gives a brief explanation of these problems within the Monroe Doctrine.  The first sentence details the agreement between the United States and Russia, and the agreement between Russia and Great Britain to create favorable shipping conditions for everyone.  After the introduction of this problem, he ends the first paragraph with the first assertion of American power as though he is setting the tone for the solution to other problems concerning European powers in the Western Hemisphere:

In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers. . .[ii]

Essentially, Monroe simply demands that Europe stay out of the Western Hemisphere without any further substantiation.  One could argue that the first sentence of the next paragraph, which details the failure of the colonization efforts of Spain and Portugal in the Americas, is the substantiation for that claim, but the sentence is so vague that it does little more than give another statement of current affairs.  This also lacks any reason for the demand beyond the fact that it has not worked in the past.

Monroe then goes on to paint the US as interested spectators, but no more.  He says, “Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators.”[iii] He is essentially saying that the US has the right to be interested because, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies are revolting just as the United States once revolted against Britain and that the US has and will continue to be involved to the extent of recognizing new countries.  However, he is very careful to point out that the US is a spectator, and does not plan to interfere with affairs concerning these new countries or their formation.  Monroe later states, “In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition…”[iv] This further asserts that the US plans to remain a spectator rather than an interfering power in the affairs of other nations.

Monroe consistently echoes this statement of neutrality throughout the Doctrine.  This includes further testament that the US had refrained from interfering in the affairs of the Eastern Hemisphere.  He says, “In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so.”[v] In addition to reminding the European powers that the US had not interfered in their affairs, this statement can be seen as a wish for the European powers to reciprocate and retrain from interfering in affairs in the Western Hemisphere.

The reminder that the US had stayed out of the affairs of the Eastern Hemisphere is followed by an assertion that the US will see any further interference from Europe as threatening.  Monroe says that the United States will “consider any attempt on their part [European powers] to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”  These two arguments form the only fragment of substantiation in the entire address for the now famous claim that Europe should stay out of the Western Hemisphere.  These are vague and weak statements of substantiation for a bold assertion of dominance over the Western Hemisphere.

Nowhere in the Doctrine is there any clear expression of consequence for European interference other than that the US would consider it a threat.  This meant that there were not provisions for the enforcement of the Doctrine.  The absence of provision for enforcement was probably because the US lacked a strong military.  This was the reason they had worked to stay out of the war of 1812 and continued to express a want for neutrality.  At the time, the United States could not afford to participate in wars with the great powers of Europe; it simply did not have the means to do so.

Despite a lack of provision for enforcement, the US was able to use the Monroe Doctrine to lay claim to the rest of the Western Hemisphere.  It communicated reasons why the European powers should have some pause before violating this assertion of dominance over the Western Hemisphere.  Furthermore, it allowed the US to retain some agency over Britain’s involvement in the Western Hemisphere as Britain both enforced and infringed upon the stipulations of the Doctrine.  Finally, it was successfully communicated the US’s wishes and paved the way for the US to enforce this policy once it had the military needed to do so.

**Full transcript of the Monroe Doctrine can be found at http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=23&page=transcript#


[i] Herring, George, From Colony to Super Power Us Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 154.

[ii] “The Monroe Doctrine,” James Monroe, accessed October 9, 2011, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=23&page=transcript#.

[iii] Monroe Doctrine

[iv] Monroe Doctrine

[v] Monroe Doctrine

 

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