THE POISONED TONGUE: A Documentary History of American Racism and Prejudice by Stanley -- Ed. Feldstein

THE POISONED TONGUE: A Documentary History of American Racism and Prejudice

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This optional addition to the documentary literature on American racism and ethnic antagonism includes not only selections proclaiming anti-black points of view but also a sprinkling of anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Semitic statements, etc., and across-the-board nativist pronouncements. It is too slight a book for the portentous title. Feldstein begins with Hakluyt's account of a voyage by the first English slave trader, then colonial slave codes, Benjamin Rush's discovery that black skin derives from chronic leprosy, and a Hamilton polemic favoring restricted immigration; as with all documents involving not only social but political and economic elements, the editor offers little guidance. The 1800-1860 section ranges from Fitzhugh and the anti-black American Colonization Society to Jackson on Indians and a selection from those ""Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk."" A derisive description of the freedman-dominated South Carolina legislature (until recently white historians accepted it) is the most interesting document in the Reconstruction section. A Saturday Evening Post attack on Booker T. Washington, ""yellow peril"" documents, and anti-Semitic selections are featured in the 1880-1930 section along with racist arguments pro and con American imperialism and red-scare samples; neither Teddy Roosevelt nor Woodrow Wilson, perhaps the leading racist public officials of the period, is included. Southern Congressmen, however, are over-represented: Feldstein adds what he considers a ""sophisticated"" segregationist tract by a Columbia psychologist which goes on about how ""The white Southerner has always looked after the Negro"" and ""Suffice it to say several of Boas' colleagues have been charged with Communist sympathies."" One of the most important pieces in the book is the 1851 conclusion by a certain Dr. Van Eyrie that Negroes can't deal with ""abstractions of any kind,"" but Feldstein fails to follow this up with its current truly subtle counterparts. The introduction is relentlessly shallow and the prefaces offer no analysis to speak of. By what standards did Jews suffer ""greater persecution in America than almost any other minority"" except blacks and American Indians? -- ""almost"" typifies Feldstein's sloppy style. The Irish, German-Americans, et al. have no selection of their own. Some good material in a feeble presentation.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1971
Publisher: Morrow