Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/November 1911/A World-Wide Color Line
|A WORLD-WIDE COLOR LINE|
ONE phase of the declining birth-rate among the white peoples of European stock has become increasingly important now that world interests have begun to override national and continental interests. If mere numbers should turn out to be the determining factor in fixing the balance of world power the European peoples can not hope much longer to retain the hegemony which they have held since the period of wider colonization began. The whites have not themselves become stationary in numbers, but the extension of white influence into regions inhabited by colored races has increased the prospect of a large growth among the latter. Those agencies which have kept down the natural increase of non-European peoples are usually either eliminated or very greatly modified when white rule is established or when white civilization comes to exert a preponderating influence. In Africa, for instance, the slave trade and intertribal wars have been practically abolished in those districts which have come under adequate European control.
To the extent also that the salutary achievements of European civilization have been accommodated to native modes of living, material conditions have been so modified as to furnish an environment theoretically favorable to a greater economy of human life. Because in most instances this influence has been as yet only a casual one, and because many of the race contacts have occurred in regions and under conditions least favorable to good results, the saving of life has not been so marked as it might otherwise have been, but on the whole the influence of white civilization has been a notable factor in population economy among primitive peoples.
There are of course some important exceptions to this rule. If white civilization does not everywhere and always counteract Malthus's "positive checks," misery and vice, it is because the attempt to adjust primitive peoples to a more complex economy is sometimes destructive in itself. Many of the most wholesome conveniences and comforts of the European are disastrous to peoples accustomed to a simpler or at least to a different economy. Nansen claims that the Eskimo of Greenland have been demoralized by the introduction of fire-arms, bread, coffee and cloth as much as by European diseases. Mr. Bryce states that the adoption of European styles of housing and clothing, those pet items in the program of the militant philanthropist, has literally decimated the natives of Hawaii since Captain Cook's time.
To these influences should be added the diseases, before unknown, which the whites have carried with them. Tuberculosis, small-pox, syphilis and alcoholism have proved peculiarly destructive to primitive peoples accustomed to a mode of life which brings the effect of such diseases to a maximum. Until proper medical service and adequate sanitary safeguards are secured, this heavy penalty for the fruits of civilization must continue to be paid. The change to a settled, orderly mode of living and to a new food economy may also often bring about a physical deterioration as baneful as specific diseases.
European colonization in regions occupied by backward races often results in the violent destruction of native populations in the struggle for territory. The Dutch settlers in South Africa are said to have regarded "shooting off the black stuff" as their first task in fitting the land for occupation. Whatever the government may have intended, it is certain that the English colonists in Australia have in many instances deliberately slaughtered the blacks on the pretext of safety. Writing of conditions as they existed thirty years ago, Carl Lumholtz says:
In certain instances like Tasmania and Cuba, European colonization has led to the complete extinction of the aboriginal population as a separate group, and in other instances, like those of the Maoris of New Zealand and the Hottentots, the native population has been very greatly depleted. Most of these disastrous results have come to peoples, generally blacks, in the lowest stages of culture. Where the aborigines are more advanced and hence more pliable they have usually profited by contact with Europeans. As a consequence several colored races are now enjoying considerable prosperity, due to the removal of the worst checks to their growth. The negroid peoples exhibit an amazing power of multiplication when protected from destructive forces. Negrophobe critics are wont to go so far as to hold that this is the sole important capacity which the blacks possess. The race is taunted with being by nature and capacity proletarii in the most primitive sense of the term—mere breeders.
While the yellow races are not so characteristically prolific as the blacks, they have, in several conspicuous instances, emerged on the modern field not only with a more elaborate culture, but with a denser population within their natural habitats. Roughly speaking, eastern Asia is already peopled almost to the limit under present conditions, while tropical Africa is but sparsely populated in proportion to its capacity. Under favorable conditions of economic efficiency tropical Africa would be the home of nearly a billion blacks. Taken together, and allowing for a normal growth, these two ethnic groups may possibly increase in numbers until they shall cause the whites of Europe and America to dwindle into insignificance by comparison.
This is the thesis of a recent significant book by B. L. Putnam Weale, an authority on far eastern politics. The peril of white supremacy arises, Weale believes, not alone from the growing balance of numbers in favor of the colored, great as that is likely to prove, but from the fact that the colored races are beginning to acquire and will continue to gain a distinct race consciousness and a sense of race solidarity. And just as the narrow interests of the little Greek lands were supplanted by the wider outlook of Alexander's empire, as the peninsular civilization of republican Rome was swallowed up in the world dominion of the imperial period, so the continental system of modern Europe is being swept into the whirl of world-wide interests. In this great historical change the ethnic element, or, more specifically, color, is to be the militant factor. With the increase of intelligence the aggressiveness of the colored races will augment and they will begin to take conscious advantage of their weight of numbers. A readjustment of power must follow as fast as the colored races become efficient in the arts that make for group self-assertion. For, says Weale:
The colored already outnumber the whites of the world nearly two to one, and this proportion is likely to increase rather than diminish in the immediate future. Weale estimates that by the year 2000 China will have eight hundred million population and Japan one hundred and twenty to one hundred and forty million. As race consciousness grows more pronounced war must constantly occur as the colored races become stronger in offensive ability and attempt to win back piecemeal what they have lost in the past while still "undrilled." "That they must become at least masters of their own houses can not any longer be doubted."
Against this alarmist view two objections may properly be offered on the score of population increase. In the first place, as the colored races approach the standard of the white civilization, the same influences which have reduced white fecundity will increasingly operate among them. As has already been shown, improved modes of living are already making possible a greater population economy among the colored, and the acquisition of still higher standards will lower the birth-rate to a point consistent with these better standards of living. Secondly, it is not at all true that the expansion of the white race has now reached its final geographical limits. Not to assume that certain elevated districts within the tropics may in time be open to white colonization, there are still vast areas in Siberia, South America, South Africa and Australasia so sparsely settled as to be practically uninhabited. It is therefore nearer the truth to say that the habitat of the colored races is now fixed beyond the possibility of notable change except by sporadic migrations, while the greater regions at present sparsely peopled are within the white sphere of influence.
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That there already exists, since the rise of Japan, a well-marked sense of race solidarity among the yellow peoples of eastern Asia need not be disputed, but that this will long remain the basis of eastern Asiatic politics is not certain, or even probable. The Japanese alliance with England shows how feeble are ethnic as compared with purely national interests in international relations. The negroid peoples, although they have made little progress towards a distinct race consciousness, are beginning to show glimmerings of a sense of ethnic unity, or at least a consciousness of separateness from the whites. After the Russo-Japanese war a vague rumor that a white race somewhere had been beaten in war by a colored people filtered into very remote portions of Africa. During the Boer war news of British defeats spread with incredible rapidity among the blacks and was everywhere received with exultation. Among the blacks of South Africa the colored churches are found to very soon cast off their alliance with white churches and to insist on separate ecclesiastical organization. This so-called "Ethiopian" movement, it is interesting to note, is fostered by the negro churches in America, with which in several cases definite alliances have been made.
Weale's alarm call to the white race is based on the assumption that the whites as whites are likely to be faced by the colored races in solid array. He calls attention to the fact that the European nations are disunited and can not act harmoniously in either Asia or Africa, and that they will be so hopelessly outnumbered in the near future that even united action would leave their position hazardous. Now it may be possible that we are to see a great development of geo-politics, so that the cry "Asia for Asiatics," or "Africa for Africans," will unite the peoples of those continents in solid mass. But geo-politics must not be confused with ethnic politics; and if considerable independent white groups should arise in Asia or Africa it is probable that they would be among the foremost in resenting European domination. Nor is it likely that the yellow and black races will ever find common ground of union among themselves and against the whites, just as it is unlikely that the white peoples will always remain disunited in the face of a real peril. To assume such a danger is to suppose that the ethnic element will continue to constitute the important factor in world politics that it now does. It is much more reasonable to believe that economic and cultural interests will ultimately supplant purely ethnic interests as the groundwork of world contacts.
The real kernel of the color problem, then, is likely to continue to be what it is at present, the question of social contact among peoples of different racial stocks, and particularly of different cultural levels, living together within given political areas, rather than a struggle of independent racial masses against each other. In America there is a wide-spread belief that our color problem is one peculiar to ourselves. As a matter of fact, the race struggle covers the whole world, wherever whites and blacks are brought together under common political and social forms. It is the struggle of a highly differentiated, efficient civilization with one more simple and primitive. This struggle results from the differing powers of adaptation of the two races, Racial characteristics are the accompaniments rather than the cause of lack of adjustment.
Since the elements of the problem are simple and fundamental and since they are everywhere essentially the same, it is to be expected that the color struggle should follow similar lines in various parts of the world. The antipathy between the whites and Indians in America from the earliest period of colonization to the present, the very terms in which this antipathy was expressed and the methods of conflict on each side, have been duplicated in the struggle between the English colonists and the natives of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. And at the present moment the political and social elements of the race problem in the southern States of America are almost identical with those in the South African colonies.
It has been the misfortune of white civilization in its contact with the colored races in America, Africa and Australasia that both its worst products and its least desirable representatives were the ones first in the field. This has been an important factor in shaping the early relations of the races. It is the rover, the outlaw and the irresponsible trader who come first, and it is too often the contraband goods of civilization that they carry. It has been the rougher type of white also who has intermarried with native women and become the father of a hybrid progeny. Curiously enough, it is among this rougher class of whites that the worst type of race animosity exists. Where the cultural rank has been more nearly equal and where the contact has been of the organized rather than sporadic type, the mingling of the races has generally been accompanied by little confusion or social disintegration.
It goes without saying that there is a varying degree of adaptability and fusing power among the different branches of the white race in their relations with backward peoples. The Latin peoples in Europe have shown peculiar capacity for successful inter-marriage with tropic races. Spaniards have crossed with fair success with both Indians and negroes in America and with Malays in the Philippines, as have the Portuguese with the two former types in Brazil. Undoubtedly the Catholic Latin peoples have shown peculiar capacity for merging with colored peoples and manifest less color prejudice than do the Protestant Teutons. This is due, no doubt, in part to physical facts, but a more important factor is the insistence of the Roman Catholic Church on the solidarity of the world's peoples and its deprecation of race prejudice. In the Spanish and French West Indies there is a greater proportion of mixed marriages than in the British West Indies and there are fewer evidences of social friction.
While the antipathy of white toward black is the most pronounced phase of color conflict, prejudice against the blacks is not confined to Europeans and Americans. The Chinese, the most cosmopolitan of peoples, sometimes exhibit a striking aversion to taking black wives or concubines, but manifest no particular aversion to the native women of Java or Borneo. East Indian laborers imported into the British West Indies and British Guiana have generally refused all intercourse with negro women. The American Indians have sometimes interbred with blacks, but in British Guiana they are reported to despise the negroes and to have little intercourse with them.
It is sometimes asserted that a rigid enforcement of the color line in the tropics would leave the two races isolated in an intractable antipathy. Sir Sidney Olivier, governor of Jamaica, has argued from this that a middle class of mixed stock serves as a useful buffer between white and black. He says:
But such interbreeding, Sir Sidney maintains, should invariably come about by the marriage of white men with colored women. There is a good biological reason for this, but the primary consideration is the racial welfare of the whites. Whatever the good qualities of the negro, and Sir Sidney sees more of them than most of his fellow whites, he nevertheless thinks that
A mixed stock, however, while it may lessen the actual clash between the two extreme types in a community, does not necessarily diminish the totality of race antagonism, and may augment it. For the hybrid, instead of commanding the confidence of both parent stocks, usually himself becomes the object of animosity on the part of both, and this is an added danger to social peace. Ostracized by both races, he is particularly hateful to the more backward type. Mixed breeds usually possess greater mental capacity than the pure blacks and are the victims of the latter's jealousy. This is in harmony with the familiar social law that in a given society made up of hostile classes it is the nearest, and particularly that next above in the social scale, which is most cordially hated. Jealousy of hybrids is due chiefly to two causes. They are, except in the United States, more freely admitted to social privileges, and it is with them that the dominant race is more likely to contract marriage. In the United States, where any appreciable intermixture of blood exists, the mongrels are enumerated as negroes, while in nearly all the other countries mixed breeds constitute a separate and often a privileged class.
To characterize the negroes merely as a passive race, as is often done, does not fully cover the situation. It is more nearly correct to describe them as pliable and imitative. Ability to bend and adapt has proved the negro's salvation in the supreme test of contact with complex and often rigid white institutions. In marked contrast stands the American Indian whose "grand refusal" has been his undoing. Not only has the negro of the new world survived transplanting, but he has everywhere taken on the cultural tone of the particular white group with which he has been brought in contact. In Spanish America he has acquired the taste in dress and the pride bearing of the Castilian. In Haiti he is essentially French and in Brazil Portuguese. The impress of France is still on the negroes of Louisiana and the Jamaican negro is unmistakably British.
In other words, the negro reflects by imitation the civilization of the society in which he lives. His character in any mixed society depends largely on the social standards which others set. Originally brought into touch with European civilization without any fixed cultural equipment of his own, he develops in social capacity along the lines of least resistance, reacting to such stimuli as the social environment offers. But while lacking in positive cultural achievement he possesses certain well-developed temperamental traits which enable him to fit into some social environments better than others. He is sensuous, and his esthetic nature is richer on some sides than that of the north European. It can hardly be questioned that the Latin temperament is better adapted to harmonize with the negro than is the less volatile Teuton. Just as the American negro feels an instinctive admiration for southern white people, in preference to unemotional northerners, so the race has in the course of generations reacted more spontaneously, and perhaps more wholesomely, to the vivacious Latin temperament than to the sterner Teuton type. The smaller degree of race friction in the Latin colonies may point to a possible modification of world policy in the white man's growing problem of dealing with black races in Africa and Australasia.
This tendency of the negro to take on the psychic tone of the dominant culture may have far-reaching results in Africa itself. Weale is convinced that if the African negro shall be Mohammedanized the fate of the white man's empire in that continent will be sealed. From the Arabs the negro would acquire an aggressive, war-like spirit that would ultimately lead to his mastery of his own continent. If, on the other hand, the Africans are christianized they will remain docile. But, as already noted, the negro temperament is little adapted to aggressiveness or independent activity. It is therefore more probable that he will develop in civilization, if he develops at all, on the lines of the European peoples who are pressing on the more remote portions of Africa with ever-increasing persistence.
Wherever the blacks are massed in undisturbed possession of the soil, their contact with the whites is in the nature of independent group antagonism. In tropical Africa the true negro is at home, and, so far as can now be foreseen, the white man can rule only as an outsider without constituting any appreciable element in the social population. But on the fringes of the continent the situation is very similar to that in the United States, where a ruling race is settled upon the same soil and is capable of self-perpetuation. But even in temperate South Africa it is possible that large political units, wholly black, may survive. The South African black, except in Cape Colony, is not at present granted equal political rights, but if he continues to progress in intelligence as he has recently done his demand for political and social equality must become exceedingly strong, as it has in the United States; and the struggle for equality will of itself be a means of developing a fixed sense of race separateness which must long make the color question a sore spot in South African politics.
In the Australian commonwealth the color problem exhibits a most peculiar and interesting phase. The aboriginal inhabitants scarcely figure in the question at all. There can, for the present, be little idea of their active participation in organized social interests, both by reason of their small numbers and because of their absolute lack of capacity. It is the colored immigrant, whether black, brown or yellow, who furnishes the problem. This new commonwealth, with a native black population regarded as negligible, has deliberately set out to develop an exclusively white civilization on Australian soil, even at the expense of a dearth of labor force. So powerful has the "White Australia" movement become that stringent exclusion laws have been passed by the commonwealth parliament denying admission to all non-British immigrants unable to pass fixed educational tests, and providing for the deportation of numerous colored laborers already present on contract. How passionate the "White Australia" idea is, and how deeply it deplores the evils of race mixture in the rest of the world, is manifest in the words of its most scholarly exponent, Professor Charles H. Pearson:
Australia is an unexampled instance of a great continent that has been left for the first civilized people that found it to take and occupy. The natives have died out as we approached; there have been no complications with foreign powers; and the climate of the South is magnificent. . . . We are guarding the last part of the earth, in which the white races can live and increase freely, for the higher civilization. We are denying the yellow race nothing but what it can find in the home of its birth, or in countries like the Indian Archipelago, where the white man can never live except as an exotic.
Such a policy of white segregation, if it were sound, would be an example of the thing which nations ought to undertake more often than they do. It represents a deliberate choice of ends planned for long in advance, and it is an admirable case of what Lester F. Ward calls "social telesis." But thispolicy happens to be one which is open to serious question. It never has succeeded, nor is it likely to prosper in Australia, because the aggregation and composition of populations are governed by laws of selective fitness which are stronger than statutes. Certain areas in various parts of the world are almost certainly destined to belong primarily to the whites, as certain districts of Africa and of the United States may come to be recognized as the special habitat of negroes, but the selection must come in the first place from natural fitness rather than law, and the area is never likely to be continental in extent.
The island of Cuba exhibits the curious spectacle of a tropical land which is peculiarly fitted to be the home of a colored race, but which is for the time being swinging towards a decisive white majority. After 1898 it seemed that Cuba was to follow the steps of Haiti and become a black republic, but immediately after the war of liberation there set in an active and steady immigration of Spanish peasants which in ten years has amounted to 128,000. Gradually overborne by numbers, the negroes are beginning to segregate, and in 1908 a party of color was formed. While there is as yet no definite color caste in social life, the supplanting of Spanish influence by American ideas will doubtless gradually assimilate conditions in Cuba to those of the neighboring states of America.
In the last analysis color prejudice is based on cultural difference more than on the degree of pigmentation. Because extremes of physical difference do actually in large measure accompany difference in culture rank, the most radical race antagonisms are those between the extreme whites and the extreme blacks. A black skin is everywhere associated in thought with cultural inferiority. Back of this may lie a subconscious suggestion of the historical fact that the negroid races have achieved few of the cultural values that are to the white man the marks of superior mental and social efficiency. To the extent that the blacks live down this stigma of cultural inefficiency prejudice against them will lose its force. There are abundant evidences of color aversion on the part of the white towards the yellow, brown and red races, but it nowhere reaches the intensity of that directed against the blacks, nor is it of sufficient depth to constitute a fundamental social problem.
Speaking particularly of race antagonism in South Africa, Mr. Bryce says:
It is therefore by narrowing the gap between the actual cultural status of the races that the worst aspects of race animosity are eliminated. Whether, as Boas and Ward hold, the total mental capacity of all races is essentially equal, is not here the question. Achievement of any valid kind, whether by individuals or by racial groups, is bound ultimately to command respect. World contacts are rapidly increasing and a higher degree of intergroup cooperation is making possible a wide diffusion and sharing of the achievements of each of the great racial groups. When this process shall have gone far enough much of the asperity which has characterized the periods of isolation will be materially softened.
It is an unquestionable fact that the yellow as well as the negroid peoples possess many desirable qualities in which the whites are deficient. From this it has been argued that it would be advantageous if all races were blended into a universal type embodying the excellences of each. But scientific breeders have long ago demonstrated that the most desirable results are secured by specializing types rather than by merging them. The perfection of individual qualities insures a high degree of general efficiency in case those qualities can be coordinated in a systematic organization. This is particularly true of human types. The doctrine of racial Darwinism no longer implies a struggle in which the defeated type is exterminated. Under conditions prevailing in modern civilized association it implies rather an application of the selective principle through a combination of competition and cooperation, by which the superior qualities of each race are sifted out and brought to efficiency. It implies also a rough sort of interracial division of labor.
A group of negro leaders in America have advocated the principle of a "group economy" for the colored people of the south, and the idea is capable of a wider application to the great racial groups of the world. In a world of free exchange and intergroup cooperation it is absurd to suppose that the white race can get the benefit of whatever is useful in the tropics, for instance, only by conquest and colonization. Perhaps it is true that the tropical peoples will become efficient only through the influence of organized white leadership, but Mr. Kidd's plausible plea that the white race ought to master and hold the tropics "in trust for civilization" is an empty phrase unless it means a real overlordship. The question inevitably arises, "Whose civilization?" For when the colored races shall have developed an adequate race consciousness it is inevitable that they should seek to devise their own institutions according to their needs, and from the point of view of world interest it is desirable that they do so.
The color line is evidence of an attempt, based on instinctive choice, to preserve those distinctive values which a racial group has come to regard as of the highest moment to itself. Although sometimes based on a blind prejudice surviving from the primal instincts of periods of isolated savagery, it invariably, in its better phases, has in it the core of a sound scientific truth, which is that specialization is the law of efficiency. The fact that it is always the lighter race that puts the taboo on the colored, and that the latter is everywhere eager to mix with the whites, is only an evidence of the general trend of choice towards the higher efficiency of the white race.
- Nansen, "Eskimo Life," pp. 328-331.
- Bryce, "The Relations of the Advanced and Backward Races of Mankind," p. 11.
- Lumholtz, "Among Cannibals," pp. 346-347.
- "The Conflict of Color," London, 1910. Weale is the pseudonym of Mr. B. L. Simpson.
- 5 Ibid., pp. 90-91.
- Estimating the total population of the world at 1,705,000,000, Weale makes the division by color as follows:
Whites 566,000,000 Mixed whites 40,000,000 Absolute yellow, brown and black 1,099,000,000
Of the whites 453,500,000 are assigned to Europe, and of the colored 947,000,000 belong to Asia and 140,000,000 to Africa (p. 111).
- The density of population in certain of the greater habitable areas peopled by the whites and by the colored outside of Europe shows some significant contrasts:
- See the report of the South African Native Races Committee entitled "The South African Natives," Ch. VII.
- Johnston, "The Negro in the New World," pp. 331, 332 and 334.
- Olivier, "White Capital and Colored Labor," pp. 39-40.
- ibid., pp. 37 38.
- "See Prichard, "Where Black Rules White: Haiti," p. 280; also Kirke, "Twenty-five Years in British Guiana," pp. 260-262.
- Oliver asserts that the negro is naturally more courteous than the lower classes of northern Europe, and he is convinced that the insolence of the American negro is due in large measure to the bad manners and unwarranted pretensions of the whites. "White Capital and Colored Labor," pp. 46, 48.
- Sir H. H. Johnston points out that the hold which the French secured on the negroes of the Windward Island and of Dominica during the period of their occupancy was deeper than that which the English have been able to acquire during the period of British rule. "The Negro in the New World," pp. 233234 and 306-309.
- "Pearson, "National Life and Character," pp. 16-17. For details of the "White Australia" movement, see Scholefield, "The White Peril in Australasia," in the Nineteenth Century for August, 1905; and Law and Gill, "A White Australia: What it Means," in the same periodical for January, 1904. The law of 1901 excluding colored labor was entitled "The Pacific Islanders Act." The final limit for deporting the contract laborers was fixed for December 31, 1906. To prevent the destruction of the sugar industry in Queensland a bounty is offered on sugar grown by white labor.
- "Censo de la República de Cuba," 1907, pp. 59-66; see also Johnston, "The Negro in the New World," p. 60. The census of 1907 shows that in a total popuulation of 2,048,980 the colored number 608,967, or 29.7 per cent. The unmixed negroes number 242,382.
- Bryce, "Impressions of South Africa," p. 366.