In 1911, Henry Pratt Fairchild, an influential American sociologist, said about new immigrants, “If he proves himself a man, and … acquires wealth and cleans himself up — very well, we might receive him in a generation or two. But at present he is far beneath us, and the burden of proof rests with him.” They ultimately met that burden and crucial to their success was that they were not black and they actively helped in maintaining a racist society.
I understood this to be true after finishing historian David R. Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness, a book about how new immigrants became white. Between 1886 and 1925, 13 million new immigrants came from southern, eastern and central Europe. Up until that point, people considered white generally hailed from England, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavian countries. Roediger, a professor at University of Illinois, argues that new immigrants, until they were fully brought into the white family, lived in a state of in-betweeness, meaning they were placed in a racial pecking order below whites but above people of color.