Immigration and Race Attitudes

Chapter 3: Status and Race Attitudes

Emory S. Bogardus

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The commanding place of " status " in an understanding of race attitudes is beyond question. But what is status? A synonym is "standing," and a tentative definition: the personal rating given one person by his fellows. The wish for recognition is the dynamic force involved. Whatever lowers the social rating given a person or his group arouses prejudice. What boosts one or his group is likely to stimulate favoritism.

Status is used in this book in the social rather than the legal sense. Legal status, which is " standing " before the law, is often a far different thing from social status or " standing " before the bar of group opinion and attitude. Many persons have complete legal status, but are continually moving up or down as far as social status goes. One can lose legal status and maintain or even gain social status thereby in the eyes of one's friends. Legal status is quite stable and formal; social status is a daily, fluctuating, and unstable affair.

An attack upon one's status arouses prejudice as distinguished from antipathy. Prejudice may be viewed as the result of competition, whereas antipathy is more likely to be due to adverse sense impressions. An immigrant who offends one's sense of sight and smell by his uncleanliness arouses disgust and antipathy. Because one's sense impressions are so primary and so far beneath control by the central nervous system, they constitute a relatively permanent phase of racial problems.

While prejudice, on the other hand, is aroused by com-

( 31) -petition and attack on one's status, and hence is an important defense mechanism, it may pass away as soon as the competition and danger from attack on one's status is over. Being a defense mechanism, however, prejudice easily becomes engrained in basic behavior patterns, and is difficult to dislodge.

Where adverse sense impressions are combined with fear of attack on status, or where antipathy is joined with prejudice, a relatively stable form of behavior reaction is established. The vigorous reaction of some Americans against a certain type of Armenian immigrant was at first composed of disgust due to the immigrant's unkempt appearance, and so forth. Later, it acquired a prejudice element, when these particular Armenians began to drive big cars and crowd Americans off the highway. Prolongation of combined antipathy and prejudice reactions creates a psychological wall which can be broken down only with great difficulty.

Status and Opinion.-Social status depends in part on public opinion. When public opinion turns against a person or a group, status is invaded. Not only that, but persons associating with or even " seen with " an individual or a group who has lost status also lose status. Even the surrounding neighborhood loses status.

Unfortunately, powerful public opinion is subject not only to the sum total of the prejudices of the persons involved but to a vertical suction movement. Public opinion devastates status unjustly. It often mows status down for no adequate reasons. It may frequently be accounted for by the poorest of logic, facts, or interpretation.

An ordinary person who is sympathetic toward and appreciative of the struggles of the members of a despised race does not dare to be friendly, lest the persons befriended assume ton much and seek his company at times that would lower his status in the eyes of his friends. For instance,

( 32) there is the person who thinks that it is wrong to look down upon Negroes as belonging to an inferior race, but who does not care to make friends with any of them. " I think that I am a coward. I am a slave to public opinion." Or there is the person who would enjoy playing tennis with Japanese but shrinks from the resultant loss in status that would befall him in the eyes of his American friends. The wish to be fair in one's dealings with the members of other races conflicts with the wish to maintain status. The latter wish is a stronger force and usually wins at the expense of race friendliness.

A person in danger of losing his status goes easily to extreme lengths, such as denouncing an invading group, race, or religion, and by so doing plays the rôle of a " patriot," with the result that his status has been recovered.

Candidates for office may go so far as to denounce nonvoting or noninfluential races and by innuendo receive "votes" from hoodwinked Americans for being "loyal." In the United States the Oriental, having been made ineligible to vote by legislative fiat, has on occasion been the " goat " of politicians wishing to bolster up a waning status. In fact, a " loyal good-fer-nothin' " may be rated higher than a broad-minded " foreigner."

Status and Fair Play.-Status, whether originating in force or not, and whether relating to a person or to a whole social group, is likely to be maintained by misrepresentation, by subtle educational propaganda, by hoodwinking the honest but gullible public. National groups are willing to resort to war in order to maintain status. Both persons and groups struggle to improve status - generally but not always by legitimate means. Because status has been struggled for, it is precious; and because it is precious, it will be protected even at the expense of injustice.

Our National Exclusion Act (1924), barring the Japanese altogether, was interpreted by the Japanese as lowering

( 33) their status in the eyes of the world. By virtue of the Exclusion Act, the Japanese were put by Americans at a greater distance than were other races; and hence they felt, as we would feel if in their places, as if they had been put on a lower level, and that this lower level carried with it an indictment of their worth. The increasing of social distance by legislative enactment is always interpreted as a demotion in status -something which is intolerable to any proud people who have arrived at a position of rank among the peoples of the world.

The Exclusion Act likewise discriminates against the Chinese; but unlike the Japanese, they did not protest. They, however, did not have the political rank of a firstrate power, and hence the effect upon their status was not so severe. When they reach the position of a leading nation, our Exclusion Act will constitute a heavy drag on their status, and they will vigorously protest. To be excluded does not hurt, provided all one's peers are also excluded; but to be singled out for exclusion when one's peers are permitted to enter, is unbearable.

When some Americans treat members of all races on a democratic basis, there is often a double rebound. The Americans lose status, and their racial friends are made to feel decidedly uncomfortable. To allow worthy members of any other race to come to one's home, eat at one's table, or to marry into one's family, turns loose the hounds of gossip and destroys one's status. " A racial group toward which I have a sympathetic feeling, but one with which I cannot have companionship or business because of the social disfavor which would result, is the Negro race," says a prominent southerner.

4. I felt sorry for him (Filipino), and he has told me some of his problems. Last night I let him take me out to dinner, and then we talked afterward. One of my friends saw me in the restaurant, and today I was waited on by three of them who told

( 34) me that for my good standing I should have to leave off all friendly relations with this young man at once, or that my friends would drop me. What should I do? The young man will be more discouraged than ever. Here is an opportunity to do a good Christian deed, but my Christian friends won't allow me to do it.[1]

5. Personally, since the Chinese and Japanese are both yellow races in a foreign country, I (Chinese) have a feeling of kinship with them (Japanese). However, probably because of my " social-mirror self," I have never liked to associate intimately with them. I know that such an intimacy on my part would bring criticism and that my family and friends would think badly of me. In spite of this, I can recognize the good points of the Japanese, and I certainly do not sympathize with the attitude of the American government toward them [2]

6. As a child, I loved to sit on the carriage box and listen to our coachman sing songs as he curried the horses. This my mother explained to me was not the proper thing to do, for the coachman was colored. My love for darkie songs and stories was quite the bane of my mother's life for a while. When I was six years old, I was sent to a public school. In my room was a colored child. Secretly I liked to hear her talk, but I was well enough educated by this time in my mother's theory to pretend to ignore her .[3]

The occupations of immigrants affect their status. Where they become " servants," their status is at once fixed on a low level. When they crowd into " slums " and live in " dirty-looking " shacks, a low status is accorded them.

As they rise in the occupational scale, their status also rises, first among their own people, and then among " outsiders," or the natives of the region in which they have settled.

Status and Mores.- Status depends in large part on the mores, but many matters are buried, or " forever settled " in the mores. Doctrines of Nordic superiority or of no racial intermarriage, for example, are powerful factors in

( 35) determining status. Status is often fixed by rules of unwritten consent, in family traditions, in racial myths, or historical conventions. Status is naturally ingrained in social heredity, caste systems, class distinctions, and even in law.

In the Pacific Coast Race Relations Survey certain Hindu immigrants were found who had married Mexican women, without having their status affected. Certain districts in the coast cities, occupied by white people, will not allow Japanese to move in, while others, also occupied by white people, welcome them. In order to know how status functions in race matters, it is necessary to study the mores.

As the mores regarding races varies, so a person's status may vary, even though his behavior toward other races does not change. For a white person to sit next to a colored person in a street car means one thing in the North, namely, a convenience; and another thing in the South, namely, a lowered status. In the North a seat is the desideratum. There may be no conversation and no effect on the status. In the South a white person sitting beside a Negro puts himself on the level of the Negro and promptly suffers loss of status.

A distinguished white northerner goes South and is invited to dinner by a prominent Negro. As long as the gathering is small and "no one is likely to hear about it," the Northerner is entirely at ease. " But let some of my friends (white) from Chattanooga come in, and I should begin to perspire."

When the native's status is " invaded " by members of another race, antipathy for that race usually flares up. Sometimes this invasion takes the form of actual moving into a given neighborhood. For example, Japanese immigrants are desirous of improving their status and when possible move out of " Little Tokio " into an area occupied by natives, but in so doing they get " out of place." Hence,

( 36) they irritate people who want an established order. They are more willing to take rebuffs, however, than to accept inferior status. Attempts to climb up from the lower status levels bring persecution and conflict. The dilemma is the choice between inferior status and peace, or recognized status and conflict. The persecution is due (1) to the immigrant's attempts to improve his status and (2) to the native's attempts to maintain his own status.

The race that shows initiative, one whose members seek better conditions, particularly better living conditions, " invades " higher-class neighborhoods and does more than it knows; it invades the status of the people living in these neighborhoods. As a result the latter become incensed, and race clashes become imminent.

7. Furthermore, the Negroes are not content to live in one part of town and the whites in the other, but steadily creep into all parts of town. In my community, the Negroes inhabit some of the best sections of town and are still spreading to other parts. We have had to move out, for we were ashamed to have our friends see us and have them say: " Do you have niggers on your street? How can you stand them? " Yes, it is our friends' unfavorable opinion and not any real objection that we have to Negroes that makes the difference.[4]

8. A colored man of near-white type purchased a home in a white neighborhood. He moved in with his family, who were all much lighter than the Mexicans who are numerous in this community. He improved his home and surroundings until it was considered one of the model places in the neighborhood. He lived quietly, and all was well until his race was accidentally discovered, when his home was visited at night and he was warned " to git out inside of twenty-four hours if you don't want your house burned with you and your nigger brats in it." He moved away, and later sold his home at considerable financial loss.

In the same community, opposite to the L. School, a colored family this year bought a house through a downtown agent. This time the people discovered it at once, and before the family moved in had called a meeting on F. Avenue of the local business men

( 37) and others of the community. Next morning we saw the house placarded with such signs as "Nigger git out." " Niggers not allowed here." " This is no Nigger's nest." The family did not even attempt to move in.[5]

9. " We fixed him! " said a white real-estate man. " That rich nigger R.," naming a prominent and well-to-do colored man, " bought a fine house in our block. The first night after we heard about it we went there and threw stones through the windows and banged things up generally. He claimed he didn't know niggers weren't wanted there; but when he saw his house, I guess he found it out mighty fast. . . . Oh, he sold his place for whatever he could get for it after it was knocked up so. I don't know or care where he went so long as we got him out of our neighbprhood." [6]

10. Appeal for police protection is useless; for although there are about fifty colored men on the police force, they are located in the colored communities, and the white police usually ignore if not actually sympathize with the white mob. A few, however, stick it out in spite of threats of violence. A colored woman and her invalid mother bought a home in a white community. She was given twenty-four hours to get out, said a warning note beginning with the usual words, " If you value your hide." She appealed to her colored friends. The next evening as the crowd of white rowdies began to gather around the house, a number of colored women got off the car at the nearest corner. In absolute silence they formed into a marching column, two by two -there were about one hundred in all - they marched to the house and stationed themselves about it. Gradually the white crowd melted away. The two women still live in that house. They were molested no further.[7]

" Invasion " is a key to a great deal of the race prejudice that exists between the native born and immigrants in cities. As long as races stay in ghettoes or Little Italys, they are " all right," but when their members invade the " American " neighborhoods, adverse reactions are at once generated against them. The speed at which this invasion is undertaken bears a direct relation to the rise of prejudice. To the extent that the native feels his status has been lowered by

( 38) the invasion of his neighborhood or his occupation by immigrant people, to that extent his race feelings are likely to be inflamed.

Status has usually originated in force, and social distance likewise has been established by force, war, misrepresentation, and subtle propaganda devices. The status of groups has often been determined in the same manner. Moreover, any group or person will ordinarily fight to maintain status once it has been achieved. Status is a result of competition; its existence implies potential if not actual competition. Status and competition, moreover, are opposites. One denotes stability, and perhaps stagnation and hence retrogression; the other, change, and perhaps anarchy. The stability, however, which arises from status affords the more energetic person opportunities to invent and to progress. The changes concurrent to competition lead directly to mental invigoration. Race stability and status may be synonymous with race pride and degeneration. Race competition leads to conflict, to changes in status, and to either progress or destruction.

11. An example that has directly concerned my family was shown when my father hired groups of men for work in a hotel. There was a group of American young men and a group of Japanese. My father had no end of trouble with the white men, while the Japanese were steady workers. They studied at night while the white men went out and often came home intoxicated. I hated to see foreigners take the place of high rank and always tried to defend my native brothers when my father had to turn away one American after another .[8]

12. My dislike for the Japanese is not founded upon any one definite unpleasant experience. It is, perhaps, envy to a certain degree, of the advances that these people are making over those of our nation. Fear that they may become too strong in our country as well as in their own, causing the next dreaded war, may stimulate this dislike. Their high birth rate indicates that they will soon have need of expansion. Trouble will be brought about if any such attempt is made.

( 39)

My younger brother entered a Y. M. C. A. contest a few days ago. Certain honors were to be given to the winners of the first and second places. When I heard that Japanese boys took both these honors, a strange feeling of jealousy, because they had defeated my brother and his playmates, came over me.[9]

The discussion in this chapter of status and race attitudes is merely preliminary. Enough has been said, however, to indicate that attack upon status means prejudice and that immigrants who compete for a living or otherwise with natives are thereby arousing race prejudices among the natives. The interrelations between the origins of prejudice and antipathy are so important, and the relations of status and prejudice so fundamental that the several chapters will be necessary in order to interpret pertinent data. A detailed discussion of some of the special points will now be undertaken.


1. Trace the historical uses of the term "status," from its origins to its present sociological meaning.

2. Write out a description of any experience of your own in which you have felt that your status was seriously endangered.

3. Interview a friend and write out any experiences of his where status played any important rôle.

4. Describe the various ways in which your present status would be endangered if you violated the prevailing mores regarding immigrants, foreigners, or " despised " races.

5. Put yourself in the place of a self-respecting Japanese, and describe your reactions in some detail upon learning that you and your countrymen had been excluded from a leading nation as " undesirables."

6. If you had an opportunity to sell your residence to a member of a race that was taboo in a neighborhood, at a distinctly higher figure than you could secure from anyone else, what would you do and for what reasons?

7. Analyze as many different conditions as possible where a racial invasion is most likely to upset the status of a community.

( 40)


CHICAGO COMMISSION ON RACE RELATIONS, The Negro in Chicago, Chap. VI. University of Chicago Press, 1922.

DUBOIS, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk, Chap. I. McClurg, 1922.

FOERSTER, R. F., The Italian Emigration of Our Times, Chap.XXI. Harvard University Press, 1919.

JENKS, J. W., AND LAUCK, W. J., The Immigration Problem, Chap. IX. Funk and Wagnalls, 6th edit., 1926.

PARK, R. E., " Experience and Race Relations," Jour. of Applied Sociology, Vol. IX, pp. 18-24.

PARK AND BURGESS, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, pp. 708-18. University of Chicago Press, 1921.


  1. Pacific Coast Race Relations Survey.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Social Distance Studies (unpublished manuscripts), Loa Angeles, 1926.
  5. Ibid.    
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.

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