Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
American Ethnological Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Hate, anxiety, and fear in the United States has a history rooted in race and racial ambivalence. During the first quarter of the 20th Century, anthropology was often a reliable narrator of race in the tangle of laws, policies, and court decisions that constituted immigration and naturalization law. There were considerable anxiety and panic created by large numbers of ambiguous white immigrants who threatened the civic identity and character of true, real, or authentic Americans forged from the racially and culturally homogenous “old-stock” western European immigrants of the colonial era. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 partially mitigated the panic. That law institutionalized immigration quotas based on “national origins,” banned the immigration of people of Asian descent, severely curtailed immigration from African countries, and extended the strict rules for naturalization to all people immigrating to the US.
Anthropology played key roles in validating who was white and who was not white, which was a central question of who could become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America and subsequently even immigrate to the United States. There were, however, limits to anthropological authority. Identifying how anthropology was and was not used, as an authoritative epistemology in the construction of race during the Progressive Era and interwar years is an instructive way of identifying the limits of anthropological authority within public discourse.