9. Race and
Industry in the Early 20th Century
In the early twentieth century, what industrial players
did was they hired according to what might sort of cynically
describe as a very sophisticated theory of race, one that presumes
each race had particular aptitudes. And when people talked about
race in 1910, Slavs were a race, Poles were a race, Jews were
a race, Italians were a race; people that we think of as nationalities
were all called races. In fact, there's a wonderful volume that
was produced by the United States Immigration Commission in 1910
or 1911 which went race by race to describe their various characteristics.
It's basically an encyclopedia of American racist, racial ideology
for the period. And characteristics are ascribed to each one: "these
people are good at that, those people are good at this." And
each of these races had to find employment according to conventional
stereotypes. Who was good at heavy work, who
had dexterity, who could handle machinery, etc., etc.
taxonomy what happened was that Eastern and Southern Europeans
were relegated to the heaviest, the dirtiest, the lowest-paying,
and the most insecure
jobs because these were the things that people assumed they
were best at.
African Americans were virtually excluded. Negro character,
which was a term that was frequently used, steel managers read
in the Iron Trade Review for example, made for
poor industrial workers. Blacks were "lazy," "unreliable," "slow,"
they couldn't be trusted to handle machinery, they wouldn't show
up for work on time, or, as the New Republic put it in 1915,
so, "the Negro gets a chance to work only when there is
no one else."