Bigotry Old and New: Back in 1908, the Dangerous Immigrants Were the Jews, Italians and Chinese

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1916
anchor-babies
The "Anchor Babies" of 1908.

Recent efforts to brand Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists echo earlier attacks on other groups. New York Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham wrote a widely read article on the criminality of immigrants back in 1908. According to Bingham, immigration brought to New York “the predatory criminals of all nations.” He went on to describe the crimes associated with each nationality. For example:

The crimes committed by the Russian Hebrews are generally those against property. They are burglars, firebugs, pickpockets and highway robbers — when they have the courage; but, though all crime is their province, pocket-picking is the one to which they seem to take most naturally. Indeed, pickpockets of other nationalities are beginning to recognize the superiority of the Russian Hebrew in that gentle art…

More sinister than the “Russian Hebrews”, in the mind of Commissioner Bingham, were the Italians. He wrote that;

While the Italians are outnumbered in New York by the Hebrews by two to one, the crime percentage of the former is but 20 to the latter’s 50, the Italian malefactor is by far the greater menace to law and order…In New York, presumably the very centre of Western civilization, crimes of black-mailing, blowing up shops and houses and kidnapping of their fellow countrymen, have become prevalent among Italian residents of the city

Then there are the Chinese:

Chinatown is a plague spot that ought not to be allowed to exist. It is a constant menace to the morals of the children of the neighborhood, and a cover for desperate criminals. The low-ceiled rooms of the squalid buildings in Doyers, Pell and Mott streets, and facing on the Bowery, many of them opening only into inside courts, are divided and subdivided into closetlike spaces that are rented for living and sleeping purposes, and in them are housed the very lees of humanity, black, yellow and white — Chinamen, honest and dishonest, but all the others — thieves, thugs and prostitutes, with their parasites.

Glad he was not able to pave over Chinatown.

Today’s immigrant haters are part of a decades long parade of Know Nothings who brand the latest group of immigrants as criminals, terrorists, and a threat to civilization. Of course, the grandparents of today’s bigots were often themselves the targets of bigotry in 1908.


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