Diversity Fatigue

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

In the congressional debates on the 1924 Immigration Act, Representative William Vaile of Colorado, a prominent immigration restrictionist, argued that if there is any changing to be done [to our country], we will do it ourselves:

Let me emphasize here that the restrictionists of Congress do not claim that the “Nordic” race, or even the Anglo-Saxon race, is the best race in the world. Let us concede, in all fairness that the Czech is a more sturdy laborer … that the Jew is the best businessman in the world, and that the Italian has … a spiritual exaltation and an artistic creative sense which the Nordic rarely attains. Nordics need not be vain about their own qualifications. It well behooves them to be humble.

What we do claim is that the northern European and particularly Anglo-Saxons made this country. Oh, yes; the others helped. But … [t]hey came to this country because it was already made as an Anglo-Saxon commonwealth. They added to it, they often enriched it, but they did not make it, and they have not yet greatly changed it.

We are determined that they shall not … It is a good country. It suits us. And what we assert is that we are not going to surrender it to somebody else or allow other people, no matter what their merits, to make it something different. If there is any changing to be done, we will do it ourselves.

— [Cong. Rec., April 8, 1924, 5922]

When Vaile made those remarks, America had just experienced four decades of high immigration, and continued immigration was poised to remake the nation into “something different”:

Congressman Vaile’s language grossly violates modern protocols of course. That is not his fault; and taken at face value, with an understanding of the times, the notions he expresses are humane and sensible. They put the lie to arguments — I heard one in conversation just the other day — that the only motive driving the 1924 restrictionists was a determination to keep out inferior peoples. Plainly Rep. Vaile did not believe Czechs, Jews and Italians to be inferior to “Nordics.” He thought they were fine people: but they had their own countries, and we had our own country, and to go on permitting them to move from there to here in great numbers would change our country more than we wished it changed. Perhaps they would be more usefully employed in changing their own countries, if those countries were so unsatisfactory to them.

After a similar period of high immigration, America may once again be experiencing diversity fatigue, John Derbyshire says:

It seems to me that in the recent arguments over Arizona’s immigration law and the Ground Zero mosque, I detect a whiff of diversity fatigue. Could it be that the mindset of Congressman Vaile is still to be found, in quantity, among the American public? A mindset not of racial superiority or privilege, still less of “hate,” but of satisfaction with one’s country the way it is, with the ethnic balance it has, and a reluctance to countenance the indefinite continuation of headlong demographic change?

Yesterday I got lost near the railroad station of a nearby town, Hicksville. I stopped people to ask directions to the street I wanted. It took four or five tries before I found someone who could both (a) understand me, and (b) reply in plain English. This was not the teeming slums of a port city, or some adobe outpost in the southwastern desert: this was a provincial town in Long Island.

Then this evening I saw Katie Couric on TV saying: “We cannot let fear and rage tear down the towers of our core American values.”

Is massive, never-ending demographic change a “core American value”? Might objections to the Ground Zero mosque—the topic exercising Ms. Couric’s absurd grandiloquence—be inspired by something other than “fear” and “rage”? Perhaps by the beliefs that this is a good country; that it suits us; and that we are not going to surrender it to somebody else or allow other people, no matter what their merits, to make it something different?

Derbyshire is, of course, an immigrant — from England.

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