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War and racial identity

Racial logic and racial identity were inner throughout the many and diverse experiences of resistance to invasion and enslavement. though the racial divide did not guarantee racial unity, the rapidly consolidated color-line did provide a very effectual practical guidepost for evaluating loyalties and affording (or withholding) trust. Just as the whites had resorted to racialized structures in escalating the massive projects of conquest and enslavement, so too did natives and blacks learn to work within the confines of the color-line in developing strategies of resistance to these social structures.

Resistance practices were basically continuous. Racial solidarity served as a prerequisite for many types of resistance: from petty and quotidian acts of “foot-dragging,” theft, and disrupt, to daring and even sporadically world historical acts of revolt and revolution. Acts of resistance individual defiance, subversion, or escape on one side of the continuum, to organized uprisings, the creation of fugitive communities, or insurgency of national or even transnational scope, overlapped in numerous respects.

In all these initiatives there was a mutual purpose, a desire that conversant and guided the pursuit of freedom. This was the racial unity that usually overrode the myriad differences— ethnic, political, status-based, and so on—amongst the occupied and enslaved. Thus, it is common knowledge that the United States is becoming ever more diverse. According to demographer Leon Bouvier, “the United States is inevitably on its way to becoming a society with no one main group. ” By the middle of the twenty-first century, more than half of all Americans will be of non-European descent 1.

These changing racial demographics affect the United States in a diversity of ways. One significant feature of this diversity is the rather sharp climb in the number of multiracial Americans. Race mixing, the subject of white supremacists’ nightmares, is now a gradually more common occurrence in the United States. While, in 1970, 0. 7 percent of all marriages in the continental United States were interracial, today 2 percent of all Americans marry outside their race 2. “The number of . . . ‘mixed-race’ births have grown 26 times faster than all U. S. births”

3. These numbers make it clear that interracial couples and the children they produce should be given some serious consideration by those who wish to understand our present and future society. World War II as the point at which modern America appeared in a form still recognizable today. As some seen the war as transforming all of American society, others see the war as having mostly special importance in black history 4. According to A. Russell Buchanan, ‘Black Americans particularly felt the impact of World War II.

‘ Others have claimed that the war ‘brought substantial changes,’ and ‘altered the political, economic, and social status of Negro Americans’, or that it marked ‘the watershed of Afro-American history’, and was ‘a defining moment in the Negro’s relation to America,’ serving ‘as the mechanism in the struggle for equal rights. ‘ No longer could it be said, as Richard Dalfiume had done in a consequently much-quoted phrase, that the war years were ‘The “Forgotten Years” of the Negro Revolution. ‘ 5.

If anything, those who ‘discovered’ the forgotten years can have overstated their significance, and some views may now require modification and qualification. War often creates an appearance and probability of change which only masks underlying continuities. World War II was definitely no exception. Everyone at the time was aware of the all-purpose effects of the conflict and what the black sociologist Charles S. Johnson described as the ‘social disruption of war,’ but he and many others suggested that the war would mainly affect the place of African Americans.

The Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, whose now classic study An American Dilemma was published in 1944, predicted that ‘there is bound to be a redefinition of the Negro’s status in America as a result of this war. ‘ Even earlier novelist Pauli Murray could write to President Roosevelt’ It is my conviction that the problem of race, intensified by economic conflict and war nerves, will eventually inhabit a prevailing position as a national domestic problem. ‘ Ultimately occupy a dominant position as a national domestic problem.

Such statements were a manifestation more of hopes than of reality. The fact that it took almost another twenty years for race relations to presume the ‘dominant position as a national domestic problem’ simply points to the need to place the war years in viewpoint. Not even the Second World War was an independent reason of social change—its influence was shaped both by existing forces and by the situation which followed it. Rarely, if ever, does war produce transform not already begun in some way—the preconditions for change are typically already evident.

Thus, black participants in World War II brought memories of earlier experiences with them and used them to form their responses to the new conflict. The First World War was a constant source of reference and comparison as African Americans recalled their high hopes and prospects and the sense of disenchantment which had followed. Just a few days after Pearl Harbor the Chicago Defender could state, ‘In pledging our allegiance to the flag … we are not heedless of the broken promises of the past.

‘ As late as 1944 singer Josh White could still recall that ‘My father died, died fighting across the sea, Mama said his dying never helped her or me,’ reflecting both on past experience and a growing disillusionment about the effects of World War II 6. However, the mood of the black leadership was far diverse from the apparent moderation of DuBois’s famous ‘Close Ranks’ editorial in 1917. From the beginning of the divergence in 1939 there was an attempt to secure the inclusion of African Americans in the defense effort, and A. Philip Randolph’s threatened march on Washington apparently produced a significant breakthrough in 1941.

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