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Segregation in the United States

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During the 1800s, African Americans were not the only people segregated against by the whites. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed on the west coast: this prevented the Chinese from working in the U.S. and immigrating to the Country. The Chinese Exclusion Act began when an Irish immigrant by the name of Denis Kearney blamed the Chinese for unemployment in California. He gained a big following and used it to intimidate employers from hiring the Chinese and even leading a big percentage of the Chinese into other cities (A People and A Nation, pg. 541). Results of his movement were the banning of queues (a traditional Chinese hair braid) and Chinese establishments in white neighborhoods. Something interesting that came out of this was who the whites wanted instead of the Chinese. After they removed them from their jobs, there was a shortage of labor workers: because of this they recruited Italians and other immigrants from the east coast and Europe, whom they also segregated against, often violently: for example, a lynching of Italian Americans took place in New Orleans in 1891. Similar circumstances also occurred to the Japanese and the Mexicans. A question that may come to mind: why would the whites segregate against all races besides theirs, and what were they afraid of?

Many years before the Chinese Exclusion Act, in 1848, when James Polk was president, he ordered a survey of the west coast. Within the results they found that there were a lot of natural resources there, and they wanted to have direct access to it. Polk then decided that they would have Chinese people brought to the west to create colonies and develop the west (before the gold was discovered in California). Prior to this, the Chinese and the U.S. or England had been linked for hundreds of years. They were always interested in the China Trade, but the English didn’t have anything the Chinese wanted, which is when they began to illegally import Opium into China. This resulted in most of the Chinese becoming addicted to the drug, until they decided it was enough and began to burn and confiscate chests of opium, which led to the Opium War. When the war began, the English and the Americans said that, “They did it under the banner of free trade; free trade as the core expression of liberty. And how dare the Chinese say they can’t trade Opium into China” (American Experience-PBS). The war ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking that forced the Chinese into a new international system. As a result of all this, China was in poverty and the government was falling apart. When news about the gold in California was delivered, the U.S. ships were already in Chinese ports, ready to take them to the gold rush.

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The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law that singled out a specific race, a specific group of people to be discriminated against: it was a racial exclusion act. When the law was put into action, there was a lot of media coverage about it, such as newspaper articles and photo prints. In 1882, there was a photo print in the newspaper with a picture of two men discussing the Chinese Exclusion Act, underneath the photo it says: “If the Yankee Congress can keep the yellow man out, what is to hinder them from calling us green and keeping us out too?” (‘Which Color Is to Be Tabooed next?/ Th. Nast’). This refers to the thought that whites would segregate against all other races besides themselves, and shows that people of other races were afraid that they were going to be excluded just like the Chinese were. Along with the Chinese Exclusion Act that was put into place in 1882, the Geary Act, which further restricted Chinese immigration was put into action in 1892. The Geary Act, required that Chinese Americans carry certificates of residence, given to them by the Treasury Department. A year after the Chinese Six Companies (a San Francisco based organization) attempted to fight the law, but instead the U.S. Supreme Court continued to uphold the Geary Act. Along with these laws, there was also a lot of violence toward the Chinese, for instance on September 2nd 1885, there was a mob of white coal miners that attacked their Chinese co-workers after they fought about who had the right to mine in certain areas. This was the Rock Springs Massacre (Today in History- September 2).

Of course, the Chinese were not the only minorities that were segregated against. The Japanese and Mexicans were also excluded by the whites, and, just like the Chinese, were prevented from becoming American citizens by law. Another similarity between these races, after they were segregated against, is how they developed their communities with their own economic and residential character. A couple examples of this would be Mexican Barrios, in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and San Antonio, Little Italy, Jewtown, Polonia, and Greektown. Mexicans were also increasingly isolated, and real-estate covenants had property owners pledge to not sell homes to Mexicans, Jews, or African Americans. European immigrants also encountered prejudgement, resulting in the exclusion of Jews from certain professions, clubs, and neighborhoods, or the incapability of Italians to take part in urban politics. However, people of color (African Americans, Asians, and Mexicans) were definitely discriminated against in a more extreme manner.

Now why were these races segregated against? First, referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the whites decided that their jobs were being stolen by the Chinese, and that unemployment in California was their fault. I do not think that labor was the main reason for their discrimination. The primary cause was white purity, and the fact that white people didn’t want to be involved with others that were different from them. The Congress also thought that the Chinese wouldn’t be able to assimilate into their culture, because they ate different food, and followed different religions. This is what made them different from European immigrants, “because they are an unassimilable population, they cannot come to the United States, and those who are here cannot become American citizens” (American Experience-PBS). This racial exclusion act continued for the next 60 years until it finally ended in 1943 when it was repealed with the passage of the Magnuson Act.

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“Segregation in the United States.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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