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84 Race and the Social Thought of White Women in the WILPF The work of Rachel Dubois, Emily Greene Balch, and Anna Melissa Graves demonstrates that many white women of the interwar WILPF also consciously and constantly negotiated race as they constructed responses to war and national strife. Although their thinking differed at times, they held in common the understanding that unenlightened Victorian racial attitudes played a significant role in maintaining the conditions that created war and hindered efforts to establish domestic as well as international peace. The white women of the WILPF who challenged scientific racism employed a range of counter-ideas about race as they moved to create a new, more equalitarian and peaceful world order. They endeavored to replace the nation’s allegiance to nativism and Anglo-Saxon superiority with a new attachment to the concepts of world-mindedness and cultural pluralism. They hoped to diminish the idea that race was biological and a determining factor of intelligence and morality by moving people toward a more cosmopolitan approach that believed in the collective humanity of the world’s people. The Rise of Scientific Racism According to John Higham, by the turn of the century two currents of regressive race-based thinking dominated the intellectual foundations at work in the United States. A defensive form of racial nationalism aimed to control the “enemy” within the nation—immigrants and African Americans—whereas an aggressive racial nationalism worked to rally Race and the Social Thought of White Women | 85 and validate US expansionism abroad.1 With a new wave of immigration under way in the 1890s and US military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, the nation recommitted itself to using race to explain and legitimate domestic and foreign policy. Scientific racism most often served as the scaffolding that both the defensive and aggressive forms of racial nationalism clung to. Proponents of scientific racism believed that race was a measurable and quantifiable biological fact. Race, they proposed, determined and explained everything about a person or a society from intelligence and temperament to fitness for civilization. With race a fixed and unalterable quality, proponents of scientific racism stood firmly in their observation that the superiority and inferiority of the races were objective and natural facts. They used this “science” to argue for limitations on immigration, state-endorsed eugenics programs, and US military and economic expansionism abroad. To scientific racists, slums were products of poor breeding, not products of complex economic factors. Immigrants were feared because they might “pollute” the Anglo-Saxon stock.2 Sociologists and economists like Madison Grant, author of The Passing of the Great White Race or the Racial Basis of Europe History, Lothrop Stoddard, author of Clashing Tides of Color, and Edward Alsworth Ross, leading proponents of scientific racism, promoted a conflict-ridden social Darwinian model of social relations.3 During the 1898 Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt used the language of social Darwinism and Anglo-Saxon superiority to encourage and manage the US takeover of the Philippines from Spain. According to this logic, a race-based hierarchy would always exist and those located on the highest rungs of the ladder needed to take charge of those less capable . “Fitness,” Theodore Roosevelt believed, was not a universal human quality but an achievement attainable by only a select few. In championing US expansionism Roosevelt argued, “Fitness [for self-government] is not a God-given, natural right . . . but comes to a race only through the slow growth of centuries, and then only to those races which possess an immense reserve fund of strength, common sense, and morality.4 The language of Anglo-Saxon superiority and masculine benevolent responsibility was exemplified in Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1898 poem “The White Man’s Burden” and embraced by leaders like Roosevelt. Though writing 86 | A Band of Noble Women within a British context and with an ironic tone, Kipling’s work created a moral argument suitable for US expansionists who wanted to soften, though not necessarily completely reverse, the use of scientific racism. According to the masculine benevolence argument, the United States was a nation made up of selfless white men, willing to do the protectionist work that other nations were not manly enough to consider.5 Although perhaps a little softer in its rhetoric, underlying the idea of the white man’s burden remained a belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority—a chauvinistic reliance upon white middle-class American ideals of civilization, progress, and competence as the yardstick by which other nations were...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780815651444
Related ISBN
9780815632573
MARC Record
OCLC
785782983
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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