Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

By David R. Roediger | Go to book overview

9
Inbetween Peoples
RACE, NATIONALITY, AND THE
“N EW-IMMIGRANT” WORKING CLASS
WITH JAMES BARRETT

By the eastern European immigration the labor force has been cleft horizontally into two great divisions. The upper stratum includes what is known in mill parlance as the “English-speaking” men; the lower contains the “Hunkies” or “Ginnies. ” Or, if you prefer, the former are the “white men, ” the latter the “foreigners. ”

John Fitch, The Steel Workers (1910)

In 1980 Joseph Loguidice, an elderly Italian American from Chicago, sat down to tell his life story to an interviewer. His first and most vivid childhood recollection was of a race riot that occurred on the city's near north side. Wagons full of policemen with “peculiar hats” streamed into his neighborhood. But the “one thing that stood out in my mind, ” Loguidice remembered after six decades, was “a man running down the middle of the street hollering … 'I'm White, I'm White!'” After first taking him for an African American, Loguidice realized that the man was a white coal handler covered in dust and was screaming for his life, fearing that “people would shoot him down. ” He had, Loguidice concluded, “got caught up in … this racial thing. ” 1

Joseph Loguidice's tale might be taken as a metaphor for the situation of millions of eastern and southern European immigrants who arrived in the United States between the end of the nineteenth century and the early 1920s. The fact that this episode made such a profound impression is in itself significant, suggesting both that this was a strange, new situation and that thinking about race became an important part of the consciousness of immigrants such as Loguidice. At issue

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