Mary Tape’s Scathing Letter for Chinese Inclusion

by Jimmy Lu

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The Tape Family: Joseph, Emily, Mamie, Frank, and Mary, 1884. Courtesy of Alisa J. Kim.

In nineteenth-century San Francisco, California, Mary Tape accompanied her eight-year-old daughter Mamie—dressed in a checkered pinafore, with ribbons in her hair—to her first day at Spring Valley Primary School. When they arrived, Mamie was denied admission at the schoolhouse door because she was Chinese(ChineseAmerican.NYHistory.org). Mary and Joseph Tape took the Board of Education to court (Tape v. Hurley). The lower court ruled that “all children, regardless of race, had the right to a public-school education” –a ruling that was upheld by both state and federal courts; but the school district circumvented the ruling by establish a separate school for Chinese children in Chinatown (Yung 49). Despite Tape’s attempt to fit into white-America, her attempts to assimilate through her family’s American manners, American fashion, and Christianity, were limited because the Tapes were still viewed by the school officials as non-American.

Mary Tape presented Mamie as a well-assimilated American child to show she deserved to attend Spring Valley. In response to Mamie’s exclusion, on April 8, 1885, Mary Tape wrote a letter to the school officials, in which she states “My children don’t dress like the other Chinese. … Her playmates is all Caucasians ever since she could toddle around.” Tape points out Mamie’s American clothing and ability to socialize with other white children to show how Mamie, despite being Chinese, is just as American as her peers. However, Mamie’s non-whiteness automatically excluded her from attending Spring valley, despite the Tape family’s attempt to assimilate.

Realizing that Mamie’s Chinese appearance was a problem for the school officials, Tape references Christianity to argue for her child’s acceptance in white-Protestant America. If the Chinese were made by God and Christianity meant acceptance for the Chinese, Tape felt that Mamie deserved to attend Spring Valley. Tape wrote, “Didn’t God make us all!!! What right have you to bar my children out of the school because she is a chinese Decend.” Tape points out the hypocrisy of the white-Christian officials who lacked common sense. The officials lacked the worldwide perspective of the creation of humanity, which she believed and logically assumed that all races were equal under God. Through Christianity, Tape attempted to find a moral ground and show her commonality with the school officials despite their hypocrisy and white-supremacist actions.

Despite the Tape family’s assimilation and Christian faith, Tape reveals racist American attitudes towards the Chinese in nineteenth-century San Francisco. The Chinese, she believed, would perpetually be treated by white Americans as “different” people. Tape wrote, “It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress so long as you know they Chinese. Then they are hated as one. There is not any right or justice for them.” Tape admits the limitations of her family’s assimilation: no matter how hard the Chinese try to act like white-Americans by adopting Protestantism and their fashion, the Chinese will still struggle to gain acceptance as American people. Tape mentions how the Chinese are “hated as one,” and this hatred is evident by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which was intended to limit the number of Chinese from entering the United States. Despite the hostility of white Americans toward the Chinese in the United States, Tape was bold and challenged the racial injustice in a legal case that would be representative of the struggle to gain educational integration for Chinese and non-white children.

In the end Mamie and her brother Frank were the first pupils to appear at the Chinese Primary School when it opened in Chinatown on April 13, 1885 (ChineseAmerican.NYHistory.org). Tape’s battle for equal rights reveals her desire for racial acceptance and equality for Chinese Americans in San Francisco. This case shows the limitations of assimilation for the Tape family, and the reality of segregation in the United States that not only applied to Black and White people but also to people in between the black-white spectrum.

Works Cited

Tape, Mary. An Outspoken Woman, OAH Magazine of History, Volume 15, Issue 2, 1 January 2001, Pages 17–19, https://doi.org/10.1093/maghis/15.2.17

Yung, Judy. Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1999.

“”We Have Always Lived as Americans”.” Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion. April 07, 2015. Accessed December 20, 2017. http://chineseamerican.nyhistory.org/we-have-always-lived-as-americans/.

 

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Anger, Southern White Pride, and Confederate Statues

by Jimmy Lu

Symbols have the power to reflect meanings. Given context, people can get to a closer to the meaning of a symbol. Among the symbols in America, Confederate statues have been controversial, not only because they people who supported slavery and white supremacy, but also because they are in public places.

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“Confederate Defenders of Charleston Statue” at Charleston, SC, courtesy of NYDailyNews. The statue presents the Confederate soldiers as valorous warriors and defenders of Charleston. The statue glorifies the Confederate soldiers by its inscription, “TO THE CONFEDERATE DEFENDERS OF CHARLESTON.” However, someone vandalized the statue by spray painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in front of the main inscription. This vandalism reveals the outrage of the person over the statue that glorifies the Confederacy, which supported the enslavement of Black people.  The statue reveals Southern white pride about the brave efforts of Confederate soldiers. However, the statue’s image could be unsettling to Black people who feel that enslaved Black people’s masters are being glorified as heroes. I do not advocate vandalizing these statues; instead, they should be removed in a proper and legal way.

People look at these statues and become upset or angry. They may think about white-supremacy and slavery. Thus, they may want the statues removed from public places.

Both sides of the debate over the removal of the Confederate statues ought to think about the differing ideological frameworks. While defenders of these statues feel that they need to protect their Southern white culture and history, they need to understand that their adversaries may oppose these statues, because of their visceral hatred of the Confederacy’s pro-slavery and white-supremacism, to make public places reflective of tolerant and inclusive values.

Regarding those who are upset about the removal of the Confederate statues, they are upset because these people see their Southern white culture and history reflected by the statues. They may feel that liberals or people who offended by the statues are too sensitive or “politically correct.” Under the Trump Administration, Confederate sympathizers may feel protected, supported, and emboldened by President Trump who tweeted,

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

His characterization of the statues as “beautiful” and his sadness shows how he is defensive about them, which could also resonate with his conservative, white working-class supporters. Ultimately, defenders may try to prevent their “Southern culture” from being “ripped apart” by their ideological adversaries.

In addition, the removal of Confederate statutes does not mean the removal of Southern history. Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering presents the theme of “Numbering” that allowed those affected by the Civil War to deal with the unprecedented loss of Union and Confederate soldiers. Numbers help to “grapple with the larger meaning of loss for society and nation” (Faust 250). We may never remember all of those who died, but we could remember how many approximately Union and Confederate soldiers died. Numbering allowed Americans to commemorate the slain in a more appropriate way. According to Faust,

“States in both North and South enumerated the dead to honor the slain. A name upon a list was like a name upon a grave, a repository of memory, a gesture of immortality for those who had made the supreme sacrifice” (259).

This information is a more appropriate form of honor because listing “names upon a list” is less controversial, yet it also commemorates the soldiers’ sacrifices. This gesture is a more personal and appropriate tribute for Confederate deaths, rather than through controversial statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders. People can still learn about the Civil War history and acknowledge the culture of the South even if Confederate statues are removed from public sight.

Confederate sympathizers should understand why the statues ought to be removed. Rational people who have studied the Civil War through mainstream institutions view the Confederacy as a lost cause that wanted secession and the enslavement of Black people. To put negative feelings into perspective, a statue defender should think about a hypothetical scenario in which a Holocaust survivor looks at a statue commemorating Nazism in her own hometown. Would she not feel angry or sad when reminded of her oppressors? In a similar way, the Confederate statues can trigger thoughts in people’s minds about slavery. Defenders of the statues should stop trying to preserve a toxic culture that reminds others of oppression.

In the post-slavery and post-Confederacy era, we ought to remove these statues in memory of the oppressed groups throughout American history. Removing these statues will require the teamwork and commitment of people to legally petition, protest the statues, and financially support their removal through formal procedures. This process requires seemingly large, but, relatively low costs to remove the statues. The removal of these statues will improve the image of American towns and cities as tolerant and inclusive places. In addition, “Southern white culture” will have to undergo significant ideological changes and find appropriate ways to commemorate their Confederate soldiers. America needs to uphold tolerance and kindness for all racial groups, and this requires people’s willingness to support the removal of Confederate statues.

An Awakening of Moral Conscience

by Jimmy Lu

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Anonymous French print, 1814
During the War of 1812 the British recruited enslaved Blacks in America in return for guaranteed freedom from their masters.  Here the British are burning down Washington and the plantation farm tools. The image depicts two Black men who are eager to join the British cause and turn their backs against pro-slavery America. One is dressed in an elegant British jacket and the other is equipped with a sword, which symbolizes his empowerment and elevated human status. Both men desire freedom through the Royal Army. White-Americans could celebrate their freedom and collectively fight against Britain; but according to Frederick Douglass, the enslaved person was a “constant victim” in America (Fourth of July Speech). These Black men would be eager to side with the British for freedom from their masters. The Black men could not sympathize with the American cause, especially since it enslaved and oppressed them.

Every year Americans celebrate Independence Day in remembrance of the arduous political struggle for freedom and independence from Britain. In Frederick Douglass’ time nineteenth-century Independence Day carried a different meaning for Black people in America as he claimed in his “Fourth of July Speech.” White-Americans enslaved Blacks in a society that ironically upheld freedom. In fact, Independence Day for Blacks was “problematic … so long as white Americans continued to keep millions of slaves in chains” (Slate). Douglass’ speech, which was given on July 5th, 1852, calls for an awakening of America’s moral conscience in order to challenge America’s unjust and immoral status quo and to excite societal reformation.

The speech calls for a social and political revolution in order to challenge the unjust status quo in America: slavery and disenfranchisement. Douglass references the Founding Fathers as courageous examples:

“But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, … [pronounced] the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and … not to be quietly submitted to” (Fourth of July).

He criticizes the ideas of “this day,” noting passive acceptance of unjust government in America.  Douglass promotes the Founding Fathers’ courage who preferred “revolution to peaceful submission” to an unjust status quo of British colonialism (Fourth of July). The speech is a call to action for American people to take responsibility for their government, and they ought to support causes such as abolitionism and universal enfranchisement in order to create a more just society.

In order to excite reformation, Douglass points out the immorality of slavery and its deleterious effect on the image of America. Douglass condemns slavery using strong rhetoric:

“I will … dare to call in question and to denounce … everything that serves to perpetuate slavery–the great sin and shame of America! … I will use the severest language I can command …” (Fourth of July).

He shames America for sanctioning slavery, and according to Abigail Censky, this criticism was in the wake of the Compromise of 1850 which equaled the “nationalization of slavery” (NPR). Douglass labels slavery as “sin,” which adds a moral appeal to abolitionism; and the audience, especially women, could sympathize with societal oppression and restrictions. According to James West Davidson, Rochester was the “epicenter of the so-called burned-over district, a region along the Erie Canal swept repeatedly by religious revivals and reform(Slate). The setting and audience of this speech are significant for garnering support for abolitionism. He uses the severest language because he wants Americans to fight against slavery through the democratic process.

In order to awaken the moral conscience of his audience, Douglass presents the Black perspective on the 4th of July, and he points out America’s hypocrisy. Douglass poses a question to his audience:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than. all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham … There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States … (Douglass)

According to Censky, Frederick Douglass posed this question to “500-600 abolitionists,” and the crowd at the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society was “enthusiastic, voting unanimously to endorse the speech at its end” (NPR). This is significant for understanding why Douglass voices vociferous criticisms of the American status quo in his speech: white-Americans could celebrate their nation’s independence, but Blacks had yet to gain their emancipation. Douglass is pointing out the hypocrisy of white-Americans who are celebrating an unfinished cause, and he puts America to shame in an international context by saying that “there is not a nation on the earth.” For him, Americans ought to awaken their moral conscience and emulate the Founding Fathers who “staked their lives … on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests” (Douglass). Similarly, Douglass lives selflessly by speaking and fighting for abolitionism. He encourages Americans to continue the legacy of challenging an immoral status quo and to never lose sight of the power of the democratic process.

The abolitionist movement sought to reform America’s unjust and immoral status quo of slavery, which Douglass brings to attention through his appeal to religious morality. His vehement attacks on America’s complacency and hypocrisy seek to awaken his audience’s conscience in order to fight for the unfinished cause of universal freedom.

Works Cited

Censky, Abigail. “’What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?’ Frederick Douglass, Revisited.” NPR. 17 Jul. 2017. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/2017/07/05/535624532/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-frederick-douglass-revisited&gt;

Davidson, James West. “The Best Fourth of July Speech in American History” Slate. 2 Jul. 2015. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/07/fourth_of_july_revisiting_frederick_douglass_s_fiery_speech.html&gt;

Douglass, Frederick. “Fourth of July Speech” Lee, Mann & co.. 5 Jul. 1852. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/2945&gt;

Liberty or Death

by Jimmy Lu

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A White slave master whips his Black female slave while she is chained to a pole.

Powerless in antebellum America, Black slaves resolved to make their voices heard through their writings. They wrote about their sufferings and their desire for liberty. Harriet Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl presents a narrative about her escape from slavery. Jacobs reveals her courage during her emotional and physical journey of escape; she would rather die pursuing liberty than to remain enslaved.

As a fugitive slave, Jacobs revealed her courage by rebelling against slavery. Jacobs’ attitude toward slavery is revealed:

“. . . my relatives. . . . advised me to return to my master . . . But such counsel had no influence on me. . . . ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ was my motto” (151).

Here, Jacobs refuses to submit to paternalistic slavery, in which the master knows what is “morally right” for his slave. Jacobs would rather die than to re-experience slavery. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville suggests the same desire for liberty among slaves:

“Slavery, now con- fined to a single tract of the civilized earth, attacked by Christianity as unjust . . . cannot survive. . . . If liberty be refused to the Negroes of the South, they will in the end forcibly seize it . . .” (40).

The morality of slavery was questioned by Christians who used theological arguments to oppose slavery. Slavery is implied as a backwards institution. As slaves like Jacobs resisted and desired liberty, Tocqueville suggests that they could overcome slavery and become agents of change. Although relatively powerless, slaves would rebel by outwitting their masters.

Subjected to paternalism, Jacobs rebelled and escaped using her cunningness. Jacobs views cunningness as a weapon:

“I went to sleep that night . . . I thanked the heavenly Father . . . Who can blame slaves for being cunning? They are constantly compelled to resort to it. It is the only weapon of the weak and oppressed against the strength of their tyrants” (154).

Jacobs reveals her religiosity, which gave her hope as a fugitive slave. Despite their weakness, slaves attempted to outwit and escape from their masters, who underestimated their intellect. However, Jacobs would feel trapped along her journey and felt powerless.

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A Black female slave wears iron horns and bells that wrap around her neck. Slave owners would make their slaves wear them in order to deter them from running away. The bell noises would allow slave owners to track their slaves.

In her quest for freedom, Jacobs was stuck in a risky situation that revealed her emotional challenges. Jacobs reveals her fear of her master:

“. . . and I at once concluded that he had come to seize me. . . . I heard approaching footsteps . . . I braced myself against the wall to keep from falling. . . . there stood my kind benefactress. I was too much overcome to speak . . .” (158-159).

The constant suspense, relief, and her fears are significant because they show her readers the emotional challenges of escaping slavery. This scene demonstrates the high risks that fugitive slaves like Jacobs courageously took in order to pursue liberty.

In her narrative, Jacobs reveals her courage and love of liberty by refusing to return. Jacobs attached significance to liberty by overcoming the emotional challenges as a fugitive slave. Slavery was becoming outdated among civilized nations, and slaves like Jacobs rebelled against it by outwitting and escaping their masters.