Uncle Taz Comments

A few comments on F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven's take on race in America anno 1950.

In Chapter 2, Emmichoven writes:

"Proceeding from this point of view as a foundation in one's study of the so-called American `people', it appears more justifiable to refer here to the formation of a new *race*. In checking off the characteristics of a race of people according to its own particular anatomical and physiological phenomena, taking into account such factors as skin color, hair growth, position of the eyes, the formation of the skull, etc., all in accordance with older racial theories, it becomes obvious that, here in America, out of a large number of European peoples, there is something in formation which exhibits all the characteristics of a race in genesis. However, this means that, in the study of its psychological characteristics as a people, one must constantly bear in mind that such characteristics cannot possibly have become fully developed in such a short time span, and that one thus describes something which stands in between the two conceptions of race and people."

 

And in Chapter 7, Emmichoven writes:

"It is my impression that the question of color in America can only be solved in the course of the centuries. The Americans themselves are still too much a race in the making to be able to assimilate another race in such a limited time, particularly when that other race is so very different from their own. Although their platitudes are not without a certain real significance, they still slumber in the unconscious or half-conscious soul life of the great majority of the population."

 

Comment:

These reflections were made in 1950, and the book was published in 1954. Immediately after that, Rosa Parks set off the Civil Rights Movement in 1955, which during the next half century would totally transform racial views and racial definitions in America and in Europe as well. In other words, What Emmichoven thought would take centuries, turned out to take only decades.

Emmichoven was a man of his time (1893-1961) who approached the question of race in America in the old-fashoned "white" manner. The 'races' he described as melting together in America were all white: Italian, English, Dutch, German, Polish, Australian and so on. And he said that on the basis of these mixtures, a new race, the American race, was in the making. And the black race he described as a "different" race, apparently not members of "Americans themselves", not a part of the new American race, a race that the latter (the mixed 'white' race) would have to assimilate, and that would take centuries because white and black people were soooo different.

It's understandable that Emmichoven drew such conclusions in 1950, because although he reacted to the segregation and oppression that he witnessed in the South -- albeit barely in their external, public visibility -- there was also change in the making that had not reached the surface yet because of very brutal oppression against black freedom strugglers by J. Edgar Hoover and his cronies in power. Harry Bellafonte, who was 23 years of age at that time, can testify to that first hand. The oppression and abuse of black people had reached such a proportion that the kettle was about to boil over. If Emmichoven had been living in America for a while instead of only travelling through and lecturing and meeting people, I believe he might have seen that.

Apart from that, i.e. other than the failure to see that the new American race would be a melting of all races, not only European 'white' races, Emmichoven's understanding of America from a European perspective with anthroposophy as a backdrop to his thinking is, I think, extraordinarily interesting, perceptive, and intelligent.

Tarjei

America and Americanism