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Underlying most debates of racial inequality is the tacit reference to the Immigrant Tale, a story of “natural” class ascension of immigrant groups in the “land of opportunity.” This tale is affirming, celebrating the assimilation of ethnic immigrants in the American “melting pot.” It is also optimistic, implying social integration and economic parity of currently dissipated immigrant communities. “Its thrust is to defend the individualistic view of the American system because it portrays the system as open to those who are willing to work hard and pull themselves over barriers of poverty and discrimination.”

But there is an unsavory element of the immigrant tale: its use as a sword in the battle against the civil rights era quest to promote racial equality through law. In its most recent versions, the immigrant tale is employed in arguments against affirmative action or, more aggressively, against governmental efforts to enforce anti-discrimination laws. In this version the immigrant tale contests the notion - assumed to underlie the civil rights approach - that racial discrimination is unique. In this context, racial discrimination is said to be properly characterized as a version of ethnic prejudice that is in part irrational, in part rational - but which, in any event, dissipates as the group proves its worth, acquires prerequisite skills and education, and as the group assimilates.

This Article seeks, on the basis of this scholarship, to tell a story of the resiliency of racial subordination during the World War II years. This story severely undercuts the power and appeal of the immigrant tale as applied to black inequality; it casts doubts on social capital explanations of group success; and it exposes the insidiousness of the New Racism that has emerged alongside such theories. Perhaps most important, the article shows how the immigrant tale operated to undercut efforts to combat the rise of segregation in the Bay Area and completely undercut any effective remedies to the discrimination suffered by black migrants. Indeed, the immigrant tale operated to deny the very presence of discrimination that was both widespread and obvious.

Publication Citation

5 Nev. L.J. 6 (2004).