The only American race

In his book Amerikas Schicksalsstunde (1935) Ross devotes a section of five chapters to what he calls America’s “black problem”. It begins with his description of the palette of colored people—“from the deepest black to the lightest white”—that boarded Chicago’s unsegregated L when passing through the city’s Negerviertel.

The train scene leads Ross to the notion of racial mixture, the result of the different peoples, of various tribes, cultures, and languages, brought in from all over Africa, who were separated and recombined by an indifferent slave market. Their interbreeding, as well as with Caucasians  (either  as indentured servants or—often under force—in concubinage on the plantations) and with Native Americans after having escaped their bondage (yet sometimes enslaved again), has created what Ross calls a “brown race”. This process has intensified since the Civil War (1861-1865), when the importation of slaves was abolished, as a result of which, Ross writes, the stereotypical “Negro” will gradually disappear and a “brown race” will emerge. Ross calls this race a truly “new American race” deserving of that name, because it is more than just the colored counterpart of the melting pot—which, in his view, produces mere American citizens, not American people. Emerging beside the European races, then, this brown race, whose allegiance to America is as great as any European immigrant’s, will consider itself equal to it and demand its rights and share of the American continent.

In the subsequent chapter, however, Ross modifies this image of races living side by side, because even the strictest racial segregation cannot prevent mutual influences, albeit “subconsciously”, as well as mixture. The African heritage has settled itself in the veins of white Americans, whether they know, or acknowledge, it or not. And although Ross draws no explicit conclusion from this with regard to America’s future, his choice of words for this heritage, the final words of the chapter—“condemned blood”—suggests he takes a dim view.

While Ross is not the most consistent of writers, whenever he uses the term subconscious one can be sure that what follows has been released from the laws of logic altogether. Whether or not he felt he had painted himself in a corner, the term announces an unwarranted about-face. First, its effect is deepened in the following chapter (see The struggle for Africa 1), in which he claims that, despite African Americans’ total allegiance to the US, within them Africa lives on. They don’t know it, but Ross hears it in their spirituals, in their strength of faith (which, in contrast to Native Americans, meant their survival under adverse circumstances1). And all of a sudden the African heritage is not just a drop of blood, but a threat. The reckoning comes at the end of the book (see Supranationality), when Ross rudely dismisses this “truly” American race from the American citizenry.

It is ironic that the set of circumstances Ross related, immigration—albeit, of course, largely involuntary, both to and within the USA—and interbreeding, actually formed the basis of the academic criticisms of the concept of scientific racism that were being launched while he made this first prolonged sojourn in the USA in the 1930s. Ross, however, refused to use another term, as race remained a building block for his political views in the mid-1930s.

Nico de Klerk

Colin Ross. Amerikas braune Rasse. In: Amerikas Schicksalsstunde. Die Vereinigten Staaten zwischen Demokratie und Diktatur. 12. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942 [1935]; 135-137.

Colin Ross. Afrikas Erbe und Amerikas Zukunft: In: Amerikas Schicksalsstunde. Die Vereinigten Staaten zwischen Demokratie und Diktatur. 12. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942 [1935]; 137-140.

Topic: Race
Case: American journeys


1 Ross’s comparison between the fate of Native and African Americans on the basis of their faith is deeply flawed, as the latter were an investment to be kept alive, however precariously at times, while the former were long considered a nuisance to be dispensed with.

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