The race and the alien [by Mary Gilmore, 16 April 1908]

[Editor: This article by Mary Gilmore was published in “A Woman’s Column” (“Conducted by Mary Gilmore”), in The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 16 April 1908.]

The race and the alien.

Last week I sent in a quoted article from the “Australasian” on this subject. I made no alterations, and practically no cuts, in order that none might say of it, “It was colored in transcription to suit Labor ideas and Labor ends.” As it stood it was the most terrible indictment of race mixing that could be imagined. Coming from the paper it did, it was that paper’s own condemnation, and should be everywhere used as a scourge to rouse to a sense of and the necessity for a feeling of racial pride those who advocate the peopling of any part of our territory, or our kitchens with the unassimilable black, brown, or yellow races.

I use the word unassimilable because, by reason of their great number, no white people can assimilate and make a subordinate part of themselves any one of these great peoples. The reverse is the only possibility, i.e. that the white would be but the streak in the mass. A Methodist minister, speaking the other day, said that if every native of India took a handful of dust, and threw it on the British in occupation, it would cover them to a depth of, I think, fourteen feet. Where, then, is our power of assimilation and domination in the face of such a body as that? As well talk of a sparrow swallowing a pumpkin!

* * *

It is possible, by government, to modify the actions of this mass, to educate it, and in time to train it to ideals other than those inherent by reason of race. But it can only be done by remaining absolutely and entirely separate as a race entity. Once England marries India, she ceases to be England, and becomes India. She loses herself as a drop of fresh water is lost in a salt ocean, and she makes no appreciable difference to the ocean. As to Australia, with its small population, the ocean would never know it had swallowed her!

* * *

When Holland made herself a nation, she built dykes and shut out the sea. Bit by bit she restricted. Bit by bit she held back the tide. There is a lesson there, a lesson for everyone and for us — a lesson in action, in care, in watchfulness, in daring, in, above all, moral fibre and persistence.

She was only a little nation, only a handful of people — not a rich people, by any means. But she counted up her sons; she put her hands into her pockets, and she — this little scrap of land in the infinite coastline of Europe combined with Asia — kept back the unconquerable sea. It was a marvellous achievement; but we look so much to the great, and the deeds of the great, that we forget the deeds of the small. It takes a Solomon to remember, and say, “Go to the ant,” and “Consider the bee.”

* * *

As to racial supremacy, i.e., the East has not swamped the West — using the terms East and West to express differences of race — for the simple reason that the East was not, or had ceased to be, a sea-going people. Suppose Asia had sent out Vasco da Gama, Columbus, and Cook? Where would we have been? Where the expansion of Europe? The East slept while the West sailed forth on strange seas, emptied her jails, sold her recalcitrants and her evicted, peopling new lands, and giving herself room where she lay at home. Now, the West, carrying trade and guns, opium and Bibles, has awakened the East. And what do we see? In one hemisphere the pigtail, the turban, and the straw shoe, reaching from the Yukon to the end of Southern Chili — a line a whole hemisphere long — and in the other, a lone land in the South, looking East and North, and studying a question of dykes and forces as yet unmeasured — spelling the word Holland to new meanings.

* * *

Race hatred is not confined to the Australian. In Argentina, as yet but little touched by Asia, the common man so far feels its meaning that when he wishes to hurl the last word, of derision, scorn, and hatred at the lazy Nap (Neapolitan) he calls him “the Chinaman of South America.” Thus, he brands two peoples with the word of antagonism — but one with simple contempt and a sense of personal superiority; the other, with hatred and fear, and a doubt of the future — even a doubt of himself.

* * *

However, the question of racial antagonism is not one of superiority on the one hand, and inferiority on the other. The root of it is the desire for existence. In its ultimate essence it is that which made the Highlander hate the Lowlander (who mixed with the base Sassenach), and the Irishman of all time hate the Englishman who would destroy him as a nation, and, ultimately, even as a people and an individual; it is the same thing that makes us see iniquity in a German’s simple letter, and design in the smile of a Frenchman, and build a bigger gun, yet, when the man across the way builds a bigger than our last. It is not a thing of knowledge or intellect (though knowledge and intellect may see the whys and the wherefores of it), not a thing of white, black, or brown; but of all, from the highest to the lowest. It is, as was said before, the natural, normal, instinctive root idea that lies behind the wish to Live, to Be, to Exist. That is why a pure race, and an individual of pure race, fights against the idea of miscegenation, and why an impure race does not trouble about the matter. The first has not lost its claim to existence as a pure entity, and the second has, at most, only a half-claim to anywhere. The less the claim, the less the desire to fight for it.

* * *

It is folly to deride the alien just because he is alien. It is only the ignorant who heap contumely on him by vulgar epithet and coarse naming, never inquiring what manner of man he be, and what his development, on his own, national lines. Every man is an alien in another man’s country; every man an inferior in regard to another’s national ideal and formulation of that ideal; and the insularity that makes us regard our point of view as the highest, is usually insularity, and nothing else — even though equally common to the people we deride. We look on Hindoo worship as heathenish. How do you suppose the Hindoo regards our worship? And as regards religion, so other things. I do not believe a self-respecting man of any nation looks on himself as the inferior of any other nation, and I do not see why he should. The individual man is individual man, whether he be black, white, or yellow. However, that is not the point. The point lies in race continuance, and the need for it.

* * *

That there are inferior races no one doubts. Given equal numbers, it is the inferior which always dies off before the advance of civilisation; which suggests the thought that civilisation is a burden, a test of strength, which only the strong and strongest can effectively bear. If this be so, the white man, as the most highly civilised of all peoples, is the strongest, individually, and the one who, of all others, should be permitted to survive; while he who would sink him in the sea of another’s color, stands in the way of progress, and scuttles the ship that would bear us yet further on.

* * *

Lest any should think that the admission that others may be excellent as well as we, be taken as an argument for mixture of race, let me add that any woman who gives birth to a child whose color is not her own, gives birth to a child not wholly hers. It is a graft, a cuckoo born of a foreigner. Its eyes, its hair, its skin, its ways, and implanted ideals belong to a people in whom she has neither part nor lot, and in so far it is theirs, not hers, mother it how she may.

This is Nature’s way. She paints signboards all over the innocent that the guilty may be known, and the sin against racial purity blazoned abroad. It is an instinct of Nature, whose meaning is not to be mistaken, that the child shall follow the race, shall bear the mark of race, and grow up in the ways of that to which it belongs. To mix is to destroy what Nature built, and break down her lines of continuity.

* * *

Are we to continue?

Let us consider Holland, the sons of Holland who made them dykes, and the women of Holland who brought forth sons for the building. I have but one, one only child. Yet ahead I see the bandolier and bayonet which mine own hands will buckle on him. The call may never come, to go afar; but if it should ——

And if it should … why, then … Remember Holland.

The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 16 April 1908, p. 7

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