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Max Antonucci

Journalist turned full-time coder, part-time ponderer.

January 12, 2021

In 1790, the United States passed the Naturalization Act to set the first rules for how a non-citizen becomes a US citizen. But the law was limited to "free white person(s)...of good character."

This was the same time slavery was happening in the United States, creating a huge gap in how citizens and non-citizens were treated. Understandably, new arrivals wanted to be seen as "white." Especially Irish, Italian, and German immigrants that were first seen as either "non-white" or just "partially white."

That didn't change over a century later when people brought the issue to court. In the 1922 SCOTUS case "Ozawa v. United States," a Japanese-American man argued he should be included under the category of "free white persons." A year later in "United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind," an Indian Sikh man argued the same thing. Both lost.

The United State's naturalization laws have evolved since 1790, but race has played a key role. Society has defined what it means to be white, how humans changed that definition, and racial privilege.

This is all in case someone dismisses the idea of race being a social construct as "absurd." Why pass laws and have court hearings over race if it's part of nature? Otherwise, we'd have witnessed the 1889 SCOTUS case "United States v. Gravity."