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In Texas, which by 1890 had become the nation's leading cotton-producing state, the presence of Mexican sharecroppers and farm workers complicated the black-white dyad that shaped rural labor relations in the South. With the transformation of agrarian society into corporate agribusiness, white racial identity began to fracture along class lines, further complicating categories of identity. Foley explores the "fringe of whiteness," an ethno-racial borderlands comprising Mexicans, African Americans, and poor whites, to trace shifting ideologies and power relations. By showing how many different ethnic groups are defined in relation to "whiteness," Foley redefines white racial identity as not simply a pinnacle of status but the complex racial, social, and economic matrix in which power and privilege are shared.
Foley skillfully weaves archival material with oral history interviews, providing a richly detailed view of everyday life in the Texas cotton culture. Addressing the ways in which historical categories affect the lives of ordinary people, The White Scourge tells the broader story of racial identity in America; at the same time it paints an evocative picture of a unique American region. This truly multiracial narrative touches on many issues central to our understanding of American history: labor and the role of unions, gender roles and their relation to ethnicity, the demise of agrarian whiteness, and the Mexican-American experience.
When one thinks of sharecroppers, images of the plantation South come to mind—poor folks, blacks and whites, dressed in overalls, their wives cooking, washing, and raising children in one-room shacks with no running water and very little furniture, while partially clothed children play at their feet. One perhaps thinks of the plantation world of the Mississippi Delta, the "most southern place on earth," according to the historian James Cobb, where thousands of mostly black sharecroppers tilled the land with mules and plows not much changed from Reconstruction days. One conjures images of riding bosses, planters, credit merchants, fatback and molasses, boll weevils, and unending poverty for the men, women, and children, many suffering from pellagra and tickets, who worked from "sun to sun" dragging long cotton sacks on farms they did not own. This was the New South of the first four decades of the twentieth century, a region tenaciously rural and constant in its loyalty to the culture of cotton.1
James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (New York: Oxford University Press,1992). For a small sample of the literature that both shaped and was shaped by these images, see William Faulkner, Snopes: The Hamlet, The Mansion, and The Town (New York: Random House, Modern Library Edition, 1994); Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road (1934; reprint, New York: Signet, 1962); and John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Viking Press, 1939). For two revealing memoirs, see Theodore Rosengarten, All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975); and William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter's Son (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941). See also commentaries and photographs in Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces (New York: Viking Press, 1937); James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941); and Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor, American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939). On the early years of the New South, see C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971); and Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Whatever image of the South one summons, it largely excludes Texas cotton farmers, even though Texas, as a slave state of the Confederacy, experienced defeat and Reconstruction and became the nation's leading cotton-producing state by 1890. The postbellum image of the South also overlooks twentieth-century Texas and its large population of Mexicans, both native-born and immigrant, who came increasingly to displace Anglos and blacks on cotton farms in central Texas after 1910. As part of the Spanish borderlands before 1821 and as a Mexican state until 1836, Texas has had a long history of interaction between Mexicans and Anglos, as well as between masters and slaves on plantations in east Texas.2
On interactions between Mexicans and Anglos in Texas, see David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987); Américo Paredes, "With His Pistol in His Hand": A Border Ballad and Its Hero (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958); and Arnoldo de León, The Tejano Community, 1836-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982). On slavery in Texas, see Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989); Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992), 238-52; and Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin: Founder of Texas, 1793-1836 (1926; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 201-25.EastTexas, for example, fits comfortably within the cultural and historiographical boundaries of the South, with its history of slavery, cotton, and postemancipation society. South Texas, however, shares more commonalties with the history of the "trans-Rio Grande North" and Mexico than with the U.S. South. These discrete cultural regions of east and south Texas overlap in south-central Texas from Waco to Corpus Christi, where cultural elements of the South, the West, and Mexico have come to form a unique borderlands culture. Spanish, French, German, African, Mexican, English, Polish, Czech, and other groups have left their cultural mark in a society of such great social heterogeneity and hybridity that one geographer has called it the "shatter belt." Texas is thus culturally and historiographically at some distance from the "most southern place on earth," but its cotton culture nevertheless makes it recognizably southern, even if the state's large Mexican population continues to link it with other western states and Mexico (see Maps 1 and 2).3
Terry D. Jordan, John L. Bean Jr., and William M. Holmes, Texas: A Geography, Geographies of the United States Series (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, I984), 5, 91.
As the cotton culture of the South advanced westward, Texas retained the image of a state more western than southern, in part because, as one Texas historian has noted, cotton makes Texas seem "too southern, hence Confederate, defeated, poor, and prosaic."4
Robert A. Calvert, "Agrarian Texas," in Texas through Time: Evolving Interpretations, ed. Walter L. Buenger and Robert A. Calvert (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991), 197.In Texas, "unlike the Deep South," wrote the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, "there was no leisure class to romanticize cotton farming, and it could at no time compete with ranching in capturing the imagination of the people as an ideal way of life."5
Oscar Lewis, On the Edge of the Black Waxy: A Cultural Survey of Bell County, Texas (Saint Louis, Mo.: Washington University Studies, New Series, 1948), 2.Tourists flock to San Antonio more than any other Texas city because it alone captures the image that Texans most like to project of themselves—defenders of the Alamo, victors in the war against Mexico, pioneers in the western wilderness, manly cowboys and rich cattle barons. But while longhorns, Stetson hats, and the romance of ranching have replaced cotton, mules, and overalls in the historical imagination of Anglo Texans today, the fact remains that most Anglo Texans were descended from transplanted Southerners who had fought hard to maintain the "color line" in Texas and to extend its barriers to Mexicans. Many Anglo Texans thus often wore two hats: the ten-gallon variety as well as the white hood of the Invisible Empire.6
On the reluctance of many white Texans to identify with the Texas of the South and the Confederacy, see Campbell, Empire for Slavery, I. For a long-overdue discussion of the burden of Western history, see Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), esp. 17-32. On the connection between southern and western regional identities, see David M. Emmons, "Constructed Province: History and the Making of the Last American West," Western Historical Quarterly 25 (Winter 1994): 437-59, and, in the same issue, the responses by Joan M. Jensen (pp. 461-63), A. Yvette Huginnie (pp. 463-66), Albert L. Hurtado (pp. 467-69), Charles Reagan Wilson (pp. 470-73), Edward L. Ayers (pp. 473-76), and William Cronon (pp. 476-81). See also Edward L. Ayers, "What We Talk about When We Talk about the South," and Patricia Nelson Limerick, "Region and Reason," in All over the Map: Rethinking American Regions, ed. Edward L. Ayers et al. (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 62-104.
The large presence of Mexicans in Texas is one obvious feature that has distinguished Texas from the rest of the South and unites it with other states of the Southwest and West with large Mexican populations. Indeed, if we count Texas as a southern state, following the lead of the census, until 1930 the South—not the West—was home to more Mexicans than was any other region of the country.7
Paul S. Taylor, "Opportunities for Research in the Far West," Publication of the American Sociological Society 29 (August 1935): 103-4. Reflecting the duality of contemporary Texas culture, the Austin American-Statesman, December 2, 1992, carried the front-page headline: "Is Texas in Dixieland or Cowboy Country?" See also Frank Vandiver, The Southwest: South or West (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). On the historical links between Texas and the West, particularly California, see Howard Lamar, Texas Crossings: The Lone Star State and the American Far West, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991). The convergence of the South and the West represented by the settlement patterns of Anglos, African Americans, and Mexicans in Texas is explored in Terry G. Jordan, "A Century and a Half of Ethnic Change in Texas, 1830-1986," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 89 (April 1986): 385-422.One central Texas landowner referred to the region as "the West" because, he explained, Image removed -- no rights
central Texas was the western part of the cotton belt—it was, in other words, "the West" of "the South."8
Testimony of W. B. Yeary, U.S. Congress, Senate Commission on Industrial Relations, Final Report and Testimony, 64th Cong., 1st sess., 1916, S. Doc. 415, 10: 9166 (hereafter cited as Final Report and Testimony).In shifting their self-image from South to West, Anglos may have been influenced by the growing presence of Mexicans in Texas after 1900 and the proportional decrease in the percentage of blacks in the population.9
Between 1850 and 1980 the proportion of Mexicans in Texas increased from 6.5 percent to 22 percent, while that of blacks in the population declined from 27 percent to 12 percent (Jordan, "Ethnic Change in Texas," 418).The fusing of the cultural practice of the South and the West for more than a century in Texas led one Work Projects Administration (WPA) author to observe in 1940: "More Southern than Western is the State's approach to most political and social questions; more Western than Southern are the manners of most of its people."10
Work Projects Administration, WPA Guide to Texas (New York: Hastings House, 1940; reprint, Texas Monthly Press, 1986), 5.Central Texas at least remained southern in its maintenance of Jim Crow segregation of Anglos, blacks, and Mexicans, but as the development of large-scale industrial "cotton ranches" shifted cotton production from the South to the West after 1920, the growing Image removed -- no rights
reliance on Mexican farm workers made parts of south-central Texas seem less like the Mississippi Delta and more like the San Joaquin Valley of California.11
See Devra Weber, Dark Sweat, White Gold: California Farm Workers, Cotton, and the New Deal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900-1939 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994); and Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California (Boston: Little, Brown, 1939).
The cotton culture of central Texas represents a special case for the study of class formation and white racial ideology precisely because it brings together two sets of race and class relations—blacks and whites in the South, and Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest. The fusion of cotton and cattle culture, of plantation and ranch, created a hybrid economy that mixed mostly small farmers (whether as tenants or sharecroppers on plantations or owner-operated family farms) with large-scale, industrialized cotton ranches that employed hundreds of farm workers. Insouth-central Texas many blacks and poor whites were displaced as tenants and sharecroppers and were reduced to farm workers, along with Mexicans, on corporate cotton ranches. At the same time, white farm owners in central Texas replaced white and black tenants with Mexican sharecroppers because owners believed they could better control and exploit Mexican immigrants. The quintessentially southern image of blacks and poor whites on sharecropper farms was yielding to a hybrid southwestern culture in which Mexicans transgressed the racialized boundaries between farm worker, sharecropper, and share tenant and forged new identities in the racially charged borderlands between whiteness and blackness.
In rupturing the black-white polarity of southern race relations, the presence of Mexicans in central Texas raises some interesting questions about the way in which "whiteness" itself fissured along race and class lines. White Texans had a long history of invoking the color line in their social, economic, and political interactions with African Americans, but they had little experience in plantation society with what one contemporary sociologist called "partly colored races."12
Max Sylvius Handman, "Economic Reasons for the Coming of the Mexican Immigrant," American Journal of Sociology 35 (January 1930): 609-10; and idem, "The Mexican Immigrant in Texas," Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 7 (June 1926): 37.Were partly colored Mexicans, in other words, white or nonwhite? As a racially mixed group, Mexicans, like Indians and Asians, lived in a black-and-white nation that regarded them neither as black nor as white. Although small numbers of Mexicans— usually light-skinned, middle-class Mexican Americans—claimed to be Spanish and therefore white, the overwhelming majority of Texas whites regarded Mexicans as a "mongrelized" race of Indian, African, and Spanish ancestry. In Texas, unlike other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican.13
For the growing literature on working-class constructions of whiteness, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London and New York: Verso, 1991); idem, Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working-Class History (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 1, Racial Oppression and Social Control (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York and London: Routledge, 1995); and Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (London and New York: Verso, 1990). On the legal construction of whiteness, see Ian F. Haney López, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and Cheryl I. Harris, "Whiteness as Property", Harvard Law Review 106 (June 1993): 1709-91. On racial formation and the gendered construction of racial ideologies, see Howard Winant, Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race," Signs 17 (Winter 1992): 251-74; Peggy Pascoe, "Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of 'Race' in Twentieth-Century America,"Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44-69; Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); and Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (London and New York: Verso, 1992). See also Barbara J. Fields, "Ideology and Race in America," in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143-77; Thomas C. Holt, "Marking: Race, RaceMaking, and the Writing of History," American Historical Review 100 (February 1995), 1-20; and Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).
Whiteness also came increasingly to mean a particular kind of white person. Not all whites, in other words, were equally white. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the eugenics movement, which advanced the theory that behavior and racial traits were genetically determined and therefore inherited, influenced popular thinking on issues ranging from immigration restriction to prohibition of interracial marriage, sterilization, and the decline of the white civilization by barbarians from within as well as without.14
On eugenics and scientific racism, see Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York: Knopf, 1985); Edward J. Larson, Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); Nicole Hahn Rafter, White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies, 1877-1919 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988); Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1981; reprint, New York: W. W. Norton, 1993); H. H. Goddard, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-mindedness (New York: Macmillan, 1912); Donald K. Pickens, Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968); J. David Smith, The Eugenic Assault on America: Scenes in Red, White, and Black (Fairfax, Va.: George Mason University Press, 1993); Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963); Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Thomas G. Dyer, Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980); and Alan M. Kraut, Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the "Immigrant Menace" (New York: Basic Books, 1994).Eugenicists had lost confidence in the social Darwinist notion of "survival of the fittest"—what worried them most was survival of the unfit. "Race scientists" influenced by eugenics, like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, popularized the idea that the "Nordic" race was in danger of being overwhelmed not only by the "rising tide" of dark people in the world but also by the biological reproduction of "defective" whites. In 1922 Vice President Calvin Coolidge echoed the theories of Stoddard and Grant when he claimed thatNordics became biologically inferior whites when mixed with other races. At its extreme, eugenics called for the sterilization of "moronic," criminal, insane, drunken, sexually perverse, and other "cacogenic" (bad-gened) whites.15
On the doctrine of Nordicism and the writings of the eugenicist Madison Grant, see Gossett, Race, 353-57, 466 (Coolidge), and 155-63 (eugenics). C. Vann Woodward (The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd rev. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1974], 94) notes that racialist literature in the early twentieth century reflected the deterioration in race relations that accompanied the white-supremacy movement and the "flourishing cult of Nordicism." See also Andrew Baker, "Recent Trends in the Nordic Doctrine," Journal of Psychology 2 (1936): 151-59; and Franz Boas, "This Nordic Nonsense," Forum 74 (October 1925): 502-11. The notion that poor whites or "white trash" were believed to be hybrid or "moronic" whites, biologically inferior to Nordic whites, was not uncommon during the 1920s. In 1916 Grant wrote in his popular work, The Passing of the Great Race, Or the Racial Basis of European History ([New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916], 77), "Where two distinct species are located side by side history and biology teach that but one of two things can happen; either one race drives the other out, as the Americans exterminated the Indians and as the Negroes are now replacing the whites in various parts of the South; or else they amalgamate and form a population of race bastards in which the lower type ultimately preponderates." Four years later Lothrop Stoddard published The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920), which popularized the idea that the Nordic race was in danger of being inundated by inferior races. These works were sufficiently popular that they appeared in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby ([New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925], 13): The wealthy industrialist Tom Buchanan, worried that the "white race will be utterly submerged," asks if anyone has read "The Rise of the Colored Empire" by someone named "Goddard," a conflation of the names Grant and Stoddard. See Gossett, Race, 397; and Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993), 198-200, 698.While immigrant Jews, Slavs, Italians, and Irish were "becoming white" in the urban areas of the East, poor whites in Texas and elsewhere in the South were heading in the opposite direction—losing whiteness and the status and privileges that whiteness bestowed. Poor whites in the cotton South came not only to be seen as a social problem but also to be located in the racial hierarchy as the "trash" of whiteness.16
Anthropologist John Hartigan Jr. has written that poor whites historically have been "marked off as racial detritus—the trash of whiteness" (quoted in "Trash Talk," Lingua Franca 5 [April 1995]: 9). See also his article, "Name Calling: Objectifying 'Poor Whites' and 'White Trash' in Detroit," in White Trash: Race and Class in America, ed. Matt Wray and Annalee Newitz (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), 41-56.
Successful whites—cotton growers, merchants, bankers, and those whom eugenicists often called Nordic whites—began to racialize poor whites as the "scrubs and runts" of white civilization, both as an excuse to displace them and as a justification for the impoverished condition of those who remained.17
Edward Everett Davis, in The Cotton Crisis: Proceedings of Second Conference Institute of Public Affairs, ed. S. D. Myres Jr. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1935), 42.Edward Everett Davis, a researcher who wrote numerous articles on cotton culture in Texas during the 1920s and 1930s, wrote an inferior novel published in 1940, tided The White Scourge , in which he portrayed cotton as the scourge of southern society because it attracted "white trash" like "iron filings to a magnet." The cotton culture of the South provided an elemental means of subsistence for "lowly blacks, peonized Mexicans, and moronic whites," Davis mused, which enabled them to reproduce their "hideous kind" and populate the cotton belt with "America's worthless human silt."18
Edward Everett Davis, The White Scourge (San Antonio: Naylor, 1940), ix-x; and Davis, Cotton Crisis, 42.But the novel also suggests that "trashy" whites, not cotton, were the real "white scourge"—the "human debris" of whiteness—that posed a serious menace to the rest of white civilization. Davis encouraged east Texas Congressman John Box, one of the leading immigration restrictionists of his day, to read Stoddard's popular The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy , published in 1920, to understand the urgency of restricting the "lower races" from admittance to the United States because they frequently intermarried with "marginal" whites who had "just enough intelligence to beget children, hew wood, draw water, and pick cotton."19
E. E. Davis to John C. Box, February 24, 1928, Oliver Douglas Weeks Papers, box 2, folder 8, LULAC Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter cited as Weeks Papers); and idem, White Scourge, 131.
Although more than twenty-five states had enacted sterilization laws by 1925, sterilization as a eugenic solution to eradicating inferior "germ plasm" had been largely ineffective. Davis argued that the only way to preserve the "racial hygiene" of the white race in the South was to abolish cotton agriculture, because it provided a means of subsistence for "feeble-minded" poor whites, as well as for racially inferior Mexicans and blacks. Taxing the land to force landowners to sell to small farmers, Davis believed, would enable white farmers to restore the racial virilityand manhood of the South. In using the title of Davis's novel for this book, I suggest that the scourge of the South and the nation was not cotton or poor whites but whiteness itself—whiteness not simply as the pinnacle of ethnoracial status but as the complex social and economic matrix wherein racial power and privilege were shared, not always equally, by those who were able to construct identifies as Anglo-Saxons, Nordics, Caucasians, or simply whites. Poor whites, always low-ranking members of the whiteness club, were banished in the early twentieth century on the grounds that they were culturally and biologically inferior. The "wages of whiteness" conferred privilege on those who were able to claim whiteness, as historian David Roediger has ably shown, but they also invoke the biblical injunction that the "wages of sin" is death—death to the notion of racial, and therefore social and economic, equality.20
Larson, Sex, Race, and Science, 100; Roediger, Wages of Whiteness; and David T. Wellman, Portraits of White Racism, 2d ed. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 58-62.
The heterogeneity and hybridity of whiteness became more transparent in this region, where whites were both the most successful landowners and among the most impoverished sharecroppers. White tenants blamed the system for their inability to escape tenancy, while bankers, landlords, and credit merchants became ever more critical of the tenant class, implying that failure to ascend the ladder to ownership reflected the incompetence or laziness of Mexican, black, and "sorry white" tenants rather than any deficiency in the system itself. Many Mexicans, on the other hand, moved from migrant work to sharecropping and share tenancy over time and often had as much claim to whiteness as did some of the poor whites with whom they competed.21
See, for example, Texas Applied Economics Club, Survey of Southern Travis County, ed. Lewis H. Haney and George S. Wehrwein, University of Texas Bulletin 65 (Austin: University of Texas, 1916), 132; and Edward Everett Davis, A Report on Illiteracy in Texas, University of Texas Bulletin 2328 (Austin: University of Texas, 1923).The emergence of a rural class of "white trash" made whites conscious of themselves as a racial group and fearful that if they fell to the bottom, they would lose the racial privileges that came with being accepted for what they were not —black, Mexican, or foreign born.22
Matt Wray and Annalee Newitz, eds., White Trash: Race and Class in America (New York and London: Routledge, 1997); and Michele Fine et al., eds., Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society (New York and London: Routledge, 1997).
Behind this geography of region thus lie complex and often overlapping geographies of racial power and difference. The cotton culture of this fertile region of central Texas was not racially static or bipartite but a site of multiple and heterogeneous borders where different languages, experiences, histories, and voices intermingled amid diverse relations of power and privilege. Partly for these reasons, the categories of Anglo, black, and Mexican are wholly inadequate—and even misleading—in describing the highly miscegenated culture of central Texas. Anglo, for example, exists as a label principally in opposition to Mexican and denotes, rather crudely, all non-Mexican whites, thereby conflating widely diverse cultural groups in Texas, such as Germans, Czechs. Wends. Irish,English, Polish, and French—to say nothing of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. In reducing all whites of European descent into one category, the term Anglo thus fails completely to identify any single ethnic group—too often they all tend to look alike. The Irish, for example, remained outside the circle of whiteness until they learned the meaning of whiteness and adopted its racial ideology. Texas Germans who belonged to the Republican Party did not share the racial animosity of other whites toward Mexicans and blacks and were frequently suspected of being traitors to their race. Some German landowners not only rented to Mexicans and blacks, as did other whites, but socialized with them and, in some cases, formed political alliances with them.23
On the Irish and white racial formation, see Roediger, Wages of Whiteness, 133-63; and Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White. On relations between Germans and blacks and Mexicans in Texas, see Dorothy Grace Redus Robinson, "Seed Time and Harvest: A Story of the Redus Family," typescript, 1966, 24, Robinson Papers, Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; and "Renters' Union," The Rebel, May 10, 1913, 3. Historian Walter Buenger shows how the nativist planks of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s cemented political relations between Texas Germans and Mexicans who formed Democratic clubs to defeat the Know-Nothings. See his Secession and the Union in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984), 91-93. See also Terry G. Jordan, German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966).Since not all European groups became white at the same time or came to enjoy the "property right" in whiteness equally, the fissuring of whiteness in the region into Nordic white businessmen farmers and poor white tenants is a central concern of this study, for "white trash" ruptured the convention that maintained whiteness as an unmarked and normative racial identity. Most whites nevertheless occupied a position in the social structure and in the agricultural economy more like one another than like Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans. Consequently, I sometimes use the term Anglo when discussing relations between whites and Mexicans, because some Mexicans claimed to be white.
Anglo Texans, for their part, often failed to differentiate between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, referring to both simply as Mexicans, a word that conflated race with nationality. This fact became painfully clear to American citizens of Mexican descent during the repatriation drives of the 1930s, when immigration officers routinely deported Mexican Americans along with resident Mexican nationals.24
See Reynolds R. McKay, "Texas Mexican Repatriation during the Great Depression" (Ph.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1982); Abraham Hoffman, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression: Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974); and Francisco E. Balderama and Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995).For many white Texans, a Mexican American was simply a contradiction in terms, a hybridization of mutually exclusive races, nationalities, and cultures.25
Another problem with the category of "Mexican" and "Mexican American" is that, like "Anglo," it also masks the ethnic diversity of a people who have undergone centuries of mestizaje (race mixing) and who continue to intermarry with Irish, German, Italian, Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, African Americans, and other groups.
The use of the term Mexican also glosses over intra-ethnic conflict that characterized relations between Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans during the first decades of the century. Mexican nationals frequently referred to Mexican Americans as pochos (gringoized Mexicans) or agringados, while many Mexican Americans favored immigration restriction, claiming that Mexican immigrants took away jobs and lowered wages. Some Mexican Americans also began to embrace whiteness by representing themselves as Latin Americans and Spanish Americans who feared that the constant influx of poor and largely illiterate agricultural workers reinforced the Anglo stereotype of Mexicans as nonwhite peons and "birds of passage."26
Despite these intra-ethnic differences, I nevertheless use the term "Mexicans" to denote both Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, primarily because Mexicans themselves often ignored the distinction and referred to one another simply as mexicano, sometimes using the phrases de este lado or de otro lado (from this side or from the other side of the border) when it was necessary to distinguish between the American-born and the Mexican-born. When it is important to distinguish between those born in the United States and those in Mexico, I use "Mexican Americans" and "Mexican immigrants," respectively. For a fine study of the commonalties and divisions between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in the Southwest and the important ways in which these "walls and mirrors" shaped ethnic identity and identity politics, see David G. Gutiérrez, Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).Although most scholars recognize the inadequacy of terms like Anglo and Mexican , many still regard the category of black or African American as unproblematic, readily identifiable, and easily, if mistakenly, defined. After centuries of thinking of blacks as a separate racial group, we often overlook the fact that Black Americans, like Mexicans and Anglos, are also ethnically diverse and represent generations of intermarriage with Anglos, Mexicans, Asians, Indians, and other groups. Our stubborn refusal to recognize black ethnicity stems from what the African American novelist Ishmael Reed has termed America's "secret of miscegenation," which underlies our insistence on the separateness of whiteness and blackness. To illustrate the power of miscegenation's secret in the social construction of whiteness, Reed explained that when he mentioned his Irish-American heritage to a professor of Celtic studies, the professor's only response was to laugh.27
Werner Sollors, ed., Invention of Ethnicity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 228. According to the historical geographer Terry Jordan ("Ethnic Change in Texas," 400), nearly 16,000 blacks in Texas claimed Hispanic ancestry in the 1980 census.Some people still wonder how a black person could also be part white if, as many have been acculturated to believe, it is impossible for a white person to also be part black.28
For an interesting anecdote about the conflicting constructions of what constitutes racial categories of white and black, see Fields, "Ideology and Race," 146.Although Anglos and Mexicans relied on some monolithic, reified notion of blackness for their own race-making purposes, the so-called one-drop rule of southern racial ideology placed constraints on the ability of African Americans to exploit the ethnoracial fissures forming in central Texas during the first half of the century.
Despite the contradictions inherent in the nomenclature, I use the terms Anglo/white, black , and Mexican because they conform to the ways in which these diverse groups constructed their own identities as distinct from members of the other groups. However imaginary the homogeneity of these communities might be, the boundaries separating the groups were real enough: For example, central Texas Czechs and Germans, who spoke different languages and often attended different churches and schools, still thought of themselves as whites when they were in the company of Mexicans and blacks.
In culturally crisscrossed central Texas, overlapping economic systems and racial hierarchies enable us to examine how systems of domination and subordination were structured through processes of racialization and white racial construction. Over time, the region's poor whites and Mexicans, more so than African Americans, underwent significant transformation in their ethnoracial status and identity. However, in order to understand some of these changes, we need first to have a basic understanding of the complex system of land tenure in the cotton South, which contemporaries sometimes called the "agricultural ladder."
The notion of a ladder was a fundamental tenet of American agriculture from the Civil War to the New Deal. It held that the young male farmhand could climb, rung by rung, through the stages of hired hand, sharecropper, and tenant farmer to farm owner. It guaranteed opportunities for all farmers, in theory at least, to move across social and economic boundaries toward farm ownership, which was both the symbol of and the passport to full citizenship in the democracy of rural America.29
For discussions of tenancy and the notion of the agricultural ladder, see LaWanda Fenlason Cox, "Tenancy in the United States, 1865-1900: A Consideration of the Validity of the Agricultural Ladder Hypothesis," Agricultural History 18 (July 1944): 97-105; and Shu-Chung Lee, "The Theory of the Agricultural Ladder," Agricultural History 21 (January 1947): 53-61.
In central Texas a sharp distinction separated sharecroppers and tenant farmers, in part because of the social and racial stigma attached to being a sharecropper. Sharecroppers were essentially wage hands hired to work on farms they did not own. Landowners hired them to produce cotton for the landowner. Instead of paying sharecroppers in wages, however, owners sold the cotton at the end of the harvest and paid them one-half of the proceeds of the sale, minus any debts the sharecroppers owed the owner for supplies. Sharecroppers were often called "halvers" because they worked for half of the cotton. They owned no tools or work animals, which the owner supplied. The owner also arranged credit for the sharecroppers and their families to purchase supplies at the town store, which sometimes the landowner owned himself.
Tenant farmers occupied a higher class position on the agricultural ladder than did sharecroppers, mainly because they owned their own plows, work animals, and tools. Since they owned their own capital, they were able to rent land from the owner for one-fourth of the cotton and one-third of the grain, usually corn they grew to feed their workstock. They kept three-fourths of the cotton and two-thirds of the corn as income. For this reason tenants, to use the vernacular of the time, rented "on thirds and fourths." As true renters, they owned the crop and therefore were legally entitled to sell it themselves. They established their own credit arrangements and worked without supervision by the landlord. Share tenants, in other words, thought of themselves as farmers, not as sharecroppers or farm workers. Sharecroppers, on the other hand, received cotton as wages for labor and legally were not accorded the status of renters or farmers. White sharecroppers nevertheless liked to think of themselves as farmers who only temporarily occupied the lower rungs of the agricultural ladder. As one might expect, therefore, the majority of share tenants in central Texas were white, whereas most Mexicans and blacks, who often owned little or no capital, were sharecroppers or migrant workers.30
A problem in terminology inevitably arises in any discussion of tenancy in the South because of the complex and changing relationship between landlord and tenant over time and from region to region. In this study I will use the term tenant to encompass the many forms of tenancy (cash, share, mixed, standing) as well as sharecropping, although sharecroppers, strictly speaking, were not tenant-renters but laborers. I will use the term sharecropper, or cropper, when it is important to distinguish between this class of "tenant" and other forms of tenancy. For a discussion of the legal, social, and economic implications of these distinctions, see Harold D. Woodman, "Post-Civil War Southern Agriculture and the Law," Agricultural History, 53 (January 1979): 319-37; and, especially, Woodman's fine study, New South—New Law: The Legal Foundations of Credit and Labor Relations in the Postbellum Agricultural South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), 67-94.
The region I examine in this study differs from the usual southern patterns in important respects. First, central Texas did not have as extensivea history of plantation farming as did other southern states where plantations had operated before the Civil War and where blacks often constituted a majority of the workforce. Second, the majority of farmers in the central Texas cotton belt were white share tenants, not black sharecroppers; they farmed on the richest soil in Texas for cotton, the Blackland Prairie, and aspired to own their own farms, as had many of their white ancestors. Third, white owners and tenants came increasingly to rely on Mexican migrant labor to harvest the crop and gradually began to replace white and black sharecroppers with Mexican sharecroppers and wage laborers. These variations on the southern theme of cotton agriculture produced complex and odd configurations as Mexicans competed with blacks and as both groups competed with white tenants, sharecroppers, and wage workers. White tenants did not share the same economic interests with white sharecroppers; and among black, Mexican, and white sharecroppers and wage laborers, competition and racial prejudices frustrated efforts to organize effectively. Finally, white tenants worried over the introduction of yet another nonwhite group requiring its own schools, churches, and neighborhoods.31
See, for example, Remson Crawford, "The Menace of Mexican Immigration," Current History 31 (February 1930): 902-7; E. E. Davis, "King Cotton Leads Mexicans into Texas," Texas Outlook 9 (April 1925): 1-3; and Handman, "Mexican Immigrant in Texas," 33-41.
Movement up or down the agricultural ladder raises a series of questions about economic competition and popular mobilization. Were there recognizable patterns of confrontation among the groups as each tried to effect certain economic and political outcomes? How did whites respond to the challenges to the racial order and defend their interests and privileges as whites? The legacy of antiblack racism in central Texas and of white Southerners' abhorrence of social equality with blacks led many white farmers to seek political alliances, however reluctantly at first, with Mexican sharecroppers and tenant farmers between 1910 and 1920. Together they formed numerous locals of the Socialist Renters' Union and Land League, founded in Texas in 1911, and organized against land monopoly, high rents, low wages, and inferior living conditions on cotton farms. The radicalism of Mexican workers in the Socialist Party, Renters' Union, and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) complicated southern notions of whiteness that constructed white manhood, in part, in opposition to docile, peon Mexicans.
In examining the conflicts between owners and tenants, Anglos and Mexicans, blacks and whites, men and women, as well as the conflicts within different classes and races of farm men and women, this study assumes that whites are raced, men are gendered, and women are marked by class. Although the conflicts between landlords and tenants in the triracial borderlands of central Texas best exemplify the relationshipsamong whiteness, race formation, and class, the story that follows links gendered notions of masculinity and agrarian whiteness to the various races and classes of farmers. The conjunction of race and gender, for example, is exemplified in the political discourse of the Socialist Party, in which manly courage was constitutive of whiteness. Socialist leaders accused white tenants of lacking the "white-hearted manliness" of Mexican tenants, who launched a revolution in Mexico and were among the most radical elements in the Texas Socialist Party.32
"Land League," The Rebel, October 23, 1915, 4. David Roediger (Towards the Abolition of Whiteness, 152-53) shows how black timber workers in east Texas demonstrated their "white-hearted manliness" to whites when they walked off their jobs rather than "scabbing."
In analyzing the ways in which race and class interacted in the formation of an agricultural proletariat, we must also consider the meaning of each category within the context of gender relations. The interests of men and women were not necessarily identical in a society that subordinated women to men in the family and denied women any power in politics. Gerda Lerner makes the valuable point that the category of class is "genderic"—it is "expressed and institutionalized in terms that are always different for men and women."33
Gerda Lerner, "Reconceptualizing Differences among Women," Journal of Women's History 1 (Winter 1990): 110.For men and women of different races the "genderic" experience of class position is even more profound: A world of difference existed between the experience, for example, of an African American wife of a sharecropper and that of a white male sharecropper. Any race and class analysis of farming culture must therefore account for the labor of women (and children), because farming, by definition, was a collective endeavor that required their labor in the fields and in the household. Single men simply did not operate farms, and certainly the work provided by the hands of women and children was a prime consideration for owners in renting to share tenants or sharecroppers. In William Faulkner's novel The Hamlet , one of the first questions the landlord-merchant Jody Varner asks Ab Snopes, a sharecropper looking for a farm to rent, is, "How much family you got?" Varner rents the farm to Snopes when Snopes replies that he can put six hands into the field, four of whom are women.34
Faulkner, Snopes, 12.The image of men plowing the fields behind their mules obscures the fact that men could not be tenants and sharecroppers in the first place were it not for the labor power of their wives and children.
For Mexicans, central Texas represented a vastly different culture from the ranch country of south Texas, where blacks were few and where Anglos, who began to settle the region before the Civil War, knew something of Mexican culture and customs. Central Texas was cotton country, and its people were primarily transplanted Southerners who had brought with them their particular history of interaction across the color line. Neither blacks nor whites had much experience or understanding of Mexicans,who frequently could not speak English and whose Catholicism made them suspect in the eyes of black Baptists or Anglo Methodists. But over time Mexicans became a part of the southern culture of the region, adapted to it, and at the same time transformed it into a unique cultural crossroads in the borderlands between the South and the West.
In the first chapter I explain how the Texas Revolution and the War with Mexico laid the foundation for racializing Mexicans as nonwhites. As cotton displaced cattle in the Blackland Prairie, a strip of fertile cotton counties stretching roughly from Dallas to San Antonio, white owners of cotton farms began to experiment with Mexican labor. Contemporaries began to allude to the "white man's problem" when they described the growing rate of white tenancy in central Texas and the increasing number of Mexican sharecroppers taking the places of white tenants on the farms. In chapter 2 I argue that immigration of Mexicans into Texas after 1910 constituted a "second color menace" in the western South and sundered the racial dyad of white and black. In the South the color line separated monolithic whiteness from debased blackness; in central Texas, however, Mexicans walked the color line. Heavily recruited by growers throughout the Southwest, Mexicans were represented variously as nonwhite "mongrels" who polluted the Anglo-Saxon racial stock and as almost white laborers who worked in unskilled occupations shunned by most whites. Eugenicists opposed the acceptance of Mexicans as whites because it sanctioned the mixing of Nordic whites with Indian Mexicans, while growing numbers of Mexican Americans sought acceptance within the ranks of the American working class by insisting on their status as whites.
How complex land-tenure arrangements among Mexicans, blacks, and poor whites shaped race, class, and gender identities of owners, renters, croppers, and wage hands is the subject of chapter 3, in which I argue that white sharecroppers increasingly came to be regarded as the scourge of the white race in Texas. Here I also look at the relationship of race and ethnicity to land tenure, landlord-tenant relations, credit practices, and notions of masculinity, with a focus on the social and economic processes by which Mexican, black, and white owners, renters, croppers, and laborers moved up and down separate and unequal agricultural ladders.
In chapter 4 I examine the efforts of the Socialist Party in Texas to organize Anglo and Mexican tenant farmers between 1911 and 1917. Under the leadership of the Irish immigrant Tom Hickey, a neophyte white Southerner and disciple of white supremacy, the Renters' Union andLand League sought to build an interracial union like the Brotherhood of Timber Workers (BTW) in east Texas and Louisiana. Although the union officially opened its doors to black farmers in 1912, Hickey made no effort to recruit them, fearing a white backlash and charges of "social equality." He supported the Mexican Revolution and admired leaders like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, even as he called white tenants who would not join the union "coons" and peons for failing to live up to manly measures of whiteness. Hickey consistently failed to understand the transnational militancy of Mexicans who crossed the border into Texas imbued with the radical ideology of magonismo —a radical social movement led by the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón—and later the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM).
The intersection of race and technology on large-scale cotton ranches is the subject of chapter 5. The growth of cotton ranches accompanied, and in many ways abetted, changes in the racial geography of the workforce. Large business farms like the Taft Ranch demonstrated the feasibility and efficiency of producing cotton profitably through mechanization and the "scientific management" of its Mexican, black, and white workers. Scientific management of a racialized workforce on corporate farms reflected—and in some ways implemented—the eugenicist notion that nonwhite Mexicans and blacks, as well as "sorry whites," were best handled under the close supervision of their Nordic superiors. In these industrial "factories in the field" white tenants of the New South encountered Mexican laborers of the Southwest and ultimately were displaced by them.
Chapter 6 is an analysis of the ways in which the ideology of yeoman manhood served as the linchpin of gendered whiteness. Mexican, black, and white farm women shared overlapping identities as women, mothers, wives, and daughters as well as owners, tenants, sharecroppers, and wage workers. Women of different classes and races contested gendered notions of farm life by transgressing the boundary between men's work and women's work and attacking the agrarian, patriarchal ideology that praised the role of the farmer's helpmate while ignoring her needs entirely. Mechanization, for example, was decidedly a masculine adaptation that put many men on tractors while women continued to haul water from not-so-nearby wells for cooking and cleaning. Agrarian whiteness excluded African American and Mexican women who spent more time doing "men's work" in the fields than did white farm women, regardless of tenure status, while more-privileged white farm women angrily denounced the work of extension agents for putting the needs of farm animals before those of farm children.
In the last two chapters I consider the impact of New Deal programs on the racialization of the rural workforce and the efforts of agricultural workers—Mexicans, blacks, and whites—to organize against the worst abuses of the new order. Landlords took advantage of loopholes in the federal cotton contract as well as the large reserve of Mexican laborers to evict poor whites from central Texas farms, while the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU) in Texas failed to acknowledge class distinctions between tenants and sharecroppers or between farmers and proletarianized farm workers. This "biracial" union was composed mostly of segregated locals of Mexican, black, and white sharecroppers and wage workers whose interests—wages, working conditions, job security—more closely resembled those of industrial workers than of central Texas share tenants who hired wage laborers, mostly Mexicans.
The story thus ends with the massive disruptions to the farm order of the South and Southwest caused by New Deal agricultural programs in the 1930s. At the national political level, the interstate migration of displaced white tenants—"Okies" and "Arkies"—brought to the nation's attention the growing social, political, and economic problems associated with the rapid development of agribusiness farming in the Southwest and West and its growing reliance on immigrant Mexican labor—a discovery that reified the racial boundaries of farmwork around "off-white" Okies and Mexicans.35
See James N. Gregory, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath chronicles not only the odyssey of displaced Dust Bowl tenant farmers from Oklahoma on the road to California but also their fall from agrarian whiteness and yeoman manhood, tropes intimately linked to the ownership of farmland.
A few words need to be said about the meaning of the term central Texas . Texas consists of four broadly defined cotton belts: east, west, south, and central.36
See L. P. Gabbard and H. E. Rea, Cotton Production in Texas, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Circular 39 (College Station: Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, 1926).For the purposes of this study, central Texas forms a diamond shape from Dallas in the north to Corpus Christi in the south, bounded by San Antonio in the west and Houston in the east. In the geographical morphology of Texas, this region is the site of the cultural core, not because it occupies the geographical center of the state but because, more than any other region, it displays, according to geographer Donald Meinig, the "full range of intercultural tensions" that exist between east Texas, west Texas, and south Texas.37
Donald W. Meinig, Imperial Texas: An Interpretive Essay in Cultural Geography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969), 116, 123. South Texas in this study refers to the transnational region south of a line drawn from Laredo to Corpus Christi, where the majority of Mexicans historically have resided in the state. The largest region, west Texas, extends from San Antonio to El Paso and includes the Panhandle. Central Texas, the broadly defined region between east Texas and west Texas that includes the Blackland Prairie and the coastal bend area near Corpus Christi, is the site where, according to Jordan (Texas: A Geography, 5, 91), "a large European population of Germans, Slavs, and Scandinavians is thoroughly mixed with lower-Southern whites, Blacks, upper Southerners, and Hispanos."In the ethnoracial borderlands of central Texas, the South, with its dyadic racial categories, first encountered the Southwest, where whiteness fractured along class lines and Mexicans moved in to fill the racial space between whiteness and blackness (see Map 3).
Finally, The White Scourge seeks to transcend the black-white and Image removed -- no rights
Mexican-Anglo binaries of southern and western race relations that inform the history of Mexicans and African Americans in Texas. Historians of slavery and the plantation South focus on east Texas, that part of Texas that is most readily identifiable, culturally and historically, with the antebellum and postemancipation South. Historians of the West, on the other hand, incorporate Texas into the unfolding story of the Spanish borderlands and the U.S. Southwest, focusing on ranching, cattle, Indians, and Mexicans.38
Studies of Mexicans in Texas include Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas; de León, Tejano Community; and Mario T. García, Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981). Among the histories of blacks in Texas are Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528-1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973); Lawrence D. Rice, The Negro in Texas, 1874-1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971); James M. Smallwood, Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans during Reconstruction (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981); and Ruthe Winegarten, Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995).By situating these narratives within the larger context of agrarian transformation and white racial construction, The White Scourge bridges the chasm between African American and Southern history, on the one hand, and Mexican American and Southwestern history, on the other. In the borderlands of central Texas the westward advance of cotton culture produced profound changes in the lives of working men, women, and children in new, multiracial farming communities.
Excerpted from White Scourge by Neil Foley Copyright © 1999 by Neil Foley. Excerpted by permission.
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