In light of President Trump’s tweeted ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, writes in The Conversation about the long history of integrating minorities into the U.S. military.
The armed forces have long “played a vital role in shaping American social policy toward the country’s minorities,” Slotkin writes. He recalls how “fear and resentment” of African-Americans and immigrants from Asia and Europe “generated a political backlash,” resulting in oppressive Jim Crow laws and an anti-immigrant movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Then, “The crisis produced by American entry into World War I brought these movements up short. Suddenly the nation had to raise an army of millions from scratch, with the utmost speed. There was no way to achieve that goal without enlisting large numbers of African-Americans and immigrants or “hyphenated Americans,” a derogatory term for immigrants first used at the turn of the century. It was in this crisis that American leaders rediscovered the ideals of civil equality that late 19th-century ethno-nationalism had called into question.”