A Great Conspiracy against Our Race

Italian Immigrant Newspapers and the Construction of Whiteness in the Early 20th Century

192 pages

5 halftones illustrations

October, 2014

ISBN: 9780814788486

$45

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Peter G. Vellon is Associate Professor of History at Queens College.  

All books by Peter G. Vellon

Racial history has always been the thorn in America’s side, with a swath of injustices—slavery, lynching, segregation, and many other ills—perpetrated against black people. This very history is complicated by, and also dependent on, what constitutes a white person in this country. Many of the European immigrant groups now considered white have also had to struggle with their own racial consciousness.

In A Great Conspiracy against Our Race, Peter Vellon explores how Italian immigrants, a once undesirable and “swarthy” race, assimilated into dominant white culture through the influential national and radical Italian language press in New York City. Examining the press as a cultural production of the Italian immigrant community, this book investigates how this immigrant press constructed race, class, and identity from 1886 through 1920. Their frequent coverage of racially charged events of the time, as well as other topics such as capitalism and religion, reveals how these papers constructed a racial identity as Italian, American, and white.

A Great Conspiracy against Our Race vividly illustrates how the immigrant press was a site where socially constructed categories of race, color, civilization, and identity were reworked, created, contested, and negotiated. Vellon also uncovers how Italian immigrants filtered societal pressures and redefined the parameters of whiteness, constructing their own identity. This work is an important contribution to not only Italian American history, but America’s history of immigration and race.

Reviews

  • "The enormous amount of research Vellon has performed in the archives of Italian (American) mainstream and radical newspapers is inestimable. . . . Vellon unearths rhetoric about race and Italian immigration that truly advances the fields of Italian American history and whiteness studies. . . . The book is poised to function as a vital contribution to ethnic history and will become an important resource for upcoming scholars."

    —Mary Jo Bona, Stony Brook University

  • "The subject of Peter Vellon’s work, the construction of race and racial difference in the late 19th century and early 20th century Italian American mainstream and radical press in New York City, is fertile ground for exploration, given the ways in which Italian immigrants and their descendants have interacted with non-whites and particularly African Americans over the last century and more. Vellon scrutinizes articles on race and on various racial populations in the United States from a wide range of these newspapers, most of which have never been translated, and he breaks new ground discerning Italian immigrants’ attitudes towards Native Americans and Asian immigrants. Vellon’s book is an important and meaningful contribution to existing scholarship on Italian immigrants, on immigrants generally, and on the construction of race and race relations in the United States."

    —Michael Topp, The University of Texas at El Paso

  • “Full of nuance,  finely attuned to transnational influences, and attentive to change over time, Vellon’s work is a noteworthy contribution to understanding how immigrants fit into, learned, and used the U.S. racial system.” 

    —David Roediger, University of Kansas