The term "race" has not had a consistent meaning throughout its history of use. Instead, "race" has meant different things to different people, often at the same time. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries "race" had a scientific connotation. Arising out of a perversion of Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection, Social Darwinism contended that certain races of people were stronger and, therefore, justified in dominating other, less fit, races. Theorists developed elaborate charts detailing the supposed hierarchy of races, with European-derived races always at the top.
According to most "scientific" hierarchies in vogue at the time, people of African descent were racially weaker than those of European descent, and there were laws in place to determine who belonged to what race. In many states, having a great-great black grandparent meant that a person was legally "black," even if every other ancestor had been "white."
A person’s racial standing in 1912 was sometimes determined as much by his or her country of origin as much as by skin color. During this period, many people identified as separate races what we now consider ethnic groups. For example, under this system, the Irish were a separate race than the English; the Italians were a different race than Germans, and so on.
The following essay, published in 1911, gives a glimpse of the "racial" classifications of the period, showing that racism was not entirely black and white. Read it carefully and see which groups are considered "non-white." Be sure to notice the stereotypes used.