Role of Prohibition in the History of American Racism and Nativism Racism and nativism have been critical features that characterized the history of the United States Racism encompassed the maltreatment of African Americans and other minority groups while nativism included the systemic state policies designed to protect the interests of established inhabitants against the interests of immigrants In both cases the white majority benefited since they dominated the government and could front and safeguard their interests In her book entitled The War on Alcohol Prohibition and the Rise of the American State Lisa McGirr challenges a long held myth by demonstrating that prohibition was essential in the expansion of the powers of the federal government The scholar argues that prohibition enhanced the entrenchment of racism and nativism in the governance of the country by helping grow the powers of the federal government McGirr argues that the federal government waged war on alcohol disproportionately in immigrants
African American and poor white communities while protecting the interests of the affluent white communities Furthermore the government used the war to usurp additional powers thereby entrenching racism and nativism in the management of the federal government She writes The Taft Court s decisions during Prohibition sharply expanded federal government power 207 The systemic expansion of the powers of the federal government helped formalize the policies that embodied both racism and nativism given the biased nature of most of the policies in the war against alcohol She points out that the wealthy and privileged whites fronted prohibition as loftiest motives of patriotism in the service of our country and the interests of humanity 04 Patriotism in this context encompassed the interests of the white middle class Protestants The resultant policies thus fortified and protected the interest of the white majority According to the author McGirr the prohibition movement helped change the country's politics as well She argues that the targets of prohibition were saloon drinkers mostly made up of working men and the poor who were primarily immigrants The white middle class Protestants viewed the class of people as undesirables predominantly inclined to criminal behavior the anti saloon League built its strong and successful coalition targeting the saloon evil rather than attacking personal alcohol consumption 11 The attacks aroused the victims of the prohibitionist movements and the inherent policies By 1928 a significant number of democrats were the ethnic urban working class The prohibition movement thus rooted the culture of racism and nativism in the politics of the United States The rise and the power of the Klan was only the most egregious of the many affronts that prohibition posed to urban migrants and heavily catholic working class women These grievances sharpened their politicization forging them into a potent political bloc xx The prohibition policies were thus beginning to influence political agendas in the country The enforcement of the prohibitionist laws was equally selective at the same time Prohibition law enforcement was anything but a dead letter xix Vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan seconded the government in the implementation of laws that out rightly promoted the hegemony of the white protestant nationalists In a chapter she calls citizen warriors McGirr demonstrates the role of citizen groups in facilitating the prohibitionist laws while helping entrench racism and nativism in the country s mainstream culture
As a cultural product alcohol was essential to most immigrant communities However it created a viable market that the white middle class and wealthy Americans targeted She writes Antiliquor crusaders exaggerated the actual harm inflicted by the saloon by liquor and by the excessive influence wielded by the alcohol industry 12 McGirr argues that the prohibitionist movement was nothing more than a public demonstration of anger fueled by racial prejudice They fight was absolutist in nature the contest over drink driven by powerful currents of protestant perfectionism in the United States from the beginning was more absolutist in its orientation than in most western countries 07 Crusaders of the war targeted their victims of immense force that disrupted even legal businesses as they sought for perfection In retrospect McGirr provides a unique look at the prohibitionist movement that characterized the war on alcohol The scholar proves that prohibition was critical in the entrenchment of racism and nativism in the country s politics and governance Prohibition played to the tunes of the discriminate legislations at the time including the Jim Craw laws thereby brining coercion into the everyday lives of minority communities like the African Americans and immigrants
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