In light of the recent Trayvon Martin case, a few historical examples of how fear of the “other” has led many Americans to acts of intolerance and discrimination:
- In 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of New Netherland, tried to have Jewish refugees expelled, claiming they would “infect” the colony.
- In 1732, founders of the Georgia colony, which was seen as a religious haven, drew up a charter that explicitly bans Catholicism.
- In 1844, Mormon founder Joseph Smith is murdered in an Illinois prison by a lynch mob. Soon after, many of his followers migrated to Utah.
- In 1854-56, nativists formed the Know Nothing Party (yes, that was their name), which called for strict limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.
- In 1865-66, following the end of the Civil War, riots erupted during Reconstruction, and African American churches and schools were burned in Memphis and New Orleans.
- In 1882, strong anti-Chinese sentiment in California led to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended immigration from the East.
- In 1883, the Department of Interior declared many Native American rituals to be “offenses” punishable by jail sentences of up to 30 years.
- In 1942, FDR signed an executive order establishing “exclusion zones,” which led to the forced internment of some 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans. (source)
Needless to say, fear of the other isn’t a exclusively American problem.