Friday, September 30, 2016

Admit One, An American Scrapbook by Martha Collins

Admit One, An American Scrapbook
by Martha Collins
© 2016 Martha Collins
University of Pittsburgh Press
Pittsburgh, PA
ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-6405-6
ISBN 10: 0-8229-6405-8
Sofbound, $15.95, 89 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Poetry is the poet’s version of what he or she observes or believes. There is “found” poetry which might be prose made into verse or roadside signs and billboards converted into poetic endeavors.  Within Collins’ book Admit One, poetry becomes a combination of many things: memoir, research, history, newspaper clippings, World Fair ads. It is a political statement and a revelatory expose of eugenics and racism.

There is a glorified view of America as a pure nation open to all as Emma Lazarus wrote in “The New Colossus”:

"Give me your tired, your poor,              
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Yet behind that “golden door” Ms. Collins shows the negative nature of “white” America and her exposure of 20th century thoughts and actions spares no one, not even her own grandfather who published and edited a newspaper which referred to others as “subjects of the Mikado” or as “…fierce Cassocks; sooty Nubians, jostled yellow Mongols, and picturesque Turks, Moors, and Sudanese, added rich color to the picture…”

On page 12, entitled “Otta Benga, Part One” Collins presents the following”

Samuel P. Verner
Acquisition List

One Pygmy Patriarch or chief
One adult woman, preferably his wife
One adult man, preferably his son
one adult woman, the wife of…
Two infants of women in the expedition
Four more Pygmies, preferably adult but young
including a priestess and a priest
or medicine doctors, preferably old

Collins continues showing more of Verner’s “acquisitions” based on superior whites displaying non-white subjects as part of an exhibition in which foreign acquisitions are reduced to exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Collins next directs her attention to American Indians and the purchase of various items produced by different Indian tribes citing:

a representation of … human development
from savagery…toward enlightenment
as accelerated by association and training

She scrutinizes the Philippine Reservation in which humans are described as “Negritos, Igorots, Moros, Visayans” and so forth, each having different attributes such as the “lowest, most warlike, more intelligent and highest.”

Otta Benga, the African Pigmy was presented by the New York Times as follows:

                        their heads are much alike

and zoo director Hornaday said:
Madison Grant gave full approval
            We are taking excellent care
                        He has one of the best rooms
                                    in the primate house

Her tale of Otta Benga is not a pretty one and in many ways a modified extension of how blacks were treated during the slavery years.

Collins points out anthropologists declared that within the white race were three distinct types: Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean and added race to eugenics “which was already leading to segregation and sterilization of the unfit…"

In 1911, Collins states the Iowa State Fair held its first Baby Health Contest where the questions was asked: You are raising better cattle…horses…hogs, why don’t you raise better babies? This resulted in babies being “measured for height, weight, anthropometic  traits and mental development, and advertised and displayed an an automobile in the Fair’s Parade, as Iowa’s Best Crop.”

Charles Davenport supervised the “Eugenics Record Office and helped train social workers to interview defective persons in mental institutions, hospitals for epileptics, prisons, orphanages, circus midways. In 1915, he called for the ultimate sterilization of the lowest ten percent of human stock.”

Collins notes that “Between 1910 and 1963, Iowa sterilized 1,910 persons.  In 1979 the Eugenics Board of Iowa was abolished.” 

Thorough in her research, Collins presents well documented facts. There is much historical racism she makes public again, such as two laws passed in Virginia including the state’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, the most strict anti-miscegenation law in the country.

Her book details the horrors of the possible connections between American racism and the rise of Hitler and antisemitism in Germany including the concept of the “master race” and Aryan supremacy.

This is a book of great merit, not only for its scholarly research but also for the revelations either not known or forgotten by Americans. During this political season in which race – racism – is a focal point not only for the candidates, but for law enforcement and communities at large, Collins reminds us of more than a century of interracial ills which may help explain our current societal struggles.   This is a highly recommended book for those familiar with the conflicts of American race relations and enlightening for those who are not.

Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva, 2016)
Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)
King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Press, 2010)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7& 8

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