by white, non-English-speaking Europeans, and then, in a descending order, men and women whose skin became progressively darker and habits progressively different from the white man’s: the Mexicans, the Indians, the Chinese. Without much thought or effort on their part, Anglo men established their dominance over California by systematically asserting themselves over others.
Of course, the major motivation of those in California at this time was the desire to strike it rich. Although some people did just this, there was only a finite amount of wealth to be uncovered, leaving most men few options for increasing their status. Racism, codifying the differences between themselves and others, was one way to raise perceived power in a landscape where men were often at odds with, and at the mercy of, an environment over which they had very little control. Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush by Susan Lee Johnson, demonstrates how life was different for white men, and how they acted to maintain their superiority in California.
Theirs was a world where status had already been shaken up. Due to the scarcity of white women and the need for some means of support, many men found themselves employed in positions that back east would only have gone to girls. They eased the stigma of such labor by assuring themselves that such work was still manly, and by setting themselves above those of other races and cultures. They categorized the French as “dainty (small, little, diminutive)” (Johnson 118). Mexican men were seen as “‘lazy Greasers’ in ‘dirty Zerapes’” (Johnson 123) while Mexican women existed solely for the purpose of cooking and being ogled. Native Americans were afforded even less respect, and white men could murder them with impunity, with their killers “posing as heroes” (Bibby 54).
“Systematic harassment” (Johnson 125) of the Chinese forced some men out of the mines, where white men wanted to work.