I’ve been thinking about this fellow a lot since I heard the story about his billboards with the slogan “Make America White Again.” Here’s the quote that I’ve been pondering (from that same link): he “wants to return to an earlier time ‘when there were no break-ins; no violent crime; no mass immigration.'”
1). As I tell my argument students, definitions are important. What does this person think is a “white” person? Are we going solely by skin color? Because even in “white” people, there’s a range of possibilities. Even within my own family, there’s a range of possibilities for white (with me being the palest–let me tell you, it’s no picnic to need sunscreen and hats whenever I step outside). Are we all white? Or are we using an ethnic definition– anyone with European ancestors, perhaps? My paternal grandmother’s parents were from England and Ireland–at the time, she would have been considered mixed-race because her father’s race was listed as Irish (i.e. not white). This applied to various other European groups in America’s immigration history, like the Italians. Does this fellow consider them all white? What about folks from Easter Europe? They faced the same kind of prejudice when they immigrated in large numbers–so do they count? How about Turkish folks? Turkey is a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Russians? There are all kinds of ethic groups in Russia–do all of them “count” as white since Russia is European? Do Catholics count? At one point they didn’t. How about Jewish folks? Some of them have been in Europe for centuries. Are we just talking about WASPs? Or are we just talking paleness? Does the “one drop” rule apply? Since humans originated in Africa, are we all out of the running?
2) And when, exactly, was America white? I think I know when it was–when communities were segregated so that people of a certain age never saw anyone of color. That didn’t mean they weren’t there! I’ve read more than once that men who were kids in the fifties consider that time a golden age because they were shielded from many of the realities of life. So America wasn’t white then–just as it’s never been in our history. It’s that non-whites were so marginalized that their voices weren’t heard. That’s what we should go back to? Aren’t we better off now? (YES!)
3. Another mythical time is the “time before crime.” Again, I’m not sure when this was. It certainly wasn’t when Europeans stole the land from the people who were here first. Theft is a crime, even when it’s on a large scale, you know. It wasn’t when white people tried to commit genocide against the indigenous folks–that’s murder. Or introduce alcohol to them, killing millions more. Was it when Europeans kidnapped and enslaved millions of Africans? Why no, because that’s illegal too. How about when slave owners raped their slaves? No, that’s all kinds of crime right there. Was it when whites treated Chinese laborers as disposable? Obviously not. Was it when the US government interned Japanese citizens and confiscated all of their property? Again, that’s theft and unlawful imprisonment.
Oh, maybe he means crimes by individuals. In that case, here’s a link to the Brookings Institute which shows that the crime rate has been dropping for decades. Huh. And, of course, the folks who commit the crimes vary by area. Where I live, most of the crimes are committed by (wait for it) white people! Gosh. And what about those pesky immigrants? Well, the Wall Street Journal shows that to be a non-starter. Golly. In face, there’s some evidence to suggest that immigrants are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. Gee willikers!
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that although some of my best friends are white, it’s obvious that people of European heritage are bringing drugs; they’re bringing crime; they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.