By Tim Wise
As it turns out, I understand every part of it. I understand it all too well. Its meaning is inscribed on the cell memory of my ancestral line, burned into our familial DNA. For it is the label that was, for a while, placed upon my great grandfather. Not because of anything he had done, but merely because he had been born in a place that, in the eyes of those filled with hatred, rendered him suspect. After all, McKinley was killed by an anarchist whose parents were from modern-day Belarus, and so naturally, it made sense to treat a boat full of Minskers as though they were criminals. Just like today, the killing of a rancher near the border, supposedly at the hands of a Mexican drug smuggler, means that Arizona must crack down on other Mexicans, or anyone who might be a Mexican, in the country without permission.
What I understand is that racists are not very original. The targets change, but the game remains the same: it is forever and always about stopping the dangerous and "polluting" other. It is about the dominant group telling some group with less power that they are not as good, not as clean, not as moral, not as wanted, not as human in some way. It is about oppressing others in the name of protecting the self, failing to realize in what can only be considered one of the saddest spectacles of modern history, that in the end, the oppressor neither fully cows their target nor obtains the security they sought. Indeed they undermine it, along with any remaining pretensions to the national greatness that made the so-called "other" want to join them in the first place. The degree to which it is ironic is only exceeded by that to which it is pathetic.
And yes, I know, the voices that clamor for securing the borders insist they are not racists. But they are liars. There is no other word for them. They are liars. They said the same thing no doubt, or some version of it a hundred years ago. Even as they were using bogus intelligence tests to "prove" that Jews and Italians were intellectually inferior to real white people. There was no bigotry. It was just that certain people were less assimilable, don't you see? Yes I see. I see very clearly thank you.
This is perhaps most obvious in the response to the Irish immigration in the mid-19th century. These people were almost indistinguishable from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants already here. Yet Americans treated the ancestors of Henry Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Disney, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan as if they were barely human.
Americans have demonized immigrants for the same reason they demonized Indians. Again, to maintain the white power and privilege they claimed ever since the Pilgrims. "This land is our land, so get out before we hurt or jail you for trespassing."
For more on the subject, see They Keep Coming, and Coming, and Coming... and The Political Uses of Stereotyping.