Yes, American whites are more racist than other Americans, but not for the reasons most people think.
I must note that much of this story is imported from an article I published on Quora.
Before we can address why American whites such as myself are generally more racist than other Americans, please understand that for the purposes of this article, “American whites” refers to “American White Anglo-Saxon Protestants”, more commonly known by the acronym WASPs. The distinction is important since there are millions of Americans who look as white as myself but suffer persecution due to their culture or religion.
We must first address why there is racism at all:
This might be hard for many in the modern world to accept, but for the overwhelming majority of human history, racism (indeed, any kind of xenophobia) was a survival trait. No, I’m not kidding. Think on this: back before, say, even just a couple hundred years ago, most people in this world didn’t have much interaction with anyone more than a hundred miles or so away. So when a village saw a group of horsemen ride up, and those horsemen were of a different race, or spoke different languages, or worshiped a different deity, those villagers had to decide very quickly whether those horsemen presented an existential threat to the entire village. The villagers would have heard stories passed down from generation to generation about how this or that group of invaders appeared one day without warning and raped and pillaged and enslaved (or murdered) and burned other villages to the ground.
This is not a fairy tale - think back to the Huns or the Mongols. It wasn’t just the barbarians of the steppe, but it was also how the Nubians saw the invading Egyptians, how the Goths had seen the Romans invading what we today call France, how the Muslims and Jews saw the Crusaders who massacred them in Jerusalem, how those on the Iberian peninsula saw the invading Moors, and how the protestants and Catholics in Europe saw each other for centuries. Examples abound throughout human history, wherever humans have lived. It’s only within the past three hundred years that any major nations even began to see diversity as a benefit rather than a threat. That’s why it’s pretty accurate to say that racism is in our societal DNA, and it’s going to take us many, many generations to really minimize its effects. It won’t happen in our lifetimes, or even those of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. This does not mean, however, that we should not continually fight to minimize racism and all other forms of prejudice. In the modern world, xenophobia has evolved from a crucial survival trait into a threat to the growth (and perhaps the preservation) of modern civilization.
If racism and all other forms of xenophobia were ubiquitous throughout human history, isn’t this essentially the same as saying that all races are equally racist? How, then, can I claim that American whites are generally more racist than American nonwhites? It has everything to do with what I believe should be considered a sociological fact: in every nation, there is one socioeconomically-dominant demographic (whether racial, ethnic, or religious). For instance, in China, it’s the Han Chinese that are socioeconomically dominant. In Saudi Arabia, it’s the Sunnis. In India, it’s the Brahmins. And in America, it’s the whites in general, and the white Anglo-Saxon protestants in particular. And when that socioeconomically-dominant demographic begins to feel (rightly or wrongly) that its dominance is being threatened by a “lesser” demographic, that dominant demographic will respond in ways to preserve its own dominance. To wit:
- In 2006, the Republican-led Congress voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act almost in lockstep. Then, after President Obama was elected, all of a sudden we start seeing conservative whites marching and carrying signs saying, “we want our country back!”. We also began seeing polls where most Republicans agreed that President Obama was not born in America, and the man who was the single most vocal birther is our president today. What’s more, after the election of President Obama, the GOP suddenly began to oppose the Voting Rights Act — again, almost in lockstep. The GOP went from completely-supporting to completely- opposing the Voting Rights Act in less than five years…and they cheered when the conservative-led Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. This, then, is a prime example of a socioeconomically-dominant demographic feeling threatened (rightly or wrongly) and then taking measures to preserve its dominance.
- The New York Times recently published an article describing the findings of a study of why whites voted for Trump. From the article:
…Trump voters weren’t driven by anger over the past, but rather fear of what may come. White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.
“It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel,’’ said Diana C. Mutz, the author of the study and a political science and communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she directs the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics. “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.” (boldface mine)
There is one last major factor to consider: hubris, the Ozymandian pride a people gain from being the mightiest nation around. America’s been #1 for a few generations now, but many (including myself) are of the opinion that just as we seized the baton of world leadership from England with the conclusion of World War One, China is soon to supplant America as the world’s dominant nation. After all, the rise and fall of empires is surely another one of the constants of human history (as I clumsily tried to put to verse in this poem).
But the point is, when a nation becomes and remains the world’s most powerful nation, that preeminent status has a psychological effect on the people (or at least the socioeconomically-dominant demographic therein). The people begin to think that they’re #1 because God or Fate or Destiny willed it. In America, it’s been called “American Exceptionalism”, and the possession of a U.S. passport has long been a tool to open doors of privilege in other nations. England was at least as proud from the fall of Napoleon to the end of WWI, and so it was during the earlier heights of empire for France and Spain. The Moors were surely as proud during the first great expansion of Islam, and the Mongols certainly believed so when they carved out the largest contiguous land empire in human history. In China, the emperor had the “Mandate of Heaven”. And in each of these cases, the hubris wasn’t only felt by the one sitting on the throne, but by the citizenry who believed — really believed — that they were somehow naturally better than “those other people”.
These, then, are the three main reasons why American whites are generally more racist than American nonwhites (and non-WASPs): the historical survival trait that was xenophobia, the dominant demographic’s fear of losing its dominance, and the hubris of having been the most powerful people on the planet. These are the three main symptoms of what (if we allow it to fester) can become the very worst sort of societal cancer, one that can lead our nation down a path that very few of us would wish even on our worst enemies. This is not mere hyperbole, for even now, when our agents arrest undocumented immigrants at the border, the children are forcibly taken from their parents:
Under the new policy, parents caught crossing the border illegally will be separated from their children and criminally prosecuted.
“Those apprehended will be sent directly to federal court under the custody of the US Marshals Service, and their children will be transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the DHS official said in an email.
This all too often results in a permanent separation of the children from their parents. From NPR:
Federal immigration agents picked up the young mother, who was living in the country illegally in Grand Island, Nebraska. She was detained for about a month, separated from her 7-year-old son and infant daughter. She thought the children would rejoin her on the flight to her native Guatemala, right up until an immigration agent escorted her to her gate
“There was no Angie, no Daniel,” she recalls. She says the officer told her, “your children are going to stay with the state. Your children aren’t going to Guatemala.”
Boarding the plane that would take her thousands of miles away from them, Luis says, “I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to die.”
One can only wonder if this would still have been the policy if these “undocumented immigrants” had been white Anglo-Saxon protestants.
Where, then, is this all leading? In my opinion, it all depends on America’s political will. America’s right wing has allowed itself to be seduced by white nationalism (itself a direct descendant of the racism of the Deep South that was an indelible part of my youth), and the only way to stop America’s continuing slide into white supremacist tyranny is through the democratic process. Those of us who oppose white nationalism must work to change the political direction of our nation. The solution must be political in nature, for any other type of solution may well end in great bloodshed. We must win back as much of Congress as possible this coming November, and we must win the presidency in 2020.
To be sure, our nation is in decline; it is highly unlikely that America will ever again be as dominant in the world as it once was. But even if our nation loses its dominance, its status as the world’s preeminent nation, we Americans will still live our lives. We will still send our children to school, go to work, and try to afford the house payments. We’ll still try to live what was once called the American Dream. But it’s in the upcoming elections where it will be decided whether the American Dream that remains will still be offered to the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse yearning to breathe free…or whether it will only be for those who think that only white Anglo-Saxon protestants need apply.