“If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built,” writes Patrick Buchanan in his new book titled State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. For him, border control is the key to the U.S. continuing as a white country. Accordingly, non-white immigration is the enemy.
Let us back up a moment, okay? Presumably for Buchanan, a political commentator and President Nixon’s former speechwriter, European-descended creators and builders of the U.S. share a community of whiteness. Has this always been the case? If so, all of the Europeans who immigrated to the U.S. were white on arrival. If true, then their descendants as white Americans continue this racial line he writes of as the “we” of the nation’s creators and builders.
End of story, right? Well, not quite. In fact, millions of Europeans who arrived a century or so ago in the U.S. had a unique racial status. They began to live and work in their new country as being people who were not quite white. Eastern and southern European immigrants occupied a racial ground between the white and black races. In race relations, these two colors have been and remain the two opposites in U.S. society: those who chose to come here; and those who were brought here by force.
America is not just a land of immigrants. The nation is also a land where enslaved Africans lived and labored alongside native peoples and people who left their homes for reasons, such as poor employment opportunities, that call into question the boundary between voluntary and involunteary. This history helps us to better understand the nation’s racial insanity in 2006. A prominent current example is, of course, the spread of Islamaphobia, or hatred of Muslims, across America.
In his fascinating new book titled Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs, author and scholar David R. Roediger terms European immigrants of the 20th-century the “in-between people.” For them, becoming full-fledged members of the white race was a confused and confusing experience at home and at workplaces over decades of turmoil. With his hallmark attention to nuances in language, Roediger fleshes out this crucial period in the formation of the nation’s white racial identity.
The contested terrain of race remains a flashpoint in big and small ways today. Buchanan’s stance against brown-skinned Mexican immigrants to the U.S. is a high-profile case in point. Meanwhile, both of the nation’s political parties have largely abandoned ordinary people of all skin colors to the market forces of competition and globalization. These twin processes propel the non-white U.S. immigration that Buchanan rails against. Our era of liberal retreat and social inequality is fertile grounds for his appeal to some whites to forge a community of skin color as a haven in the world of job insecurity.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.