Let me be perfectly clear.
A white person complaining about identity politics is like the CEO of McDonald’s complaining about the presence of fast food restaurants on every corner. In both cases, what they’re really complaining about is not the presence of identity politics or of fast food restaurants, but the loss of a monopoly they once enjoyed. When it comes to fast food, Ray Kroc invented the concept. When it comes to identity politics, Benjamin Franklin can probably add it to his resume.
The founding fathers of the United States were some of the first to advocate for a category of people defined by their whiteness. Benjamin Franklin, famously said, “In Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russian and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish that their numbers were increased.” To be clear, in 18th century usage, swarthy essentially meant “dark-skinned.” Franklin was arguing for the superiority and exceptionalism of Anglo-Saxons – the white people – as the primary citizens of the United States. More importantly, what he expressed as a wish very quickly became the law of the land.
Ironically, the same Congress that passed the Bills of Rights with all of its noble sentiments on freedom and liberty also passed the Naturalization Act of 1790 which established that United States citizenship was reserved for “free white people of good character.” That this definition of whiteness initially excluded so many who would today consider themselves as white should expose whiteness for what it has always been – an arbitrary invention intended to reserve certain rights and privileges to a limited number of easily identified people.
Initially, whiteness was largely reserved for people of English descent. Franklin and his peers were as suspicious of non-English speaking immigrants as many white supremacists are today. Only gradually were people of non-Anglo-Saxon origin assimilated into whiteness. Countless Jews, Irish, Italians, Slavs and other European groups were rejected as immigrants and citizens for not being sufficiently white. Repeatedly, the US courts defended narrow definitions of white exclusivity. A single drop of non-white blood was damning. Congress consistently passed immigration and citizenship laws designed to protect whiteness. Below are the most blatant examples…
- The Immigration Act of 1882 excluded all people of Chinese descent as non-white.
- The Naturalization Act of 1906 made it illegal for anyone who “does not speak English” to become a US citizen.
- The Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas for different countries and ethnicities, allowing significant numbers of immigrants from England and the Nordic countries and small numbers from Eastern and Southern European countries. It also classified Asians, Indians and Arabs as non-white.
It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that racial determinations for immigration and naturalization were eliminated. Even then, President Truman, initially vetoed the act with words reminiscent of Benjamin Franklin, “I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.” Non-whites were the perversion and contamination to be feared.
For most of US history, there has been only one kind of identity politics – the white kind. Understanding this is vital to understanding the racial tensions we’re experiencing in 2018. The strong response by whites to the identity politics of ethnic, cultural and racial groups – though often presented as a defense of unity and justice – is usually a complaint about a loss of exclusive power. It is not an objection to promoting or defending the rights of an identified group of people, but of having to compete with those groups for rights that have so long been exclusively or primarily white. Once we understand this complaint for what it is, we can also see the racism upon which this politic was founded.
The identity politics that Benjamin Franklin and the founding fathers invented, institutionalized and protected was built on certain assumptions that any modern moral person should reject…
- That race is a biological reality with white skin pigment as an indicator of superior intelligence and character. WHITE IS BEST.
- As superior, white people have a right and responsibility to subjugate and rule those of “swarthy” complexion. WHITES SHOULD RULE.
- As the purest form of humanity, intermarriage and integration with people of color is degrading, lowering the strength and cohesiveness of an elite society. DIVERSITY IS EVIL.
Essentially, Benjamin Franklin and the founding fathers would have seen little wrong in the ugliest expressions of white supremacy today. Indeed, white supremacy was the foundation on which this nation was formed. While the David Dukes of today may find this gratifying, for most of us this should be embarrassing and reprehensible. It should be a reminder that what was invented can be abandoned, especially when we know better.
Today we know these things to be true…
- Race is a political construct created, promoted and sustained by white people in order to subjugate and oppress others. The genetic differences between people with different skin pigments are infinitesimal and irrelevant.
- The dominance of white people in government, religion, business and society has nothing to do with superiority or character and everything to do with systems that continue to unjustly favor and reward white people.
- Diversity, rather than homogeneity, makes for a more vibrant society. Excluding vast numbers of people based on arbitrary characteristics like skin pigment is indefensible and counterproductive.
Whenever we hear politicians and pundits arguing against diversity, for inherent racial distinctions and for protecting Western Civilization, we need to hear it for what it is – a call to protect white identity politics and white supremacy.
One of the more recent manifestations of this defense is the RAISE Act being promoted by the Trump administration. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act prioritizes wealthy, highly-educated, English-speaking applicants. While it does not specifically exclude non-white applicants, its proposed requirements would essentially restore an immigration and naturalization system that rewards those of Anglo-Saxon heritage. Making America Great Again looks suspiciously like a return to 1924 and some of the most racist immigration policies in American history.
If the CEO of McDonald’s really hated the presence of fast food restaurants on every corner, he could go a long way toward ending that problem by closing all of the McDonald’s restaurants. If white people hate identity politics, we too have the power to end its ascendancy. We should stop complaining about the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and Pride Parades. We should refocus our energies on the greatest obstacle to national unity – the concept of whiteness. Until we do, we’re not all that different than Benjamin Franklin and David Duke.