Trump revives the idea of a ‘white man’s country’, America’s original sinRoundup
tags: slavery, racism, activism, Trump, White Supremacy
Nell Irvin Painter is the author of Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction and The History of White People.
The idea that some US inhabitants deserve the land, deserve to stay and to occupy it, and that others must go – to be exterminated (Native Americans), to be exiled (black people), to be driven out (Chinese and Japanese people), to be barred from immigrating (Italians, Jews and other southern and eastern Europeans), to be removed (Mexicans) and, briefly, challenged as citizens (Irish Catholics) – has changed shape over time in terms of the permitted stayers and the non-permitted exiles.
But the conviction that only some people – that is, white people (however defined) – deserved US citizenship based on race held on for a very long time. After all, the initial US Congress began its work in 1790 by limiting eligibility for naturalisation to the free and the white.
In the 1970s, I thought changes in US laws and customs had put cries of “get out” and “go home” to rest. I thought the legislation of the 1960s on immigration, civil rights and access to the vote had put all that behind us, in law, at least, if not totally in practice. I thought the United States had turned a corner, had moved away from “this is a white man’s country” and relegated “go back to where you came from” to schoolyard taunts.
I was wrong. With so many of my compatriots, I was gravely mistaken. The past is not the past.
I also thought back then that naked voter suppression had largely ended. And yet it still exists today. But it’s not just disfranchisement that’s current. It didn’t occur to me in the 1970s that outright bigotry like Donald Trump’s would be uttered in public. It didn’t cross my mind back then that a president would indulge in textbook-level racism out loud.
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