The Politics of “Us”

On Sunday, far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen vowed to cut off all immigration to France. “I will protect you,” she said. Le Pen was implicitly talking only to white French people. Across the ocean, when Trump first said he wanted to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, and talked about the U.S. not being “the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” he never mentioned that it is actually Muslims who are killed most by terror from Islamist groups. Many of these new far-right populists around the globe have an implied white-only audience. They wink at the viewer and talk about refugees misunderstanding “our” culture and “bad hombres.” We need to start naming white supremacy when we see it because too many (often white) people choose to ignore its profound and nefarious impact on our society.

Some white people get very angry when we start acknowledging the power of white supremacy and anti-blackness in our world, but the reality is, if you do not understand these forces, then you are missing something. If we do not understand what is truthful and what is xenophobia, we cannot be informed. When Trump says “America First,” he is referring to ontologically white America. If it was truly “America First,” then transgender Americans could use the bathroom where they are most comfortable. Why can’t Black communities have more oversight over their police forces—are they not Americans too? Why can’t Native Americans keep their land? Are corporations more American then indigenous people? For Trump and many others, white America is all that counts. In truth, Muslim Americans, black Americans and other marginalized groups are just as much “American” as anyone else.

Our country is becoming more and more “majority-minority” (a term that shows how slow white vocabulary is to develop—the term really means a non-white majority), which means we have to become more truthful about our language. If you think that America has a “white” culture, then you are a white supremacist. If you think we have more in common “culturally” with Europe than Africa then you need to figure out who the “we” is. White Americans should not assume that just because their American community is similar to European culture, that all of “real” America is.

I was raised in the Jewish community in the suburbs of Boston. There were many cultural and religious facets to that community that are totally different then the communities I encounter in Appleton. Growing up, the idea of drinking milk with dinner would have been very odd. No one in my community did it, so neither did I. If I were to conclude that because of this, drinking milk at dinner is un-American, you would think I was close-minded. We should apply this logic to anyone who thinks their way is the only “American” way. Our culture is not a white culture—that was cemented the day European settlers picked land that was already inhabited and stole Africans to work it.

Some of you might have more in common with European countries, but recent immigrants and people of color might feel very differently. I think it is one of the most beautiful features of our country that we can go to different parts of our cities and hear languages from around the world. Terror from Islamic-majority nations is not as real of a threat to our democracy as white supremacy. If our elected officials were talking about the real world, we would be trying to find policy solutions that help people to see that just because we have shared political and economic interests does not mean we all have to look, sound and act the same. Muslim America is America. Black America is America. White America is America—but it is not all of America.