Hurricane Harvey and its torrential flooding rains have shocked the nation. Thousands have been rescued and many more thousands have lost their homes. It is a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Hurricane Harvey and the flooding across Houston is a historic event, but it also underlines Americans’ conflicted history with our relationship to nature.
I was born too late in a land that no longer belongs to me….They belong to a pilgrim who arrived here only yesterday whose racist tongue says to me: I hate Meskins. You’re a Meskin. Why don’t you go back to where you came from?…I was born too late or perhaps I was born to soon: It is not yet my time: this is not yet my home. I must wait for the conquering barbarian to learn the Spanish world for love.
In 1975, Chicana poet Angela De Hoyos wrote these words, asking herself in the midst of the Chicana/o Movement and Civil Rights Movement about her place in time. Was she born too late or was she born too soon? In her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, home to Spanish missions founded in the 18th century, most famously the Alamo, she didn’t feel at home. In fact, she was told that she was not home, that she needed to return, to go back to where she had come from. Lost between time and space, she hoped and ached for a moment when displacement and discord might be mitigated by the bonds of affection. De Hoyos was left waiting for the day that code-switching could transform conquerors and conquered, leaving only words of love.
Is today that day?
Seemingly. June 12, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that found antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional.
On a hot day in June of 2010, Sampson and I walked out the door and ran a single mile. It was our first run. Yesterday, April 20, 2017 was our last.
On Friday April 14, 2017, Iowa representative Steve King was a guest on Iowa Press, an Iowa public television political show. The interviewer, Kay Henderson, pressed King on criticisms that he was a racist. In response, King defended earlier statements he made with a lengthy discussion on declining fertility rates in the Netherlands and the United States. He clarified that Western nations and the U.S. were no longer meeting their replacement levels (according to him 2.15 children per mother). This was to their detriment. “If you believe in Western Civilization and you believe in the American dream and the American civilization, then we ought to care enough to reproduce ourselves,” he explained.
Henderson did not press King on his notion that civilization—a compendium of institutions, social customs, laws, economic systems, and cultural productions—could be passed on only through sexual reproduction and birth. King was asserting that civilization was genetically inherited, not learned or shared. That is, King believes that white American babies are born with a biologically determined knowledge of the English language and capitalism.
When the primary season began, there were signs that the 2016 election was going to be different from others in the past. This would be the most diverse electorate in United States history, and Latinos were set to play a central role on a national stage. Latinos had played an important part of the Barack Obama coalition and their electoral size only continued to grow. After suffering two presidential defeats, the Republican National Committee, headed by Reince Priebus, issued a report that rethought the GOP’s strategy. The RNC had come to the conclusion that the Republican Party needed new voters. It needed Latinos, but Latinos’ support for Republican candidates had been steadily decreasing since George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. The RNC thought a change in policy and rhetoric could fix this in 2016.
As 2016 approached, it seemed both parties were doubling down on diversity.
Over the last year and a half we have witnessed the pyrrhic victory of the Republican Party. Yes, Donald Trump was elected president, but less than half the population of the nation voted, he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes (less than a quarter of Americans voted for Trump), was definitively helped by foreign influence, and his campaign appealed to the darkest forces in American culture and history. Trump literally announced his presidency by calling the largest community of the largest minority group in the United States criminals and rapists.
My mother cried on election night. In her years here, she has witnessed every American election since 1972. Never once did she cry. That should say something about this election.
She visited the weekend before the election to see her grandchildren and after they went to bed she asked me gravely, “mijo, do you really think he can win?”
Donald Trump’s minority outreach has failed miserably. Perhaps, the most visible, or audible, sign of dissonance in Trump’s message is his constant use of the definite article “the” before the communities he’s speaking about—as in “the Blacks” “ the African-Americans,” “the Latinos, the Hispanics.” It is grating and alienating. What is so off-putting about one of the most common words used daily?
Definite articles are used with adjectives to refer to a whole group of people, but they are also used to identify a particular person, object, or item. Trump is using them correctly when he says “the Latinos,” and “the African-Americans,” but using “the” ascribes singular dimensions and monolithic proportions to diverse communities. It homogenizes people and obscures their diverse concerns and needs.
In this, Trump doesn’t need a grammar lesson, although a thesaurus wouldn’t hurt. His use of the definite article is not a syntactical flaw. His idiosyncratic word choice is ideologically revealing, a peak into the grammar—or the systematic or structural design—of his ideas. His reliance on the definite article hints at a dated understanding of identities and politics that is locked in the mid-20th century.
It was only a few months ago, when the news cycle was abuzz with rumors of a possible Latino vice-presidential pick. Xavier Becerra, Julian Castro, Tom Perez, all were floated as possible names on Hillary Clinton’s short list. Becerra, the most senior ranking Latino Democrat in the house, was a qualified choice. Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the rising-star of the Democratic Party brought with him youth, good looks, and the right political pedigree (by way of Stanford and Harvard). Perez, Secretary of Labor, brought with him political gravitas and liberal credibility, given his background in labor and civil rights issues.
All were strong choices and Latino advocacy groups were excited about the possibility for new political and social visibility. In an election which ultimately saw a candidate who ran on an anti-Mexican platform, a Latino could have significant potential to disrupt the entire Trumpian narrative.
Instead, Clinton picked Tim Kaine. It was supposed to be okay because Kaine would successfully reenergize the Latino vote. A sprinkling of Spanish, a mention of his time in Costa Rica, a few words on his Catholicism, and Latinos would just eat him up with their cucharras. Kaine was supposed recharge Clinton’s Latino outreach.
Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, showed Kaine’s failure to live up to that initial promise.
Weeks ago, Hillary Clinton took flak for her passing statement that half of Trump voters were a group that she would characterize as a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton was criticized by many for her statement by both left and right. She ended up apologizing for the percentage (which she claimed was “half”), but not for the statement itself.
The criticism she drew from well-intentioned liberal strategists and journalists, builds upon a theme that has grown during this election cycle. 2016 is the year of economic anxiety. During the primary season, two populist dark horses rose to prominence—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Their messages of economic populism struck a deep chord and brought new voters out in droves. Trump, as he likes to mention, received more votes than any other candidate in a Republican presidential primary. Similarly, Sanders energized the millennial vote, a young population that is growing in its electoral importance. The rise of these unexpected candidates was explained through their economic messages. In Sanders, young students and workers were tired of a system that burdened them with school debt and made them pay for three decades of tax cuts for the Baby-Boomer generation. In Trump, white workers saw a figure that put America first and promised to “Make America Great Again.”
While Trump declared his run for the White House on an explicitly racist note, it was not until much later—when he issued a call for a banning of all Muslim immigrants and called Judge Curiel a Mexican who was biased and unfit for the bench—that the press started to call Trump a racist. But it was always Trump who was the racist, intentionally leading his supporters astray. The white working-class was not at fault for their racism. They were economically anxious, afraid because they had lost their place in society. They were misapplying their anxieties to communities they had no contact with and couldn’t be blamed for resenting the first Black president, for wanting to deport 11 million Mexican migrants, for wanting to ban Muslims. They were sad they were making less money and losing their cultural hegemony in their nation. Trump, the snake-oil salesman, the crooked used-car salesman, was selling them the empty promise of racism and the poor white working-class was using its last bit of money to buy his magical solutions—a wall so tall that they would be protected and they wouldn’t even have to pay for it.
The notion that the white working-class was somehow tricked into racism or lacked the understanding of global economic change is deeply flawed and it is historically inaccurate. The white working-class was not tricked. They have used racism to combat their economic decline and to assert their social worth at multiple points in U.S. history. White supremacy and their connection to it helped transform them into meaningful contributors to the nation.