White supremacists have expressed fear that Europeans and those of European descent in the U.S. and other English speaking countries will become minorities in their countries due to immigration. This has been termed “The Great Replacement” and apparently inspired the Unite the Right marchers at the University of Virginia in 2017 to chant “You will not replace us.” (See here, here, here and here.) The suspect in the murders at mosques in New Zealand titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement.”
White supremacists also have conjured up conspiracy theories that liberal elites are orchestrating this “replacement.” While I have never encouraged immigrants to come to the U.S. (they have their own motivations to migrate), I am a liberal who welcomes high levels of immigration as a means to reduce the proportion of the population which self-identifies as white. This reduction could help diminish the influence of white supremacists and their fellow travellers by shrinking the proportion of the population from which they can draw recruits and influence the country’s direction.
Unfortunately, white supremacy has always been part of America’s fabric. While the Declaration of Independence supports universal rights, former white nationalist Derek Black notes that the first naturalization laws in the 1790s restricted citizenship to white people and states that
“the United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.”
A 2017 article in The New Yorker echoes Black’s analysis: “… the Founding Fathers organized their country along the bloody basis of what we now tend to understand as white supremacy.” And Adam Serwer notes in the Atlantic that
“America has always grappled with, in the words of the immigration historian John Higham, two ‘rival principles of national unity.’ According to one, the U.S. is the champion of the poor and the dispossessed, a nation that draws its strength from its pluralism. According to the other, America’s greatness is the result of its white and Christian origins, the erosion of which spells doom for the national experiment.”
The “radical promotion of white people” has had devastating consequences for millions. Native Americans were massacred and forced off the land they inhabited. African Americans endured centuries of slavery, followed by the oppression of segregation, disenfranchisement, the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, “slavery by another name,” red-lining, police brutality, mass incarceration, and other forms of discrimination. Asian immigrants suffered violence and discrimination, particularly in the 19th century. Hundreds of thousands of Latino Americans were forcibly pushed out of the U.S., while others experienced mob violence and endured segregation. Racist ideology directed against eastern and southern Europeans also led to the restrictive immigration legislation of the early 1920s, which ultimately blocked many Jews from fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. (See also here and here.)
In recent decades, overt white supremacy in the U.S. has weakened. Research based on 2016 data suggests that less than 6% of non-Hispanic whites support the promotion of white interests over those of other groups. In addition, a 2017 poll, which apparently included respondents from a variety of racial and ethnic groups, found that strong majorities agreed that all races are equal and that all races should be treated equally. Moreover, the American public appears to be increasingly comfortable with diversity.
However, the 2017 poll revealed that “while only 8 percent of respondents said they supported white nationalism as a group or movement, a far larger percentage said they supported viewpoints widely held by white supremacist groups.” The 2016 study also suggests that millions of European Americans think like the alt-right. (See also here. )
One implication of the resilience of white supremacist beliefs among many Americans has been hate crimes. Examples include the 2018 massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh, the violence in 2017 in Charlottesville, the 2015 massacre of African Americans at a South Carolina church, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Hundreds of people have been killed in recent years by white supremacists and members of the far right. Assaults, intimidation, and vandalism are other manifestations of this hate.
Another implication of the continued existence of white supremacy in the U.S. has been the elevation of a demagogue, Donald Trump, to the presidency. Vox notes that “study after study has shown that Trump’s primary and general election victories were driven by the racial resentment and demographic panic he activated among white voters.” Adam Serwer also writes that “the specific dissonance of Trumpism—advocacy for discriminatory, even cruel, policies combined with vehement denials that such policies are racially motivated—provides the emotional core of its appeal… As the president continues to pursue a program that places the social and political hegemony of white Christians at its core, his supporters have shown few signs of abandoning him.” The columnist Charles Blow has similarly stated that “Trump’s central promise as a politician has been the elevation, protection and promotion of whiteness, particularly white men who fear demographic changes and loss of status and privilege.” (See also here.)
Trump threatens our liberal democracy and encourages violence against his political opponents. Some his prominent supporters such as Steve Bannon, who has described himself as a “Leninist,” also apparently have little respect for liberal democracy. Moreover, his administration has exacerbated the suffering of immigrants through its draconian policies. And his resistance to tackling climate change threatens the future of all of humanity.
Accelerating the rate of immigration into the U.S. could help prevent the emergence of future politicians who use racist demagoguery to persuade a substantial share of the white population to vote for them. With more immigration, the portion of the electorate made up of those voters will diminish faster.
Unfortunately, this approach to squelch white nationalism has its risks and uncertainties. To begin with, increasing immigration levels to transform the country’s demographics faces headwinds. Some assume that the demographic status quo, even with no change to current immigration levels, will eventually produce an America with a diminished white population, given Census Bureau predictions that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the population in the next two decades. However, the sociologist Herbert Gans posits that “… the ‘minority-majority’ forecast, as it is commonly interpreted, is likely to be proven wrong. Not only could whites remain a majority well past midcentury, but they will retain political, economic and cultural control of the country long after that.” He describes a “whitening” process whereby the offspring of intermarriage between individuals of different races often self-identify and are identified by others as “white.” He also notes “the long history of the whitening of populations previously labeled nonwhite,” such as immigrants from Ireland and southern and eastern Europe. Consider Stephen Miller, Trump’s ferociously restrictionist advisor, who also happens to be Jewish.
Furthermore, elevated levels of immigration might push more white Americans towards nativism and white nationalism. While Americans are increasingly supportive of immigration to the U.S., with a large percentage believing immigrants are beneficial for the country and growing percentages supporting increased levels of immigration, more whites might feel threatened by greater numbers of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Indeed, most Americans either want to keep immigration at current levels (38%) or reduce the levels (24%). In fact, the political commentator Andrew Sullivan has argued that the Democratic Party must become more restrictionist to prevent Trump from winning re-election.
Despite these uncertainties, accelerating the rate of immigration to combat white nationalism is a risk worth taking. With regard to the “whitening” process, the children and grandchildren of interracial intermarriage will likely be less receptive to white nationalism, given that they have familial connections to people who are racial minorities and that families with a history of intermarriage presumably hold more tolerant attitudes. This tolerance should coexist with a white identity. For example, as The Washington Post reports, some demographers “note that many Hispanics already identify as white and yet still vote like a minority group.”
As to the risk of driving more whites into the supremacist camp by increasing immigration, one should begin with the assumption that the Republican Party is a party of white nationalists and others who are comfortable making common cause with the nationalists, even though there is a minority of Republicans and Republican leaning leaning independents who support increased immigration levels. Therefore, the focus should be on whether some Democrats and Democratic leaning independents might defect to the Republicans if immigration levels are increased. A third of Americans apparently support an increase in legal immigration into the U.S., with 40% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents supporting the increase. Will increased immigration make many of the 60% of Democratic supporters who don’t endorse the increases receptive to white nationalism and/or greater immigration restrictions?
Probably not. A political scientist has observed that “the Democratic Party is increasingly a coalition of professional-class whites and members of ethnic and racial minority groups.” Given the general cosmopolitanism of the Democratic Party, most of its supporters who don’t support increasing immigration levels likely would never support white nationalism and the Republican Party associated with it. In addition, most voters probably do not make electoral decisions based on a single issue. It therefore seems likely that most Democrats would swallow increased immigration levels while continuing to oppose the Republicans. A Washington Post columnist recently posited that “there’s virtually no evidence that support for more immigration is a political liability… At worst, an immigration supporter will lose the 30 percent of voters he or she would have lost anyway.”
In fact, increasing numbers of Democrats may be persuaded to accept more immigration if that means preventing future demagogues from becoming president. It should be emphasized to Democrats that Trump is the catastrophic consequence of having an electorate with a large proportion of racist whites. Changing that electorate through accelerated immigration flows could be promoted as a way to vaccinate society against future demagoguery.
The vitality of jurisdictions with diverse populations should also be highlighted, including those with “majority minority” populations. An article in Axios points out that “non-white Americans are now the majority of the population in four states, as well as in the most prosperous and powerful U.S. cities.”
One of these cities is San Antonio. Referring to white fears about America becoming a majority minority country, a journalist and San Antonio resident writes that
“… I’m here to calm those fears. Hear me out. I have seen the future and it is … San Antonio. When I came to San Antonio to attend college in 1964, non-Hispanic whites, aka Anglos, were in the majority. It was about the time I left, in 1968, that this status changed. The 1970 census put us at 48 percent.
Anglos have been in the minority fully 50 years. Now we’re at just over 25 percent. Latinos are 63 percent and blacks 7 percent.
So how are things going for us Anglos now that we make up only one-quarter of the nation’s seventh-largest city? Has the city stagnated in a sea of corruption? Have our fellow Anglos fled after being subjected to discrimination and abuse?
The reality is that San Antonio cannot be compared with the stagnant, overgrown town it was is in the late 1960s when we Anglos were in the majority…
San Antonio showed little ambition and a well-earned inferiority complex. Its national image was such that outsiders were often surprised to learn that the city had an airport…
Fast forward 50 years to today. San Antonio is thriving as one of the U.S.’ fastest-growing cities – 1.5 million and counting. Its economy is humming and diversifying, with cybersecurity as a key growth industry. Downtown, previously almost abandoned to tourists, is booming both as a business center and residential magnet.
I’m not suggesting Latinos alone lead to the city’s economic growth. Anglos still dominate the business sector. But Latinos certainly contributed to that growth, both politicians – led early by Henry Cisneros – and business leaders.
Our 11-member City Council has been made up of at least five Latinos and one black member since 1977, with only a few years excepted. Cisneros was elected the first Hispanic mayor of modern times in 1981, but there have been only two Hispanic mayors since. Ivy Taylor served as the city’s first black mayor from 2014-2017.
That is partly because the Hispanic population doesn’t vote as vigorously as Anglos and blacks. It is also because Latino voters are discriminating – in the best sense of the word – but don’t discriminate, in the word’s worst sense.
Today’s seven-member “minority” majority on City Council is hardly lacking in qualifications. Every one has a graduate degree, even though most come from modest backgrounds. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT, a masters in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford, and a masters in public health from Harvard.
Like all American cities, San Antonio has serious problems: severe economic and racial segregation, many underperforming schools, environmental challenges, a severe lack of adequate mass transit, and more. But we’re working on it together.
White folks who are frightened at becoming a minority need to understand the U.S.’ amazing power of assimilation. San Antonio has thrived under a City government that for 40 years has been governed by racial and ethnic minority councils, mostly the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants…
White Americans should not be afraid of such successes. They should be proud of them.”
Houston, another Texas city with a majority minority population, has been deemed the most diverse U.S. city. Like San Antonio, it has challenges, but a Rice University sociologist argues that ethnic tensions in the city have eased over the years and states that “’No city has benefited from immigration more than Houston, Texas.’”
In addition, immigration supporters can point to small American towns that have succeeded while ethnically diversifying. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about Willmar, Minnesota, population 21,000. It “is now nearly half Latino, Somali and a Noah’s ark of other East African and Asian immigrants. The languages spoken in the high school include English, Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Karen (spoken by an ethnic group from Myanmar).” According to Friedman, the town has welcomed its immigrant workers, who fill jobs in a local economy with almost no unemployment and without enough “white Lutheran Scandinavians” to fill them. The town’s mayor, who favors helping immigrants integrate into the community, was elected convincingly when he ran against an anti-immigrant candidate.
Thriving Canadian cities also demonstrate the success of diverse societies in North America. Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them highlights Toronto, Canada as successfully integrating its ethnically diverse population. At the same time, the city has been highly ranked for its quality of life. About half of its population consists of “visible minorities.” (See also here, here, and here.)
As a political matter, pushing for increasing immigration levels is probably a better approach to diminishing the influence of white racism than pushing for open borders. While open borders is the best policy choice from a moral standpoint, most Americans would be very uncomfortable with open borders, and calling for just an increase in immigration levels would be more palatable for voters than the radical approach.
How much of an increase should be championed? In 2013, the U.S. Senate approved legislation which would have raised legal immigration levels by 50 to 70 percent within five years, which suggests a politically realistic goal. A more ambitious campaign would promote an annual immigration flow of between 6-7 million people and would cite the Israeli experience of successfully absorbing a comparable flow in the 1990s.
It is acknowledged that there is no easy solution to individual acts of violence and other harassment based on hatred toward a particular ethnic or racial group. But preventing future nationalist demagogues from attaining power means that there would not be people in power provoking individuals to act out their worst instincts.
While pushing to transform the nation’s population for political ends may seem brazen, the nationalists are not timid about realizing their own version of social engineering. While Trump’s recent proposal to overhaul legal immigration apparently would not change immigration levels, just last year he proposed changes which, according to The Washington Post, “could cut off entry for more than 20 million legal immigrants over the next four decades.” Michael Clemens noted that “’By greatly slashing the number of Hispanic and black African immigrants entering America, this proposal would reshape the future United States. Decades ahead, many fewer of us would be nonwhite or have nonwhite people in our families… Selectively blocking immigrant groups changes who America is. This is the biggest attempt in a century to do that.’” Dana Milbank of The Washington Post similarly summarized the intent of the legislation: “… the Trump-backed immigration proposal, combined with other recent moves by the administration and its allies — support for voter suppression, gerrymandering and various other schemes to disenfranchise minority voters — could extend the white hegemony that brought Trump to power and sustains Republicans.” Trump also revealed his preferences for whom should immigrate when he infamously asked last year “… why we want people from Haiti and more Africans in the US and added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway.”
White supremacy has been a blight on America, from its origins up to the present, and its marginalization is long overdue. Allowing higher levels of immigration into the U.S. could be an effective way to erode its influence, and increasing immigration levels should be promoted by those who hope for a more tolerant and better governed America.