In an interview on National Public Radio, Steve Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell University, talked about European assimilation and how it was touted in American history. What I noticed in the interview was subtle forms of racism that even those educated in our more prestigious universities pass on. A point was made in the conversation that people need to speak English, or learn it, in order to be successful immigrants in American society. Granted, this may be very important and true, but what the scholarly professor failed to take into account is that white supremacy laid the foundation for immigration policies that are ignored in order to cover up America’s ugly racial past.
We cannot just talk about European immigration without talking about the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of blacks. We cannot ignore how accepting one language was not just about success and unity, but also about melding racism with language in a model that stripped away the cultural identities of Europeans and others, that bonded racism to the invented category of white. We cannot talk about the importance of speaking English without also talking about ethnocide, which is the purposeful destruction of some cultures in favor of others.
Long before the Germans, the Irish, the Spanish, the Italians, and others were labeled “white” they recognized themselves by their ancestry and nation. They came to these shores speaking their native tongue and not calling themselves “white.” The “white” label was placed upon these European immigrants, mostly from Western Europe, in order to collapse opposing religions, language, and cultural differences to create a racial caste system of whiteness that became somewhat covert in the classification and account of the term “American.” Over time these Western European immigrants were morphed into “whiteness.” Americanism was a term that became closely wedded to whiteness. “Blue Blooded Americans” was a euphemism for whiteness, which emphasized existing catchphrases like “Free, White, and Twenty-one”. Those who were identified as white enjoyed the fruits of Americanism while the “others” suffered the thorns. This process, that I call the De-Europeanization procedure, through which immigrants had distinctive cultures and identity, was constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed into acceptable nation building formulas under a murderous colonial system. This would set the stage for a curious American democracy in 1789 that would only recognize white men with property as citizens. A similar process took place in Mexico when the native people of that area were stripped of their native identity, forced to speak Spanish, and become “Mexican” (Batalla, 1996).
There was no “white” race—it was invented in the 1700s by “learned” men at “white” only institutions. Carl Linnaeus and Johann Blumenbach were the part of the cast of racialized characters that fathered scientific racism in the 1700s, yet universities still peddle these men as “great thinkers” from the “Age of Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment was the age of discovery but it was also an age of solidifying a concept that has haunted mankind for centuries. The non-white people of the earth were turned into “inferior” others as white supremacy began to propagandize the world on the basis of a false science sprung to life by university professors and scientists. Roediger (2005) notes that before the term white was solidified in common usage, Europeans were labeled “Dagos, Wops, Hunkies, Guineas, Polacks, and others. Roediger also pointed out that African Americans were called the “N” word, and “coons,” while Mexicans were called “greasers.” After the great white transformation of Western Europeans, most of the negative terms for these “new” people gradually diminished, while racist terminology remained for non-whites.