Thursday, July 3, 2008

most embody american-ness

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. . .

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

—The United States Declaration of Independence,
adopted on July 4, 1776

Be in enacted by the State and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof . . .

—An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,
ratified on March 26, 1790

Autonomy is freedom and translates into the much championed and revered "individualism" . . . . Eventually individualism fuses with the prototype of Americans as solitary, alienated, and malcontent. What, one wants to ask, are Americans alienate from? What are Americans always so insistently innocent of? Different from? As for absolute power, over whom is this power held, from whom withheld, to whom distributed?

Answers to these questions lie in the potent and ego-reinforcing presence of an Africanist population. This population is convenient in every way, not the least of which is self-definition. This new white male can convince himself that savagery is "out there."

After 1870, Blacks as well as Whites could naturalize, but not others. . . . from 1870 until the last of the prerequisite laws were abolished in 1952, the White-Black dichotomy in American race relations dominated naturalization law. During this period, Whites and Blacks were eligible for citizenship, but others, particularly those from Asia, were not. Indeed, increasing antipathy toward Asians on the West Coast resulted in an explicit disqualification of Chinese persons from naturalization in 1882. . . .

In 1935, Hitler's Germany limited citizenship to members of the Aryan race, making Germany the only country other than the United States with a racial restriction on naturalization. The fact of this bad company was not lost on those administering our naturalization laws. . . .

In 1952, Congress moved towards wholesale reform, overhauling the naturalization statute to read simply that "[t]he right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex or because such person is married." Thus, in 1952, racial bars on naturalization came to an official end.

—Ian Haney López, White by Law:
The Legal Construction of Race
(1996, 2006)

I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a pattern of assumptions which were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turf, and I was among those who could control the turf. I could measure up to the cultural standards and take advantage of the many options I saw around me to make what the culture would call a success of my life.

My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as “belonging” in major ways, and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely. My life was reflected back to me frequently enough so that I felt, with regard to my race, if not to my sex, like one of the real people.

--Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege:
A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences
through Work in Women’s Studies" (1988)

Deep within the word "American" is its association with race. . . . American means white . . .

--Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark


  1. To loosely quote the recently late and, always will remain, great George Carlin:

    "The American Revolution was about a bunch of rich, white, slaveholding men fighting for their freedom from England."

    I am not really sure what irony is, but the aforementioned just may be a pretty good description of it, no?

    Happy Independence Day for wealthy (not just rich) white slaveholding (people stolen...oh, sorry...purchased from Africa) male land owners (stolen...oh, sorry...purchased or acquired through warfare from "Indians").

  2. I miss Carlin too, redcatbiker. FTR, here's something he said on the topic:

    We were founded on a very basic double standard. This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free. Am I right? A group of slave owners who wanted to be free, so they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people and move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people. You know what the motto of this country ought to be? You give us a color, we’ll wipe it out.

  3. I have always loved the second quote of Carlin's. So true even still to this day. There seems to be a consistent attack on people of color.

    And the whole citizenship of non-white people (and women) is still an issue in many ways today.

  4. I was fortunate to have a US history teacher who, from the very first class, challenged the notion of "American". America is a continent, and people residing in Mexico or Bolivia have as much a right to that name as citizens of the US; We've usurped the names of two continents to apply to a select group within our own country.

    Great quotes, good context.


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