by Mark L.
As various elements of the Democratic Party and the wider radical left conduct a post-mortem on the (to many) surprising victory of Trump and his white nationalist allies, some on the Modern Monetary Theory/Post Keynesian (MMT/PK) left have called for stronger border enforcement and immigration controls. Heralding a new “realism” and an apparently necessary “pragmatism,” one blogger has referred to such politics as “moderate immigration.” The theory is that immigrants lower wages and tax already overburdened infrastructure, leading to increased social conflict. The solution: implement a federal job guarantee for citizens, while barring non-citizens and tightening immigrations flows.
Behind this group’s alleged pragmatism looms an exclusionary politics, which cannot be disentangled from the exclusionary tradition of the American white nationalist ethno-state. This is the same tradition that forms Trump’s political base. When his advisor, Steve Bannon, speaks of Jacksonian nationalism, he harkens back to the United States in its most aggressive and overtly white supremacist form. MMT/PK liberals may expressly distance themselves from such overt white suprematism. Yet their rhetoric of exclusion dangerously abets the white separatist left.
White nationalism has long been the dominant organizing impulse in the United States. If we wish to overturn this impulse, we should pursue a radically inclusive job guarantee that rejects militarized borders and the discourse of “good” and “bad” immigrants. Despite the dominance of white nationalism as a central ideological construct across the centuries, many people and communities in the US have struggled valiantly for an order in which everyone is welcome. The MMT/PK left must now join this fight.
White supremacy is defined as the belief that white people must serve as the standard model of humanity. In the US context, white supremacy is deeply intertwined with patriarchy, the belief that men are superior to women, and that women should be subordinate to men. White supremacy and patriarchy often reinforce each other. White men are seen both as the protectors and owners of white women, who are treated as the bearers of future white citizens. This is why white supremacists obsess over fears of bands of roving “illegals” raping white women, despite the fact that acquaintance rape is in fact the most common form. White supremacists seek to carve out a space wherein the very notion of citizenship is tied to whiteness. In their most extreme form, they seek an all white nation that subjugates or exterminates everyone other than whites.
In the United States, the belief that the nation exists by and for white people is, by definition, white nationalist. When people call for the United States to “return to the traditions of the Founding Fathers” or “return to the nationalist tradition of Jackson” they are, knowingly or not, calling for a return to the slave-owning, genocidal regime that colonized the United States.
Observers might point out that the Trump administration isn’t white supremacist because it has been willing to appoint African Americans (Ben Carson), or women (Kellyanne Conway) to high level positions. Yet to the extent that Trump and his supporters engage with anyone other than white men, it is through the lens of probative humanity. Merriam-Webster defines probative, as “of or relating to proof.” When one carefully examines the rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, it is that straight white men are the standard for humanity. Only they deserve the right to live in the United States, while everyone else must prove that they deserve to be seen as people. Thus, an African-American like Sheriff David Clarke can be accepted by Trump’s circle because his raging contempt for Black Lives Matter and any dissent from cop-worship “proves” that Sheriff Clarke is worthy of acceptance by white men as a human being.
It is the tradition of white supremacist probative humanity that those calling themselves the “realist left” are surreptitiously reviving. Their assertion of “realism” points to a deeply exclusionary and inegalitarian history, which must not be taken for granted. In this essay, I uncover this problematic history to critique a faction of the neo-chartalist left’s realist turn. In the face of mounting environmental crisis and stagnant productivity, fears over immigrants overwhelming the United States are unfounded. Moreover, increasing border enforcement strengthens the already problematic security state and prison-industrial complex. Against such rhetorics, I argue that MMT requires a wholly inclusive and egalitarian politics, rather than a covert white separatism.
A History of Exclusion
To understand the present context, it is necessary to examine the historical origins of the United States. The fundamental antagonism that shapes this history is the construction of the nation-state around a single hegemonic national identity. The US was founded as a white nationalist ethno-state and, during the 19th and 20th centuries, resource allocation in the US served this white supremacist aim. Though there would not be meaningful immigration restriction until the 1892 Chinese Exclusion Act, US law limited naturalization (citizenship) to “free white persons.” Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, the citizens of the United States carried out a genocidal project aimed at the elimination and/or subjugation of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, and later, of freed Africans as well. As the reach of state institutions was limited in the early US, much of this genocide was carried out by white settlers empowered to eliminate people of color via local militia action.
In the years preceding the Chinese Exclusion Act, populist forces in California and the West/Southwest carried out ethnic cleansing against Chinese settlers, as well as against Indians, Mexicans, Californios (Mexicans living in California before 1848) and Spanish speakers generally. Though the United States had signed treaties obligating it to respect the land rights of Mexican settlers, in practice Anglo settlers mostly ignored such rights, and local governments ratified the expropriation of land by the white settler class. Where state action was inadequate for Anglo settlers to seize assets from Latinos, they resorted to lynching. In 1849, Anglo settlers carried out ethnic cleansing of Spanish speakers and Latin Americans in the Sierra gold fields, which led to a battle in 1850 between Anglo citizens and several thousand armed French, Mexican, and Chilean miners outside of Sonora, California. As documented in harrowing detail by Jean Pfaelzer in her book Driven Out, by the end of 1850, white nationalists had eliminated almost all Latino residents from the Sierra Mountains. Simultaneously, California perpetrated what its first governor termed a “war of extermination” against Native Americans (Pfaelzer 16). There were approximately several hundred thousand Indians in California in 1849; by 1860 roughly 32,000 remained.
Right after the Civil War, the Democratic party swept to power by opposing the 15th amendment and African-American suffrage (Pfaelzer 57). In conjunction with the Workingman’s Party the Democrats used non-state forces to attack the Chinese population of California. Moreover, by 1870 both the Democrats and Republicans agreed on allowing African-American naturalization, but for removing the right of Chinese people to become citizens. As Pfaelzer writes, the “union movement in California that thrived in the 1860s… wove together the cry for free labor with the attacks on growing corporate, shipping, and banking forces. Racial issues and economic pressures together provided a platform for the Chinese roundups” (Pfaelzer 42).
Political organizers like Dennis Kearney were clear both on their anti-capitalism and their white supremacy. As Kearney said, “When the Chinese question is settled, we can discuss whether it would be better to hang, shoot, or cut the capitalists to pieces,” (Pfaelzer 75-76). In Humboldt County, which proudly drove out all Chinese residents in 1885, a branch of the International Workingman’s Association participated in the ethnic cleansing. This was a leftist organization– IWA took the name of Karl Marx’s First International. Yet, even after the purges of Chinese workers, “white wages stayed low” (Pfaelzer 161). Anti-immigration advocates today should take heed of the fact that driving out Chinese workers did nothing to raise the wages of the whites who remained. What might have raised wages would have been organizing labor across ethnic lines, since unions help raise wages for everyone.
Despite the fact that the ethnic cleansing of Chinese workers failed to increase wages, white nationalists continued to press for more removals, and they accelerated their efforts after 1892, aided by local judicial and governmental action. Although subject to relentless attacks and deportations, Chinese people resisted through force of arms and litigation at all levels. Armed resistance was particularly necessary in the face of widespread collusion by law enforcement and the security services with white supremacist ethnic cleansing. While force of arms may not have turned the tide of persecution, it did allow some people to escape with their lives and a modicum of dignity.
There were racial tensions within the populist movement all over the United States. Omar H. Ali has detailed those tensions in a book titled, In The Lion’s Mouth: Black Populism in the New South 1886-1900. While some might call the Black Populist movement “separatist,” as Robin Kelly has written, “if we follow Ali’s arguments and the evidence he marshals seriously, we can only conclude that the white Populist movement, more than any, exhibited separatist tendencies” (Ali, xi). Ali argues that Black Populism was “an independent movement of black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian workers” (Ali, 6). During the Post Civil War era of Reconstructions, Black people across the South formed political organizations and engaged in electoral politics through the Republican Party and via independent candidates, in opposition to the traditional Democratic Party. African Americans helped form the national Greenback Party, as well as individual chapters in the South (Ali, 39). Ali writes that
by the mid- 1880s, the contours of Black Populism were beginning to appear through the formation of a series of agrarian-based organizations; fundamental to these new organizations, which included both farmer and sharecropper associations and labor unions, were the bases of support out of which they grew—most notably, the black churches (Ali 24).
Black farmers participated in organizations like the Knights of Labor and the Colored Farmer’s Alliance, and sought cross racial alliances. However, the Black Populists were typically farm laborers, and “nearly one- quarter of the leaders of the white Southern Farmers’ Alliance were planters.” Moreover, the Southern Farmers’ Alliance was a whites only organization. Thus, not only were there racial tensions within the wider populist movement, but class tensions as well. Black populists participated in the creation of the national Populist Party in 1892, though their participation was controversial among white populists. There was a continuity between racial tensions and anxieties over immigration. Even as Black populists participated in the founding of the national Populist Party, the national platform of the Populist Party specifically attacked “aliens”, holding that:
[A]lien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
Beyond the Populist Party platform, in African American community, there were mixed responses to the new Chinese immigrants. Some African American newspapers pointed out that “warned that whites who persecute those with yellow skin would just as easily attack those with black skin” and the anti-Chinese laws as “barbarous, unchristian prejudice of hoodlums.” Some black labor organizations invited Chinese workers to join as members (Pfaelzer 77).
Relationships between communities of color were, then as now, complex. For example in 1871, a crowd of Anglo and Mexican men in Los Angeles, roughly 10 percent of the population, conspired to murder 19 Chinese men over the space of a few hours:
In Spanish and English, impromptu orators provoked the racially mixed crowd, urging them to climb onto the roofs of Chinese dwellings, chop holes in the adobe tiles, and pour gunfire inside. Terrified, the Chinese ran into the streets; two were immediately seized, shot, and hanged (Pfaelzer 46, 47).
Relations between Chinese immigrants and Native Americans were also fraught and uncertain.
When native people first encountered the Chinese, some, such as the Miwok, viewed them as new invaders who sought to drive them off their traditional lands…others, such as the Karuk, sensed common vulnerability and likely hid the Chinese (Pfaelzer 18).
Some African American publications and organizations stood in solidarity with Chinese people. Frederick Douglass, notably, voiced support (albeit problematic by today’s standards) for Chinese immigrants in an 1869 speech. Said Douglass,
I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth. If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands, islands, capes and continents, and thus have all the world to itself. Thus what would seem to belong to the whole, would become the property only of a part. So much for what is right, now let us see what is wise.
In spite of Douglas’ intervention, others sought “to establish their own legitimacy as American citizens, [and therefore] many African Americans juxtaposed their new civic status with the stereotype of the Chinese as short-term residents or sojourners.” For example, William Hall, a Black leader in the San Francisco Bay Area “urged African Americans to vote only for public officials who would deal with this ‘thorn in the flesh … which must sooner or later fester’” (Pfaelzer 78).
After the Second World War, the population and migration boom in the West and Southwest drove calls for greater formal border enforcement. As the region filled in, many demanded more and more extensive border enforcement. In fact, it has continued to this day, as the Obama administration deported a record number of undocumented immigrants. The recently departed administration’s policy reinforced the good immigrant/bad immigrant narrative. “Good” immigrants are college student strivers, while “bad” immigrants are poorly educated criminal drug dealers.
White nationalism organized the US as an ethno-state from its inception. It legitimated and created the regimes of African slavery, Native American genocide/subjugation, and alternating waves of proletarian exploitation and ethnic cleansing for Asians and Latinos. During the 19th century, left anti-capitalist organizations led the calls for the ethnic cleansing of Asians on the West Coast, resulting not only in a ban on Chinese immigration in 1882, but mass deportations, murder, and the elimination of ethnic Chinese people from large portions of the West Coast. The populist movement in the rest of the United States had significant ethnic and class tensions between white separatists and Black populists who sought cross-racial alliances. White farmers on small plots of land sought to improve their lot in life in the face transportation monopolies and a boom-bust economic cycle, yet many refused to work in alliance with Black populists, who also sought economic stability in a time of great turmoil. For some white populists, ethnic solidarity was a bridge that they could not cross.
Caught in the discourse of citizenship within the white nationalist state, some Black organizations also broadcast anti-Chinese sentiments. Many liberals believed those days were over. But they were wrong.
Toward a Radically Inclusive Job Guarantee
By embracing Steve Bannon and his ideology, Trump and his supporters have revived the tradition of white nationalist populism. If we seek to combat this 21st century resurgence of white suprematism, we must be willing to question the status quo of the actually-existing American nation-state.
Modern Monetary Theory tells us that the state cannot run out of money to fund egalitarian policies, most strikingly, a job guarantee. While some might fret over “immigrants stealing American jobs,” under an expansive job guarantee for anyone currently present in the United States, non-immigrants will always be able to find a job at a living wage. As to concerns about immigrants lowering wages by working for lower pay, under the table, surely, the guaranteed availability of jobs for all, regardless of citizenship status, would prevent employers from paying lower wages to immigrants.
The concern among some of the MMT community seems to be that a JG without firm border controls would result in an uncontrollable stream of people flooding the United States and the overwhelming existing infrastructure capacity. What this overlooks, however, is that with more people living in the United States it is possible to build more things. And we certainly need to build more things.
In the United States we face not only widespread collapse of public infrastructure (the collapsing New York City commuter rail system for example), but an aging population that will require care. And for the foreseeable future, such care will have to be provided by actual people. Moreover, having fewer children to shrink the population does not solve the resource problem because it means that we will have to aggressively lower living standards in 30 to 40 years, as a result of rising dependency ratios. That is, each retired person will have a smaller and smaller cohort of working people supporting them. As Keynes observed, retirees consume out of current production. Although individual retirees may save their monetary income for future spending, the actual goods and services they consume come out of current production, since we do not have giant warehouses of food and cars “put aside” for retirees while they are working. After reviewing as much of the realist left blog as I could stomach, I see no calls for lower birth rates, so presumably they don’t have much of a problem with a certain type of person using the stock of resources.
Even if we were to embrace some type of long term population reduction via lower birth rates, that still doesn’t solve the retiree problem, since we would have to have higher productivity per worker in the future to support the retirees. Unfortunately, at present we are not investing towards higher future productivity because of low employment and little public planning to increase productivity.
Climate scientists predict that rising sea levels will significantly disrupt coastal cities; since 39% of the US population lives on the coast we will inevitably have to make enormous resource expenditures to adapt to the consequences of global warming. Our current course of action is apparently to do very little as the oceans rise, given our collective unwillingness to undertake the enormous infrastructure projects necessary.
Most crucially, stronger border and immigration enforcement means strengthening the reach of the security services and the prison-industrial complex. As the security services and prison system primarily serve the interests of white supremacy, extending their power will inevitably strengthen the power of white supremacist ideology, with real material consequences. Already, Trump’s rhetoric and election victory have led to an outbreak of patriarchal white supremacist violence aimed at Blacks, Muslims, Latinos and anyone deemed to be outside of the circle of the white nation. Moreover, the Trump phenomenon has revealed that white nationalist Americans do not necessarily have objections to government programs, rather, they have objections to money going to the “undeserving” — in other words, people of color or whites who have disproven their humanity by doing something like suffering from drug addiction or being gay. An analysis from Demos of the American National Election Survey data found that “[b]eliefs that the government favors black people over whites predict lower support for government social spending.”
Anecdotal evidence would seem to support Demos’ analysis. I have had many conversations with older white men who are 100% for any program that they perceive benefits their cohort , such as the mortgage interest deduction, Medicare, and military/law enforcement spending. At the same time they are 100% opposed to what they see as “giveaways” — public schools in majority-Black/Latino areas, “socialized” medicine being used by “illegals,” etc.
There is no way to enforce hard borders without further crystallizing probative humanity as a way of life in the United States. For them, it seems, hardening probative humanity is the whole point of the exercise. Given that the authors of the “Realist Left” blog seem to think that Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos says “mostly reasonable” things, it is clear that the “Realist Left” stand firmly on the side of probative humanity. Yiannopoulos, after all has said that “leftists widen the definition of sexual assault to include touching boobs, or an unwanted kiss. You know, this is just normal human sexuality.” There is nothing normal about violating a person’s bodily autonomy, unless one believes that women are not human. The “Realist Left” author(s) claims that Yiannopoulos is not a Nazi because he is “gay, promiscuous, partly Jewish, cultural libertarian,” and in doing so, perfectly displays another trait of 21st fascism.
Today’s fascists are happy to include people of color/women/queers to the extent that those queer/non-white individuals prove their humanity and simultaneously condemn “bad immigrants” or “SJWs.” How do we know that Yiannopoulos is a Nazi? We can simply look at his actions during his university speaking tour in early 2017. In New Mexico he urged his audience to “purge your local illegals’ by reporting undocumented immigrants.” In this sense, Yiannopoulos is no different from the any person of color who is paraded by the right — in order to be accepted as human he has to demonstrate his commitment to the most extreme right wing views.
In reading many accounts of Trump’s supporters, it becomes clear that there is a strong nostalgia for a mythical American past where a white man could raise a family on a hard day’s work. Often in the retelling of the myth, the nostalgia leaves out the word “white” and just focuses on “a man,” yet again showing how the white supremacist framework glosses over the existence of civil rights struggles. Among Trump’s explicitly white nationalist supporters, this is tied to a call to explicitly revive the white nationalist ideology. However, even among people who do not identify as white nationalists, what is elided is how much the US nation state formed around the genocide of Indians, Latinos, and Asians, as well as the key role of African slave labor in the industrial revolution. Simply put, early Americans didn’t need the Border Patrol when they were empowered to commit ethnic cleansing on their own initiative, as Pfaelzer has documented.
The issue of immigration and the nation-state is also problematic from the perspective of indigenous communities that have borne the brunt of displacement by waves of immigration. The US signed many treaties with Indian nations, most of which have been or are being violated to this day. In areas where Native American communities are still extant, even those who identify as leftists are struggling to address the question of what to do with the legacy of colonialism.. There is a real question of whether a JG for all residents would just increase immigration and further the displacement of indigenous people in rural areas where there are still sizeable communities such as Northern California and parts of the Southwest, among other regions. That is, would the Job Guarantee lead to development in Native American communities that only benefits non-Native peoples, while making it more expensive for Native Americans to continue living there? Yet at the same time, given high levels of unemployment within Native communities, a community based job guarantee could also place access to the means of production within the hands of those who historically were exploited by capital.
Questions of immigration are closely tied to the job guarantee. For example, if the US implemented a job guarantee only for American citizens and permanent residents, what would be the effect on undocumented people? An exclusionary job guarantee program could harden the underclass position of undocumented workers. This is because the undocumented workers would not have recourse to a job guarantee position without the use of some kind of forged identity documents. It would still be possible for employers to pit undocumented workers against everyone else. Moreover, restricting a federal job guarantee to only documented immigrants and citizens still maintains the “good immigrant” vs “bad immigrant” distinction that is close the core of the right’s calls for a probative humanity.
Perhaps the most straightforward solution here is to extend the job guarantee to all comers, whatever their legal status in the United States. We could do this without a “formal” open borders program. Rather, we could analogize to K-12 public schools. In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause forbade public schools from discriminating against undocumented children. In its analysis, the court found that there was no substantial state interest in barring undocumented children from public school.
In the majority opinion, Justice Brennan wrote that
In sum, education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society. We cannot ignore the significant social costs borne by our Nation when select groups are denied the means to absorb the values and skills upon which our social order rests (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 221, 1982)
Admittedly, farther into in the opinion Brennan wrote that “’charging tuition to undocumented children constitutes a ludicrously ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration, at least when compared with the alternative of prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens” (Id. at 228-229). Yet more than 30 years after Plyler, we see that prohibiting the employment of undocumented workers has had profound negative effects on the labor market as well as on the social harmony of the United States. It has also been ineffective at stopping undocumented labor — in the end, the state has had to take recourse to the security services and deportation. This deportation regime has contributed to the discourse of probative humanity and given space for the rise of Trump and the white nationalists. Since Trump’s election night victory, the United States has witnessed an explosion of hate crimes since January 2017, among them a killing in New York City, a multiple homicide on an Oregon trolley, and countless other non-lethal, yet dignity-eroding, confrontations across the United States. The rise of a truly monstrous deportation/incarceration machine and the revival of widespread white nationalist violence means that Brennan’s hypothetical alternative of prohibiting the employment of ‘illegal aliens’ fails his own K-12 educational test. Therefore, the hypothetical alternative should be folded into the same broader class, vice being used as the example of distinction.
The current multi-tiered workforce, with its disparate mixture of labor rights in the United States creates not only ethnic strife, but also weakens the bargaining power of all workers, thus hurting their ability to earn a living. Unemployment and weak macroeconomic conditions undoubtedly feed racial animus. Moreover, unemployment imposes significant social costs. As economist Pavlina Tcherneva has written,
Research shows that one in five suicides is related to unemployment, and joblessness causes 32–37 percent excess mortality for men. And while for women the impact is less clear, we know that there are robust and lasting negative effects from unemployment on social participation and social capital – all prerequisites for a fulfilling and productive life at home and in the workplace. The deep negative impact of unemployment on individuals’ mental and physical health is well-established.
In a sense our current workforce regime tears at the fabric of our society. Rather than attempt to further uphold the regime of probative humanity, we should instead embrace those who seek to make new lives in the United States. Moreover, a job guarantee in the United States could be the first step towards a Global Marshall Plan for Jobs, which Tcherneva characterizes as “ a coordinated approach in the form of a Global Marshall Plan for the unemployed that tackles a wide array of global problems by deliberate and direct action, and by mobilizing the planet’s most abundant resource – labor.” ALL countries should have their own job guarantee — and what better way to start that process than to initiate it in the United States, still the world’s largest economy?
If the United States were to open a job guarantee to all residents, there are obviously issues with acculturating large new immigrant populations. Clearly in some cases there will be problems around secular culture and/or democratic practice. However, in fairness, the wider American culture is often anti-democratic in practice if not in principle. If we actually (as the organized left) care about such issues of democracy, feminism, secularism, etc, then we should be developing and operating political education programs on a mass scale and providing vulnerable members of immigrant communities with the tools to implement democratic practice, much as the Democratic Society Movement does for women in the Middle East long oppressed by patriarchy.
For example, if we on the left are concerned that certain immigrant communities marginalize women, then we should take a cue from the brave feminists of Northern Syria-Rojava and facilitate the organization of autonomous women’s organizations, from councils, to shelters, to self-protection organizations, such that we make “the articulation of women’s liberation . . . an uncompromising principle.”
The existence of hard nation state nation-state borders is often presented as common sense. The issue is that in the United States such “common sense” enforcement is underwritten by aggressive, genocidal white nationalism. Decrying the historical, common sense white nationalism of the American nation-state is easy enough, yet it is a legacy that surrounds us. If there is to be any way through the problematic morass, it must start with carving out spaces for those excluded and exploited by this legacy.
In some circles, the way through is seen as total autonomy and a rejection of the state in all forms. Yet, living at the center of the world capitalist system, it remains to be seen how one can declare autonomy, given that the payments system itself is the central axis of capitalism. No matter how autonomous one believes one’s region to be, at the borders, one still interacts with the payments system for access to the social provisioning process. Even radical revolutionaries on the other side of the world still have to buy weapons and industrial production equipment to survive, and are forced to interact with the payment system to do so, or else be subject to the whims of a larger industrial power.
The payments system is the central axis of capitalism because those who control it can set the terms by which everyone else conducts transactions, from employment to industrial investment to housing to medical care. The payments system touches all of those. Therefore, if we are interested in carving out spaces that are within the control of the historically (and presently!) marginalized, then we must ensure that those communities have some degree of control over their payment system and the networks by which different payments systems connect to each other. Employment is by definition part of the payment system, since it is the means by which most people access the means of payment — money.
Thus, a centrally funded but locally controlled job guarantee can play a vital role in opening up spaces in which we, paradoxically (or is that dialectically), can question the role of the nation-state itself. In a time marked by a resurgence of white nationalist terror, the race to open a space for such questions may be the most important race of all.
White supremacist Richard Spencer has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” in order to harden the borders of the nation-state we call the United States. In his remarks, he echoes the 19th century California newspapermen who talked about the “peaceful” purges of Chinese immigrants, which became instead outbreaks of what Pfaelzer called “exuberant violence.”
140 years later, will we stand by as a resurgent white nationalist movement yet again uses probative humanity as a justification for ethnic cleansing? Liberals seek to contest xenophobia and racism by talking about the value of hard working immigrants, the rights of greencard holders, and deserving refugees. Even as they attempt to defend immigrants, liberals reify the “good”/”bad” immigrant narrative, and in doing so, uphold the impulse towards white nationalism as the core organizing ideological force in American life. If we truly want to build a community where all are welcome, then we must start, paradoxically, with a rejection. That is, we must reject probative humanity in all its forms. Instead, we must recognize that everyone living in the United States deserves the right to provide for themselves and those they love, regardless of how and when they crossed an imaginary line on a map.