Is America facing an invasion?
The right-wing forces in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 thought so. The El Paso shooter thought so. Fox News commentators think so. President Trump thinks so.
The “invaders” are people arriving at the border, trying to become immigrants. Some opponents claim their real intent is to undermine America.
If you thought they only seek refuge here, you may have missed what their furious critics see. You may have been puzzled by the chant of the Virginia crowd: “You shall not replace us,” they yelled. “Jews shall not replace us.”
Their tirade was not merely an overly dramatic way of warning unwanted immigrants. It was an expression of a new theory with old roots, called the “Great Replacement.”
This theory claims that a conspiracy exists to “replace” white people with black and brown people. Europe and North America would end up dominated by people of color who would most likely segregate white people.
The latest version of this theory comes from France, somewhat cleaned up. Its author dropped claims that replacement is a Jewish plot or white people are necessarily superior – the core belief of “white supremacy.”
This theory cannot be dismissed as simply the dream of a small group of right-wing “kooks.” The German composer Richard Wagner, who inspired Hitler, and France’s World War II leader Charles de Gaulle, who fought Hitler, both believed it.
“I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” Wagner wrote. For him, the invaders were Jews. For de Gaulle, the invaders were Muslims.
In Europe, countries prided themselves on their distinct, national cultures. With few immigrants, they could maintain a “pure” identity. Their cultures unified people. Emphasizing national uniqueness and superiority allowed rulers to take people’s minds off their poor economic condition.
The history of the U.S. differs from countries like Germany, France or even Britain. This country was created by waves of immigrants. On arrival, many faced discrimination by those who themselves had earlier passed from being refugees to become citizens.
There have always been people who wanted to pull the ladder up after themselves. Each wave of immigrants faced opposition to their free entry into America, though all became Americans. But anti-immigrant sentiment grew and, in 1924, a tough new immigration law was passed.
That law gave those former immigrants already in the country the belief that they could maintain what was the special American culture. The common culture was not so much based on centuries of history but on a selfish sense of liberty.
There was one obvious problem. Many in the American population had never been immigrants. They did not cross seas to gain entry into a country intending to deny them the pursuit of liberty. They did not ask to come. They were Africans, slaves.
Some advocates of the Great Replacement theory may have historical links to the white people who imported black people to work their fields. There was no international plot to replace whites.
All Americans are of immigrant or slave stock, clear evidence that replacement theory has no place in America. Its advocates use it to dress up their effort to exclude non-white immigrants who would supposedly undermine a society built by white people.
African-Americans and each wave of immigrants have changed the culture of the country. Possibly, the only American culture that remains constant is found in the Declaration of Independence and the amended Constitution. They embody America’s values.
James Baldwin, a notable American writer and an African-American, once wrote of how the country needed to develop, if there were to be domestic peace. He urged “a consciousness of others.” The culture of each group should become part of the culture of all.
The result would be a national culture, always changing, that could not be used as a barrier against new arrivals. National strength came from a continual process of adding to the culture without claiming racial supremacy.
There has been one obvious case of the Great Replacement on this continent. When white men invaded, people were already here. Deploying more powerful weapons and greater numbers, Europeans replaced Indians.
The victors seized the territory of the defeated. They forced Indian children into schools intended to eliminate their languages and culture. Invasion led to replacement.
Invasion is an act of war. Talking now of invasion is war talk, beyond racism or even “domestic terrorism.” Pleasing the crowd, Trump may not even realize the implications when he speaks of “invasion.”
The 22 dead in El Paso were war victims. This is serious.