Fear of a Multicultural Nation

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...full text also available on Truthdig

Last Thursday night former Congressman and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo made opening-night remarks at the inaugural National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. Tancredo fired verbal shots at Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and “the cult of multiculturalism,” stating that people who “could not spell the word vote or say it in English” had elected the president. And that Obama’s election reveals the need for us to “have a civics [or] literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

Tancredo is wrong. United States political history reveals our long-standing tradition in this area. In “Before the Mayflower,” Lerone Bennett Jr. recounts how literacy tests were first employed at the federal level as part of the immigration process in 1917. Southern state legislatures adopted literacy tests once African-Americans were granted citizenship rights under the 15th Amendment, as part of the voter registration process. As practiced, the literacy test became notorious for denying suffrage to African-Americans. Adopted by a number of Southern states, the tests were applied in a patently unfair manner and were used, along with the poll tax, to disfranchise many literate Southern blacks while allowing many illiterate Southern whites to vote.

The literacy test—combined with other discriminatory practices that kept African-Americans from attending schools, from particular modes of transportation, from attaining mortgages and from careers in public service—effectively disfranchised the vast majority of people of color in the South from the 1890s until after the middle of the 20th century. Southern states abandoned the literacy test only when forced to by federal legislation in the 1960s. This legalized discrimination caused suffering and turmoil for all parties involved, especially during the slavery period and the Jim and Jane Crow segregation era. Tancredo’s call for the return of literacy and civics tests suggests that those (black and brown) who voted for Obama are incapable of making informed political decisions and are influenced primarily by identity politics. Moreover, it denies the fact that the majority of voters who elected Obama were white.

Then there’s the issue of affirmative action. Like many other reactionary politicians, Tancredo has fallen victim to the misperception that affirmative action policies have done away with institutional racism and moved society beyond equal access to opportunity and into an era of “reverse racism” and discrimination. This has resulted in anti-affirmative action legislation such as California’s Proposition 209, Washington’s Initiative 200 and Ward Connerly’s various racial privacy initiatives.

During the presidential campaign, Obama responded to this issue in his “A More Perfect Union” speech when he stated: “… we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.” This misperception that Obama is an unqualified leader who benefited unreasonably from such legislation allows many to assert that a heightened focus on diversity is tantamount to a case of the emperor’s new clothes. Also wrong. Statistics on affirmative action show that white women, such as Tea Party Convention keynote speaker Sarah Palin, have been its greatest beneficiaries, while unemployment rates for African-Americans and Latinos, 15.7 percent and 13.1 percent respectively, rival those experienced by these groups during the Great Depression.

Finally, there’s the issue of fear. 2010 Census projections indicate that by the year 2050 white people will be a minority in the United States. A lot of this has to do with immigration, which might have provided the impetus for Tancredo’s cry: “This is our country. Let’s take it back.” Fear that America is becoming overrun and unsafe because of people of color undoubtedly stems in part from media-generated images, but a fear of the other also is a big factor.

There’s more for Tancredo to fear than immigration. Even without any immigration, minorities would still constitute a majority of the population under the age of 5 by 2050. According to The New York Times, this is because of higher birth rates among Hispanic people already living in the U.S. “If immigration continues, black, Hispanic and Asian children will become a majority of young children sometime between 2019 and 2023, according to the latest projections.” It should also be noted that interracial marriages between Asian women and white men are on the rise. What does this mean? Should minority status be extended to white Americans when this shift occurs? Should white people be preparing now? Tancredo obviously says yes, and that white minority status needs protecting against “the cult of multiculturalism.”

Beneath this fiery rhetoric, Tancredo is calling for tea partiers to retain the twin social privileges of being in the company of people like themselves while avoiding spending time with people they’ve been trained to mistrust. These social privileges are, of course, only corollaries to the tea party’s more blatant call to retain economic interests that, according to UCLA law professor Cheryl I. Harris, the law has established and protected through its construction of white identity. In her article “Whiteness as Property,” Harris explains that the legal construction of whiteness defined and affirmed who is white, what benefits and privileges whites enjoy and what entitlements to property arise from their status. Harris’ work reminds us that we must pay attention to claims like Tancredo’s because they show how whiteness can be used strategically as identity, status and property depending on situation and goal. Here’s a quick translation of Tancredo’s message: Privilege needs protecting.

Whether one is infuriated or inspired by Tancredo’s race-baiting, it’s important to recognize that there is much at stake for those who wish to maintain the status quo and much at stake for those who are trying to change it. One thing’s sure: Tancredo was right when he said that “the race for America is on right now.”


race as an issue?

Look, I'm a Republican. I am not a racist. I am not a total right wing nut. While Tancredos comments might have been uncalled for, no body can deny that soon English will have become the second language of America. This is uncalled for. I would not go to to Germany and expect them to learn English just for my sake. Who hasn't heard the saying, "When in Rome,"? I have known other people that have come over from other countries who could not wait to learn the English language, just because they were so proud to be Americans finally. Wither you are White, Black, Hispanic, when you live in the USA you are all Americans. As such, it should be, not just a requirement, but a privilege to speak the English language.
As far as the people who fear the Tea Party movement, the real question you should be asking yourselves is why such a movement is taking place. The answer is simple...a 14 Trillion dollar deficit and a 12% unemployment rate.

mitt romney agrees with you

...and he doesn't seem to understand that the U.S. is great, in part, because it is such a diverse and multicultural society.


I don't think so

The answer is.....they are just ignorant and close minded people who believe 100% in FOX News television. They probably don't know where Rome or Madrid even are, let alone speak any other language than English. Well...it is "normal" too. There are people like that in every single country. People afraid of a changing world.


CNN = Fox

CNN is just as controlled, biased and limited as FOX.

Wake up.

Those who run mainstream media report to the global elites.

Tea Party

When I first learned of the "Tea Party"'s desire to reinstate the literacy tests, I was amazed at the lengths people would go to prevent any civic progress in our nation. My disappointment turned to fear when I thought of all the potential supporters this party might gather.
Tancredo said let's take back America. I don't know where he wants to take it, but it's a direction I do not want to be going. He may be right that Americans are in a race, and I am going to run for "liberty and justice FOR ALL."


Multi-culturalism divides a nation

One nation. One language. One Constitution.
When you travel to Europe, Africa and Asia what nationality do you put down in the visitor/customs card? And where do you say your from when you meet people in such countries? And how do you address the issue of nationality with Africans, and those residing in Europe?

I have no intelligent

I have no intelligent response to this. I am just flabbergasted and distressed.


Tancredo CANNOT be serious here (but obviously he is). Honestly, he might as well have said all the Blacks and Hispanics voted for him and we should abolish the Civil Rights Act and bring back the post-slavery years when they did this (literacy tests) to minorities. Really? On one hand, what is quite interesting is this ignorant comment that came from his mouth is representing the Republican Party and if this is so, our country is in for quite a rude awakening of this party's viewpoint and stance. On the other hand, it should be a proud moment for minorities to know that we have had a great influence and have helped start a movement for change that it brings out these comments filled with stupidity from the Republican Party because we are doing something right and they may be a LITTLE scared. Let's keep it pushin'.


Trust me, he is not alone. I receive more tasteless jokes and hate emails directed at the Obama administration than I have ever received about anything. An email was sent regarding Pelosi, stating the info in the email was bogus and incorrect according to Snopes. Immediately following this email that had been received by this recipient, also was the same email, but with the Snopes information left off. Sent as if the lie were the truth.
I have friends who are Republicans who are seeing so much of this sort of lying emails that are mean't to discredit our president and the adminstration, that they are recognizing that most of these emails are fabricated. They are rejecting them because they are good human beings. But they are countered by liars, attempting to discredit our president and the democratic party. Not everyone is well informed and a good number buy into the propaganda and rhetoric passed thru the internet.
I am concerned by what I am seeing and experiencing. Carol Brown