This week is the fourth anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. If you watch the online videos of the rally you can listen to the marchers chant, over and over, “You will not replace us…the Jews will not replace us.”
What are they talking about?
The marchers were invoking a longstanding slogan of white supremacists. The slogan is short-hand for the assertion that whites, who view themselves as being entitled to positions of social and economic primacy in the United States, are at risk for being “replaced” in these positions by Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and anyone else they deem “people of color.” The recently-issued data from the 2020 US Census paints a picture that will pour gasoline upon the fires of white supremacy.
The census shows that people of color were 34 percent of the population in 2010, in 2020 it’s 43 percent. The non-Hispanic white proportion of the population was 63 percent of the population in 2010, now it’s 57 percent. The population of America’s cities and their suburbs is growing while our rural population is declining. The 2020 presidential election demonstrated the growing power of voters in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix — and their ability to affect statewide elections.
It brings to mind a political cartoon from 1970 by Jules Feiffer, which I remember reading as a high school student in The Village Voice, a weekly newspaper based in New York.
A burly, white hard-hat construction worker stares at the viewer and says, “When I went to school I learned George Washington never told a lie, slaves were happy on the plantation, the men who opened the west were giants and we won every war because God was on our side. But where my kid goes to school he learns George Washington was a slave owner, slaves hated slavery, the men who opened the west committed genocide and the wars we won were victories for U.S. imperialism. No wonder my kid’s not an American. They’re teaching him some other country’s history.”
US Census as Tool for Political Empowerment
We do a census because the US Constitution mandates it. It’s in Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution: Membership in the House of “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons [meaning slaves]. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
Mandating a census in the Constitution marked a turning point in world history. Up to this point censuses in monarchies had been used to tax or confiscate property or conscript citizens into the military. Instead, the US Constitution created the census as a tool for political empowerment. The census is designed to foster effective representative government by determining the size and content of our population.
White Americans often push back against the tides of demography. At the turn of the last century, there were cries that we needed to fight “The Yellow Peril” of Asian immigration and the “Papism” of Irish Roman Catholic immigration.
In 1920 we elected President Warren G. Harding, who promised a “return to normalcy:” restrict immigration and “let’s get back to the good old days.” In the 1950s under President Dwight Eisenhower, some Americans really thought the idealized life of whites portrayed in “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” on television was “the real America.” Richard Nixon claimed he spoke for “the silent majority” and Donald Trump’s words were like political dog whistles to energize white supremacists.
The “good old days” were certainly “old” but they may or may not have been “good” based on where you sat in the pecking order of income, power, jobs, education, housing, and social status. The essence of the American experiment is that, from our founding, America’s population has been changing in size, diversity, and location. This constant change has generated enormous benefits. A democratic government that represents the governed must reflect the population it serves.
The new census will invigorate those who chant “You will not replace us” in their efforts to try to turn back the clock to an idealized era which was not ideal. They are, however, on the wrong side of history. If you argue with the tide not to come in, all you’re going to do is get wet.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.