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Passport of Whiteness

“…At present large numbers of the offspring of immigrants, even those born here in Britain, remain integrated in the immigrant community which links them with their homeland overseas. With every passing year this will diminish. Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still. Unless he be one of the small minority – for number, I repeat again and again, is of the essence – he will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another, lost one nationality without acquiring a new one. Time is running against us and them. With the lapse of a generation or so we shall at last have succeeded – to the benefit of nobody…” Enoch Powell, Conservative 1968″

That is an excerpt from Powell’s famous November 16, 1968 speech, several months after his April address in Birmingham titled: “Rivers of Blood”. Powell crafted this piece as a response to what he saw as the shrinking of Merry Ole England and “The Englishman.” He grew up during World War I living through a King’s abdication, World War II, the creation of the National Health Services and the death of Winston Churchill, seeing not so much the British Empire’s stalwartness of its colonial and imperial empire but rather a shrinking loss of identity due to an ever growing immigrant population creating a sense of powerlessness or what some may call xenophobia. Sounds familiar?

Indo-Asians (Indians, Pakistani’s etc.) and Caribbean islands still owned by the Empire (the mother country) Imperialized and Colonized, migrated with the promise of better conditions, earning potential and overall improved quality of life. Education was the hook especially for their children; dreams of becoming a barrister, a nurse or aspirations of becoming a doctor and if that failed manufacturing would get them a better life in the “mother land”.

Authors like my fellow countryman Pinckney descendants of the first immigrants of Powell’s time straddle countries with a firm grasp of living in the gray. Crafting a keen and innate optic for tensions between xenophobia and racism due to growing up under the constant reminder of being a UK citizen by birth but by no stretch of the imagination never an Englishman.

In my experience it’s not impossible to separate Xenophobia from Race. However there are so many shades and hues of people with attributed negative associations of origin, it is easy to succumb to the simplistic reduction of either or both as the intersection is too taxing for some to unpack. More so it means the re-evaluation of their/one’s place in the ever changing social construct, causing the ground beneath them to shake in a manner they have never experienced. Resulting in a form of blind patriotism under the guise of the protection of their “way of life”, a racist code imbedded in language.

All hues of black and brown in America has been met with some form of both xenophobia and race(ism). Pre-9/11 the optics were black and Mexican (outside of urban environments), in major cities, Dominicans, Chileans, Colombians fell under the umbrella of Puerto Rican. Then everyone else were the Blacks, didn’t matter which part of the diaspora one was from it was, “Blacks.”

Even with the global back drop of Iran-Contra, War torn Sierra Leone (the fruits of the British Empire); under a shadow of a cold war where the only real xenophobic threat was the Soviet Union (Ruskies). Within the borders the intersection of race and xenophobia was central to black/brown skin. The fear perpetuated around black bodies derived from a racial classification creating two pillars that have continually feed each other to the demise race relations and increased intolerance of anyone remotely related to being an immigrant. 

Post 9/11 shifted not only the optics but an emotional base central to xenophobia and racism in the form of a major identity crisis. Identification and classification became the lens through which the new social construct of a supposed new enemy was purported and cemented. Under the guise of protectionism, tapping into the xenophobia catalyzed by 9/11 the emergence of racial discrimination took hold to varying groups from Arab nations and the likes. In fact, the global impact, London, France, Germany, initially Europe and allies gave way to behaviors of old. The underbelly is a subtle narrative as an attack on white (male) power, privilege and preservation.

Darryl Pinckney’s, The Passport of Whiteness, picks apart the tensions between the protectors of whiteness and those seekers of a better future who by default succumb to a normative acculturation process. However, the gatekeepers and standard bearers under the guise of “immigration policy”, “homeland security” and “patriotism” message xenophobia wrapped in racism reminded Arab born, Mexican born, Indian born Americans, they may be citizens by law but they will never be “American”. Pinckney’s point, “we live in the wake of profound population movement” could not be truer. Nationals are no longer determined by pigmentation. One only need to look at football (soccer) matches, Premier League to international competitions like the World Cup or the Olympics and you see various hues of all colors that do not align with stereotypes of old. However, when we drill down or magnify if you will, respective countries carry a stain synonymous with the United States and its history of the cancer of racism. Pinckney lifts this up:

“…Europe doesn’t have a Muslim problem. It has a race problem. One that doesn’t get talked about, a history that doesn’t get connected to what is going on today…It has also been true of American life that one of the ways in which despised white immigrants gained acceptance and a share in national identity was by subscribing to the racial order of segregation…”

His insight while not new is refreshing as he is a new voice for me with a shared experience, optics and an experiential/empirical analysis that confirms I’m not going mad. In addition, this piece confirms much of what I experience is not “inside out” but rather “outside in” which he captures beautifully in closing remarks:

“…Everyone knows we are a nation of immigrants that immigrants are good for the economy, and that freedom seekers are our kin. What is sad is not the subscription on the part of so many to old settler attitudes, but that I had not thought that all those debates that we read about as nineteenth- or early twentieth-century history are back, to take a final stand. We did not think the ideal of liberal democracy, the open society, would have to be fought for all over again…”

In many ways I am reminded by the great late James Baldwin and one of his many profound statements:

“The American ideal of progress is measured by how fast I can become white.” James Baldwin


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