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White Fear

It is a tragic irony that the European settlers greeted by native peoples when they arrived in what the immigrants called the "New World" evolved a xenophobic worldview called "Nativism." The term is used to describe the notion put forward by many immigrant settlers and their offspring that the ideal citizen is a White, northern European, native (U.S.) born, Protestant.

Xenophobia is a fear of (or a distaste for, or a hatred directed at) people, ideas, or customs thought to be strange or foreign. In the United States, this often involves White racial nationalism. When the new nation was founded in the late 1700s, there was an example of Xenophobia prompting government policies in the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Periodically throughout U.S. history xenophobic Nativist movements have gained a mass following; spreading their ideas and pushing for federal action and legislation to limit immigration by people of color. Roberto Lovato calls the current manifestation of this phenomenon "White Fear." "In white fear's eyes, any shade of brown is suspect," writes Lovato. And just like previous periods of anti-immigrant bigotry, this fear justifies a "war against those perceived as 21st century barbarians." Lovato explains that "White fear mobilizes Republican and Democratic voters to defend their perceived racial interests under the guise of patriotism."

Acording to Lovato, "Even though ideas about race, ethnicity, culture and civilization are fluid and murky, white fear is cohesive and entrenched." He notes that "White fear is profitable. Bond issues for prison construction managed by major investment banks are more profitable than school construction bonds for improving the decrepit, crowded public schools." He adds that "prison construction bonds also depend heavily on a steady flow of young, brown bodies of former students of de-funded schools, as do the crowded barracks in Iraq's deserts."

Part of contemporary White fear is driven by demographic trends that suggest White people will become a "minority" group sometime during the 21st century. Lovato warns this is creating a "new wave of minority politics: white minority politics. Though rooted in California, this new politics of fear is cropping up across the country as its promoters redefine who is racial victim and who is racial oppressor, neatly inverting-and co-opting-the arguments and terms of the civil rights movement."

Source: Roberto Lovato, "White Fear," Pacific News Service, May 18, 2004; Roberto Lovato, "Fear of a Brown Planet," The Nation, June 11, 2004, online archive.


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