Our first wave of immigrants were Europeans. The Native Americans weren’t happy. Some people think their mistake was tolerating it in the first place.
The second wave was from Africa. Immigrating here wasn’t exactly their idea, but those European slave hunters were very insistent. In fact, during the first five or six decades, there were more blacks in the south than whites.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 tried to resolve the issue of rights for the second and third waves, but they couldn’t decide whether to endorse slavery or abolish it. The southern stare depended on slaves for farming. Also, there was that numbers problem; they were fearful of a black uprising. The northern states didn’t have a farming or numbers problem, so they wanted to abolish slavery.
That’s the first time immigration became a race issue.
There was also a population issue; there were fewer whites in the South than the North. If the South counted blacks as non-persons, the North would control the country.
That’s the first time race and immigration became a combined issue.
The Constitutional Convention solved the population issue by declaring blacks 3/5ths of a human being. Efficient, huh? But they put off a decision on slavery, so anger festered for the next 70 years until the Civil War, where 620,000 died, the equivalent of 7.6 million today.
Everyone denies racism exists today, but there is still lots of arguing about how blacks (and other races and ethnicities) fit into the culture. And the dividing lines are pretty close to where they were 170 years ago.
Immigrants generally come in waves. From the Irish to the Italians to Jews to Mexicans to South and Central Americans, racism and immigration have combined to be major problems.
How many immigrants do we allow in? From where? What ethnic or religious or national groups? Do we accept based on merit or need? Lots of questions.
Interestingly, even though we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard).
Immigration has worked quite well for the country: Albert Einstein Werner Von Braun, Irving Berlin, Sergey Brin, Levi Strauss, Joseph Pulitzer, Madeleine Albright, Oscar de la Renta, to name just a few.
We have Italian-American governors and Mexican-American mayors, an Irish-American (and Catholic!) and a black President. We have an Indian American UN Ambassador. We almost had a Jewish VP. And there are too many immigrant descendants in down-tickets to count.
Each time a new group came in, the current groups resisted. Often the resistance was based on fear of “others” and the strangeness of their ways. They were called “dirty ___’s” (fill in the epithet), because very often they were dirty, living in ghettos in places like New York, Boston, or San Francisco.
Then, eventually, they all climbed the ladder of success to one extent or another – in business, science, education, the arts, and government and they did fit in. As they moved up, the “dirty” was dropped, and then, eventually, also the “_____” epithet. After that final acceptance, they could start applying their own epithets to the next wave.
Today, there is a virtual tsunami of immigrants, legal and illegal. The illegals aren’t waiting for permission, as others before them did, because they’re not just coming here for a better life; they’re escaping war, cartels, and genocide. So now, in addition to the normal resistance to “others”, there is anger at them for breaking our immigration laws, for pushing their way into the country uninvited. Over the last several decades, this wave has come so fast, we can’t control it’s flow or speed.
In response our governments have been doing what our first government did – putting off decisions.
So here we are, a nation of immigrants who still can’t decide what to do about immigrants. Oh, and that early issue of blacks? They’ve been 5/5ths of a person since the Civil War, but often in name only. And the dividing lines now? About the same as then.
I stopped by a dog park the other day. There were poodles, shepherds, labs, terriers, hounds, big dogs, little dogs – and all kinds of mixes – playing together. Once in awhile, one would annoy the other and there would be some snapping. But it would end as soon as it started. They ran around in twos and threes and then changed groups, played tug of war with sticks, sniffed each other (and everything else), or just happily rolled in the grass. Dogs are great, aren’t they?