The Trump administration’s immigration policies have invited numerous comparisons to nineteenth-century regulations of enslaved persons. These comparisons will continue so long as the state retains the power to circumscribe a person’s mobility and employment opportunities through the policing of their legal status.
“I’m proud to be white,” someone recently told me. He interjected the comment in a contentious political conversation. I responded by advocating “more caution” in expression. The exchange fizzled without resolution. Yet this phrase, “proud to be white,” continues to disturb. My conversation partner was no white supremacist. But his chosen phrase would have fooled many. What lies within it is a key for understanding a threatening and intractable problem of American society: what I call “the problem of white people.”
Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.
I started the Slants nearly a decade ago because I wanted to change people’s assumptions about Asian Americans. When you combine the great discomfort that people have when talking about racial injustice to the fact that the Asian American experience is rarely considered in these discussions, I realized that opportunities to do so would be extremely rare. I wanted to give racism a chance—a chance for discussing its existence in a way that would be compelling, honest, and yet, subversive.
As we continue in the struggle for economic justice, it is important to examine how white Christian evangelism shapes our efforts to alleviate poverty. Casting poverty as a form of moral failing encourages people to disengage from the social, cultural, and structural causes of poverty and ignores the role that white Americans play in the global proliferation of poverty conditions worldwide.