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.”