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Becoming White: The Weakness in Democrats’ “People of Color” Coalition

Becoming White: The Weakness in Democrats’ “People of Color” Coalition

If Trump is our Hitler, then Central American immigrants are his Jews. From his very first campaign speech he targeted them with racist slurs, ginning up dangerous white terror at their expense.

At the core of Trump’s “America First” narrative was a mythical brown wave of criminal migrants. His Administration targeted Latin American immigrants for the most horrifying US government campaign of our lifetimes, deliberately kidnapping the children of Hispanic asylum-seekers and dropping them in concentration camps to discourage legal, non-white immigration. Without deep-seated white fear of black and brown-skinned people, there would be no Trump Administration.

Why then would a Honduran mega church pastor in Miami with a mass Honduran following host a worshipful visit from Donald Trump? Why did Hispanic voters in Texas and Florida in 2018 provide Republicans with a buffer against the blue wave? Why are Hispanics in Florida, Arizona and Texas providing Trump with his last remaining hope for holding power?

Democrats expected to check the rise of an unapologetic American Fascism with a coalition of educated whites and “people of color.” Hispanics, as a large portion of that coalition, were expected to deliver overwhelming Democratic support. Democrats have been puzzled to see that support eroding. They shouldn’t be.

Democrats’ POC coalition was premised on the notion that these targets of white racism would recognize their common interests and unite in resistance. Thing is, many don’t want to risk sharing the fate of Blacks in America. Educated whites and more affluent immigrants generally feel safe from being treated like Blacks, but less affluent newcomers on the margins of whiteness don’t. Rather than joining forces with this coalition, many immigrants see an alternative path to safety – becoming white.

Democrats can’t bank on Hispanics as a long-term base of support because just like so many of the Irish, Italians, Chinese and Vietnamese before them, large blocs of these ethnic groups will find ways to become white. From the earliest years of the colonial experience in North America, the most vital gateway to whiteness has been performative racism. Before you can even begin to be treated like white people, you better prove you’re not black. Displays of racism are step one in that journey. Today, becoming a Republican is a key step in the path to whiteness.

This whole subject can be confusing for people who think race has some empirical quality, that it is immutable. Race is a social construct, a concept invented to serve an economic need. It may only be a social construct, but it’s still real. Similarly, “coolness” or “popularity” are social constructs, ephemeral, poorly defined, hard to measure, but every kid in the school yard knows who has it. More importantly they all understand that “who has it” is defined by who doesn’t. Becoming white begins by demonstrating you’re not black.

Nick Fuentes is a child of Hispanic immigrants who’s built a massive online following as a neo-Nazi. He’s enjoyed powerful career support from Michelle Maglalang Malkin, a daughter of Fillipino immigrants, who built a career promoting white nationalists and vilifying immigrants. Andy Ngo is the gay son of Vietnamese boat people, who were vilified by racists and barely allowed into the country in the 70’s. He makes a living now as provocateur “journalist” manufacturing glowing stories about the neo-Nazi Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and other groups.

It might seem odd for Honduran immigrants to embrace Trump, or for Andy Ngo to attach himself to Nazis, but Democrats should take notice. This is the real American Dream, embraced by centuries of immigrants: If I work hard and experience success, one day my grandchildren can blindly persecute people just like me.

Complicating Democrats’ anti-racist coalition is the comic absurdity of “Hispanic,” or “Latino,” or the even more clueless “Latinx.” These labels are applied to people with almost nothing in common beyond the reaction they inspire in white Americans. The term “Hispanic” is a term manufactured by the US government in the 1970’s to a provide a convenient catch-all category for a group of people with little in common beyond white perceptions. Joe Biden was pilloried back in August for pointing out that the people we label “Hispanic” have relatively little in common politically compared to Black Americans. His comments were politically unwelcome and 100% accurate.

Yes, there is great diversity of thought and interest within the Black community, but a 400-year heritage of white exploitation burned away the distinctions between Wolof, Akan or Fulani among the descendants of those forced immigrants. Just like today’s immigrants, when Africans staggered off the slave ships, they had no reason to know what “black” or “white” would mean in a political context, or any reason to imagine they shared an identity with others on that boat. America would stamp a “Black” identity on them for reasons that only made sense to Americans.

Black Americans vote for Democrats at near-unanimous levels because that solidarity is their key to survival. This solid bloc of Black Democratic solidarity is often commented on without addressing its twin. White voters in the slave states of the Deep South vote Republican with comparable unanimity. In fact, in rural areas of the South and parts of the Midwest white voters support Republicans at rates higher than Black support for Democrats.

Black voters might like to express a wider diversity of political opinion, but the white commitment identity politics robs them of this privilege. Blackness may be a social construct, but the people who invented that social construct remain committed enough to its continuation that it creates a real, tangible, inescapable confluence of interests among its targets.

Similarly, almost no one arrives at our southern border thinking of themselves as “Latinx.” It’s a shorthand to explain the biases Americans apply to anyone with dark skin, particularly if they come from ‘The Mexican Countries.’ When someone arrives here from a Honduran city, they don’t likely perceive what they have in common with someone from Puerto Rico, Columbia or even another Honduran from an indigenous village. And why should they have any concern at all for the people America singled out exploitation and abuse as “Black.” If anything, they want to distance themselves from that marker and all its associations as quickly as possible, by any means necessary.

We manufacture “Hispanic” or “Latinx” voters out of the machinery of racism that we apply to those people. As with class awareness, it takes time and education for people to recognize that shared experience. It doesn’t always stick. Miami’s anti-Castro Cubans remain determined to be white people. People will always try to become white first rather than go through the painful realization of what America really intends to do with them. Andy Ngo and Nick Fuentes are working hard to make themselves white. What Democrats need to understand is it’s working for them and many others.

As long as you don’t bear the visible physical traits Americans regard as “Black,” America is willing to make a path for you to whiteness. The more visibly distant one’s appearance from Northern Europeans, the more hurdles one must overcome, but the barriers aren’t impermeable. After all, like “Black” or “Hispanic,” whiteness is itself a fluid social construct. Once upon a time, the Irish were visibly non-white. So were Italians and Poles and others. Demonstrate whiteness as a performance for long enough, while proving your loathing of Blacks, and whiteness might grow to include you.

Drop the vowel from the end of your name and simplify your foods. Lose the accent marks and the fourteen silent consonants your name carried across the water. Celebrate Christmas on December 25. Have a hamburger. Adopt clothing, music, manners and entertainment habits that look more like white people than black people. Learn how to use the n-word. From the “Lace-Curtain Irish” to today’s aspiring assimilators, learning to build an identity on the white side of our lethal color line is the true gateway to freedom in America.

Many immigrants have embraced the great pathway to whiteness paved by the Irish – becoming a cop. This year, no one will publish a single poll measuring the Irish vote, which not long ago was a critical, definable “ethnic” bloc. Thousands of Hispanics today join the Border Patrol, avoid speaking Spanish in public, vote Republican, and rise incrementally along the ladder to whiteness.

There’s perhaps no faster conveyer belt to whiteness than embracing evangelical religion and Hispanics are flocking to it, especially in Florida and Texas where the pressure to become white is perhaps highest. White evangelicalism has been crucial to preserving and transmitting white racist ideology for centuries. It remains the strongest predictor of Republican identity. Almost to a person, prominent Hispanic Republicans attend wild, Pentecostal churches or the big round cult of personality churches. Ditching Catholicism and embracing American consumer religion is a powerful gateway to becoming white.

These rituals of performative whiteness are sometimes grotesque. Last year Trump treated a roomful of Jewish Republicans to a mocking depiction of asylum seekers, smearing them all as dangerous criminals. Family trees of those Jewish attendees are haunted by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of ghosts of uncles, grandparents and distant cousins slaughtered by a man just like Trump. Many of them perished because our paranoid suspicion of refugees blocked them from reaching the US. Nevertheless, these lucky survivors laughed at Trump’s jokes and wrote him a check.

Vietnamese Trump supporters in Clearwater, Florida held an “Ao Dai for Trump” event on the beach in September, their emblematic dresses decked out in stars and stripes and waving Trump flags. A group calling themselves The Vietnamese Soul Choir recorded a treacly pro-Trump jingle making the rounds on white nationalist websites.

Trump would have demonized their parents and blocked them entering the country. We know this because he’s deporting Vietnamese war refugees right now. Trump’s Klan supporters assaulted and harassed Vietnamese immigrants when they arrived. Now, here are their children, buying their place in the racial hierarchy, just one or two vital notches above Black.

Most disturbing of all is what happens to immigrants from places like Jamaica, Haiti or Nigeria as they puzzle over the breakdowns along their road to assimilation. If you’re ever in a room full of Black Republicans, a significant number will be affluent immigrants from African or Caribbean countries or their children. They’re hustling to shed the burden of their skin, often failing to understand that burden at all as they bang on the locked door to whiteness. As former Trump advisor Omarosa Manigault can attest, in America, black is black no matter how much money you have or what debasement you’re willing to absorb to escape it. No matter how well you might be treated by racists when performing a key service, they won’t forget your place in this mythological hierarchy, even if you do.

Herman Cain went so far as to risk his life for Trump at a maskless rally in Tulsa and died for it. Not a single Administration official attended his funeral. When his usefulness has passed, Donald Trump won’t be able to pick Ben Carson out of a lineup with Tim Scott, Kanye West, Candace Adams, or any of the random Black inmates Trump pardoned to buy votes. The conveyor belt to whiteness doesn’t work for everyone. There is no such thing as white people unless there are black people.

Whatever plans Democrats may have for an anti-racist coalition, they should temper their expectations for the Hispanic vote. Don’t count on immigrants from Latin America to join forces with Blacks when so many could instead become white. Yes, it would be better for the country as a whole to leave behind our cancerous cultural vestige of racism, but asking new immigrants to bear the brunt of that campaign is unreasonable. Democrats shouldn’t make Hispanics the keystone of this effort.


  1. I see that myself in my personal experiences with Cubans living in Miami, and some Spanish speaking people from other countries, how they try to claim the whiteness, all while some having clearly black children. (The white supremacist wouldn’t be checking their parental whiteness first when caught on a lonely road of sorts). I didn’t know about the orientals. That was news to me. Thanks, great article. You do brilliant work.

  2. While I think there’s a lot to Chris’s theory, I think it needs a little more nuance. What he writes about is definitely true in places with substantial Black populations, but in the Southwest Hispanics have long been used as the “other” that is used to define “whiteness.” You saw this in the 1960s with Operation Eagle Eye, in the 1990s with Proposition 187, and in the early 2000s with the prominence of the “English-only” movement, to say nothing of the ongoing issues of immigration and the border.

    The response to this in recent decades was similar to what we saw with Blacks: Hispanics in most of the states in the region became a solid Democratic voting block that has contributed to the bluing of the Southwest (outside of Utah, the Southwest’s representation in the U.S. Senate is about to become entirely Democratic for the first time in history). This dynamic is what I think fueled assumptions that Hispanics would naturally be part of “the emerging Democratic majority” nationally, though if Florida and Texas are any guide it increasingly seems that the dynamic is far less likely to play out among the rising Hispanic populations in the South and elsewhere.

    1. “Hispanics” are a very diverse group of people. In Texas you can note a difference between the Tejanos around San Antonio and in parts of the Valley, and the newer Mexican and Central American immigrants. Many Tejano families in San Antonio trace their lineage to the Spanish colonial period. They are a tight-knit bloc and remain a strong Democratic constituency. The newer folks, not so much.

      Same for New Mexico. Hispanics in north of the state haven’t budged. They have their own unique cultural heritage and institutions, highly resilient to gringo assimilation.

      The Texas divide is evident in Arizona as well. The state has a well-established, culturally powerful bloc of old Hispanic immigrants who remain Democratic, while the newer, less coherent, less established migrants are not as reliable for Democrats.

      By the way, this raises some interesting questions for Democrats as the ponder a strategy of Puerto Rico statehood…

      1. Yes, just make DC a state and drop Puerto Rico? Anyway, voting turnout was way up. However, it also mobilized the reactionaries as well. If Biden wins and is inaugurated, he won’t be able to legislate anything other than keeping the lights on. That being said, getting rid of Trump’s appointments and all of his executive orders is a good thing.

  3. There’s a *lot* to say about tonight, but a few key takeaways:

    – Biden is still likely to be the 46th President. Outstanding mail ballots in MI, WI, & PA (along with, according to Nate Cohn as of this writing, a real chance for a win in GA) are overwhelmingly in our favor. This race isn’t going to be called for at least a few days, but I’d rather be on our side right now.

    – You don’t go from Hillary Clinton romping with the Hispanic community to Biden getting sucker-punched in only 4 short years without SERIOUSLY dropping the ball. Democrats, myself included, have some serious introspection and work to do in building those relationships up so a farce like tonight never happens again.

    And I’ll be the one to come out and say it. Say whatever you want about how Sanders would’ve gotten his clock cleaned tonight, but his Hispanic support in the primary was the real deal. I’m ready to eat some humble pie and start listening as to how that got done.

    – Trumpism ain’t going anywhere. Knuckle down for the long haul or think about moving to another country.

    – I wish I knew how to put my feelings into words right now. To say that I’m just sad or disappointed doesn’t capture it. It’s just… looking at my country and realizing there’s so many damn people who look at someone like Trump and think that that’s acceptable doesn’t quite hurt, but it makes me feel tired and heavy inside in a way that you just have to feel it for yourself to understand it.

    I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning after a long sleep though. Hoping for the same for everyone else.

    1. You forgot to mention that the Senate will remain in the hands of the fascists. I watched this last night. I am could not sleep, got up, and watching now. It was over then, it is over now.

      Oh, and in the era of Covid, you won’t see many countries taking in any americans that want to flee.

    2. Yeah, I agree with all your points Ryan. To them I add:

      – My entire life, Democrats have told themselves a story that as long as there is high turnout, they will win. I feel the closeness of this election proves that that’s a lie. It’s not just about high turnout, but also finding a way to get people who voted Republican to vote Democrat.

      Which leads me to

      – For reasons beyond my comprehension, Republicans are great at getting people who voted Democrat to vote Republican, even when Republicans lock children in cages for the outstated and transparent policy of cruelty and decide to ignore a pandemic that claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

      – Mitch McConnell will ensure the next four years are maximally painful to Democrats regardless of who wins.

      2016 taught me that I can’t trust Americans to be guided by conscience or even good judges of character, 2020 confirms that. These people are watching their grandparents die of COVID and their sons die of overdose and saying, “I’m going to vote for the outspoken rapist, because he makes me FEEL strong.”

      1. It won’t be the first thing to come to people’s minds, but…

        President Obama in 2008 received 69,498,516 votes and romped across the country.

        When all’s said and done, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are both likely to surpass even that. They’re the two biggest vote getters in all of US election history, and it ain’t particularly close.

        Democrats *do* benefit from high turnout, but the question’s whether Trump’s totals are a new ceiling or a trick only he can pull off. At least based from what we can see from past special elections and the midterms, Republicans will crawl out from the woodwork and then some to vote for their guy, but not nearly as much for the rest of his sycophantic crowd.

        Cold comfort tbs, but regardless we can’t go forward betting on that. Republicans treat every election like Flight 93, and it looks like Dems have to do the same.

      2. “At least based from what we can see from past special elections and the midterms, Republicans will crawl out from the woodwork and then some to vote for their guy, but not nearly as much for the rest of his sycophantic crowd.”

        This NYTimes article sez the EXACT opposite.

        The tl;dr is that while Trump is around, the big votes go to whomever sucks the most orange dick. When Trump isn’t around, the big votes will go to whomever states they have the biggest dick to suck. Or to paraphrase several quotes from GOPers in the article,

        “We’re voting for the person who will fight the hardest.”

        This is the trend of the GOP for decades, with the velocity increasing. Every election cycle they purge their ranks of anyone who deigns stand down or even say “Hey I can at least work with the Democrats on this” and push further to the “We literally would rather die than concede to a Democrat” right.

    3. A couple of things, on your post:

      1. Chris, in his subsequent post, has addressed Hispanic voting in the 2020 Election. The first moral is that it appears the GOP’s “gains” have been limited to a handful of pockets, mostly in rural Texas and in the Cuban areas of Florida. Everywhere else, they tended to favor Democrats.

      2. It’s notable that, even in losing Texas, Biden performed better there than any Democrat in a generation. For sure, much of this is attributable to his performance in the suburbs, as well as the influx of young people to Texas’s larger cities. However, some of it is also due to Biden’s performance among the Hispanics who live in those bluer areas of Texas…just as he performed well with Hispanics in Nevada, California, and Arizona. Recall that in 2008, John McCain won 42% of Texas Latinos.

      3. The other moral is to wait until all the votes are counted before drawing conclusions. On Election night, and Wednesday after, it appeared as if Trump had made inroads with Latinos because, just like most of the rest of his voters, the Latinos who voted for Trump did so in person, or early but in a state that was quick to count the votes. Now all of the votes have been mostly counted, Biden is looking to win Hispanics 66%-32%. Compare that to 2008, when Obama won them 67%-31%. Biden will also likely win blacks 88%-11%…basically better than par, historically, for any Democrat a) running against an incumbent and b) not named Barack Obama. In other words, much like the rest of Election Night, Trump’s “inroads” with blacks and Hispanics were mostly a red mirage. Like Hillary, Biden hit his benchmark with these groups; he won by doing 4 points better among whites to Trump’s 1 point better; and b/c he turned out Latinos and Hispanics at a higher rate than Hillary did, resulting in the white share of the electorate dropping from 71 to 67% (that, and simple demography doing this).

      As for Trumpism without Trump, as David Frum points out, there is no Trumpism without Trump. His supporters are loyal to him, not the GOP or conservatism. You saw a little of this in the ’18 midterms. Some of it, no doubt, was opposition to Trump. But many candidates outside of the Trumpier districts struggled without him at the top of the ballot. As Tom Nichols likes to put it, personality cults don’t transfer well. That’s the good news.

      The bad news: The people who elected Trump are still here, as are the conditions that created him. Rural America isn’t getting more diverse and to what little extent it is, the minorities there will do what it takes to become “white”.

  4. Going to bed soon, but this is over.

    Watching Biden talking about “it is not over until all votes are counted.” Of course, the tyrant will be stating the opposite, very soon. Then SCOTUS will end the charade of democracy, likely by Thursday morning. Soon, very soon, the world shall see that the democracy is officially dead in the u.s.

  5. I’m seeing some folks here reference “light-skinned Latinos” I’m surprised that some people visiting and commenting here don’t seem to know that there was a heavy European migration to many Latin American countries. My wife is from Argentina which, in the late 19th and early 20th century, challenged the USA as a top destination for European immigrants. (see Her Ancestry is mostly Italian and French. But even before this wave of migrations, Latin American countries were ruled by the descendants of Spanish colonists who led revolutions against Spanish rule much as our founding fathers revolted against Great Britain.

    The status of indigenous peoples throughout Latin America is roughly analogous to that of Blacks in the USA. The people from Latin America trying to enter the USA illegally are overwhelmingly of indigenous ancestry. Few of these people will ever pass for White, I imagine.

  6. Another fantastic piece. I’ve been saying much the same to my liberal friends. It won’t even be very hard for Latinos to become white, because the biggest bogeyman now is “radical Islam” which means the racist gaze is diverted to Middle Eastern Muslims, allowing Latinos to slip in under the white big tent.

    IMHO, I’d go further: the reason the Dems keep hoping for the Latino vote to save them is because it means they don’t have to do the hard work of figuring out why their actual policies and politicians are so unpopular with the majority of Americans. They can just keep wishing that Latinos will save them from that walk in the wilderness.

    If Asians can be considered white (, then Latinos can easily be considered the same. Heck, Hitler’s master race, the Aryans, actually hail from Iran and the central Asian / northern Indian region (the swastika is an ancient sacred symbol in Hinduism).

    Richard Pryor once summed up your entire article in his typically brilliant way: “The first word an immigrant learns when he steps off the boat is nigger”.

    1. > IMHO, I’d go further: the reason the Dems keep hoping for the Latino vote to save them is because it means they don’t have to do the hard work of figuring out why their actual policies and politicians are so unpopular with the majority of Americans.

      I think simpatico with Chris’s article, outside an old-school welfare chauvinism, the problem is not a matter of good policies or not. It must be held comparative with assimilating, for those of the acceptable physical features. This is easy and relatively profitable. Good policies, or popular ones, or both, are worth pursuing for their own merits, but let us not forget: no good deed goes unpunished.

  7. This sounds like what George W. Bush and Karl Rove was trying to tell the rest of the Republican base. As in, if you the Republican base treat Latinos as honorary white people, then Latinos will vote Republican in increasing numbers. As is, they were able to get high 30s percent of the Latino vote. As for Asians, the last time, Republicans got a plurality/majority of the Asian vote was in 1996. Perhaps, Asians are still considered too alien to become white, then?

    1. By the way, Chris, I have met and worked with some women who looked like the actress Britt Robertson. I surmised that they too were of Scots-Irish descent/Southern white descent. I will say even when these ladies were smiling at me, they looked as feral as any of their Scots-Irish ancestors. I could see why the other WASP groups in colonial times may have been wary of them.

    2. I think so. Asians are too easy to pick out relative to lighter-skinned Latinos. As I wrote below, whites and Latinos often can’t tell a difference when looking at me, but that ambiguity is seldom the case for those of (more) Asian descent.

      It may seem deeply dumb to focus on how people look versus class position and all that…but what if I told you, dumb stuff “works?” Rather, the dumb stuff is going to scale with minimum energy.

      But like any institution, the White Citizens’ Party is going to require a few losses to collectively decide to make a tweak to win again…

  8. Morning folks. Been following Chris’s writing for the past ten years, and this is my first time commenting.

    This is a solid piece that I will definitely be sharing around. I’ve been thinking about the erosion of Democratic support among the “Hispanic” bloc for the past few weeks, and this articulated the reasons behind it far better than I ever could.

    However, I wanted to touch on another common theme behind Hispanic voters who like Trump. As Aaron Dow said in his comment: “Trump’s politics aren’t in any way unusual or really all that uncomfortable to them.”

    A breakdown of support for Trump among Hispanic voters shows a stark gender divide. In a recent poll, Hispanic women in Texas are skewing heavily Democratic this cycle, about 74%. Meanwhile, Hispanic men in Texas are much more evenly divided, with about a 44-43 split in Biden’s favor. This could potentially be attributed to Trump’s bombast and bluster, which many new immigrants from Latin America would readily recognize from the ultra-macho “strongman” politics of their home countries.

    That, of course, is just one piece of the puzzle, and the desire to “become white,” seems to be a common factor. It’s one many folks don’t think about.

  9. This is especially tangible to me: though I am half Italian, and half Chinese, for random assignment of a few features, whites code me as white…but also, I am spoken to in Spanish with some regularity.

    There is no barrier of appearance here, or at least, not for quite a few. The Italian-American experience shows no shortage of those who will lace up their jackboots the moment it is permitted. It can all happen in one generation.

    One also need only look at colorism seen in many countries south of the border: European complexion & social hierarchies are common throughout.

    Maybe we’ll get a slightly better Pan-American policy out of a changed alignment, but regretfully, those who are Black or Indigenous will continue to be oppressed by many of those that detect an advantage to doing so.

  10. By the way, Chris,

    this is the quality of content that has me coming back and checking your blog on the regular. One of your outstanding and remarkable skills is explaining these things from a white perspective to a white audience. This information is not at all unusual for non-white audiences, but is usually presented in a way that allows white people to dismiss it as not being about or for them. You are a significant bridge between two types of discourses and I only wish you had a better platform and recognition for it.

  11. Another thing I wish white progressives would get about quote-unquote ‘Latinos’ is that Trump’s politics aren’t in any way unusual or really all that uncomfortable to them. Progressives like to laugh that conservatives believe in American Exceptionalism, and yet still inherently behave as if it’s true.

    1. Why should Latinos accept the republican slurs, denigration, and low wage jobs as benign?
      Democrats do need to work harder to convince Latinos that the democratic party is more aligned with Latino needs and interests but how can they ignore the xenophobic treatment they have received at the hands of republicans- pre and during the T era?

      I remember when MLK appealed to poor white workers to join black workers on the basis of commonality of needs. That together, they would be a more potent political force capable by raw numbers of achieving changes that were mutually desirable.

      Turned out poor whites didn’t want the rising tide to lift all boats – just theirs. They wanted more, and that meant not aligning with the black community.

      I think something similar is happening here.

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