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The founding fathers made one thing perfectly clear when they ratified the constitution in 1787. Full citizenship rights were meant only for white men of property. Over a period of nearly 200 years, people’s movements guaranteed that those rights were extended to everyone regardless of race or gender, but the fact that the struggle literally took centuries should not be forgotten. It is tempting to snicker at the sight of today’s Tea Party members, grown men wearing knee breeches and three-cornered hats. Yet their costumes tell an important tale. They evoke an era still seen as the high water mark of American society, the days of the enslavement of one race and the extermination of another. This movement has captured the Republican Party outright and leaves even some Democratic politicians and pundits in a state of fear and/or awe.
The pull of that early history is ever present for many white Americans. No matter the degree of progress made, the adherence to the evils of America’s early days are never far from the surface. Simply put, there are too many brown faces for the liking of a majority of white people. Even the president has a brown face. His very presence has been a shock to the country’s system and to the mythology which says that only white people are truly American.
For decades, the presence of undocumented foreign nationals has been an accepted fact in the United States. Estimates of their presence run as high as 11 million. In the very recent past that presence was considered positive, a proof of America’s attractiveness to the rest of the world and a boon to industries dependent upon their labor.
Under the guise of concern for integrity of our borders, and stemming illegal activities, that presence is now being called a threat and a danger to the nation. Republicans like former presidential candidate John McCain have bowed to pressure from the Tea Party wing and moved from advocating a path to citizenship to producing nonsensical campaign videos to “build the dang fence” and prevent Mexicans willing to pick fruit and bus tables from entering the country.
The guarantor of citizenship since 1868 has been the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States. That amendment and its guarantees are now under direct threat. On a daily basis pundits and politicians rear their ugly heads to say that the children born of undocumented persons should no longer be given American citizenship.
Arizona legislators, the go-to group for turning white supremacy into law, have proposed denying birth certificates to anyone who can’t prove legal residence. Flush with the nationwide popularity of SB1070, which turns Arizona into the “show me your papers” police state, they are now drunk with the possibility of keeping the dark skinned people in check and away from what they hope to make an oasis of whiteness.
All of these proposals are masks for a simple proposition. Citizenship rights should only be extended to white people, just as in the barbaric days of the golden age of whiteness. All but the most unrepentant racists will deny this intent. Instead we hear lunatic tales of beheadings in the Arizona desert, non-existent kidnappings and birth tourism terror plots to make sleeper cell American citizen babies.
Black Americans should be the first to denounce these bizarre schemes to undo constitutional protections. The 14th Amendment was a means of protecting the rights of the newly freed population and of over turning the infamous Dred Scott decision which nullified the very concept of black citizenship.
“We want our country back” is not just an anti-Obama call to action. It is a call to revive an idea which ought to have been firmly discredited by now, that America should belong only to white people and that they alone should have a voice in how it is run. It would be a terrible mistake to see these citizenship proposals only as anti-Latino based bigotry. They are surely that but they are also a means of keeping the non-white population under control and depriving them of any rights which a white person need respect.
MARGARET KIMBERLEY is a columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.Com.