I’m reminded of a Canadian story about a politician who rehearsed earnestly and long so that he could deliver his campaign soundbites in both English and French (Canada is officially bilingual). Well, somewhere in Saskatchewan (for all you non-Canadians, that’s pretty much a “red state”) he was in front of a crowd of farmers and small businessmen, delivering his speech for the Nth time. He finished the English version to lukewarm applause, then heroically tackled the French translation.
He got a few sentences into it before a burly guy in overalls in the front row heckled loudly, “Hey, whyn’t you talk white?”
This may be an apocryphal story (I wouldn’t be surprised if it were) but it says something to me about what “white” really means. It doesn’t really mean blonde or pale-skinned or even anaemic or albino or “Caucasian” (whatever the heck that means). It just means “not a foreigner”. It means a kind of “Us” rooted somewhere, vaguely, in the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Scandinavian gene pool of northern Europe. Who is considered “white” and how “white” they are allowed to be, varies over time. Intriguing reading: How the Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America by Karen Brodkin. (The rhetoric coming out of the far right in the US today suggests that the “whiteness” of Jews is once again contested, sigh...)
I cannot help seeing rabid nationalism (i.e. racism) as a kind of pathological adult outgrowth of the childish developmental phase in which the peas must not be allowed to mix with the mashed potatoes…