The Last Power Grab: How White Americans Try to Feel Power in a Powerless State
By: Kristyn Byrd
For most of my life, I lived in a bubble. I was fortunate enough to attend a private, religious school where students didn’t judge each other based on racial or financial background, but by academic rigor and after school club activities. My bubble kept me sheltered and safe: safe from the terrors of reality that one day I would be judged by the color of my skin. Flash forward to my senior year in college, lying in bed and watching as one friend after the other posts about the violent acts against Asian Americans.
Fear of the "Different"
Historically, we have seen this sinister pattern in the United States before. In times of desperation and fear, white Americans succumb to the primal instinct to fight. This behavior is akin to using bloodshed as a form of survival. Except, when we pause to think, what are white Americans attempting to survive? Attempting to survive different cultures? Different people? Different ways of thinking? Different ways of practicing religion? Different clothes? Different shoes? Different hair? Different, different, different.
But again, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen white Americans use brute force to remove the “different” from their society.
A Long History of Discrimination
When you type Discrimination in America into your search engine, you’ll most likely find literature and resources about the long history of African American abuse in this country. Slavery and genocide against Native Americans were the origins of white Americans' showcasing their hatred towards different and poverty. As nation leaders began ridding the country of slavery in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, white Americans realized that their income and workforce were being stripped away, as well. Afraid of losing everything they had, white Americans decided to find loopholes in the law. These loopholes allowed white Americans to perpetrate a slave-like state throughout the U.S. and require all African Americans to retain a second class citizen status in their own country. Although the 14th Amendment was passed to grant all Americans the equal rights they were naturalized with, white Americans still manufactured Jim Crow laws and the "separate but equal" state in order to uphold the racial power dynamics.
Latinx Treatment in America
Later, we would see a resurgence in racially motivated violence against the Latinx population in the late 19th century & early 20th century. Historians began to observe mob attacks against Mexicans once California became part of the United States. Disgruntled white Americans were upset about sharing the profits yielded from the gold mines with Mexicans. Many mobs harassed, lynched, and killed Mexicans over false accusations just to lower the amount of Mexicans working in the mine fields. Again, the motive for such attacks was avoiding relinquishing monetary power to any other group of people.
Heading into the 1930s, the United States began its surprise deportations. This decade was demolished by economic depression that citizens redirected their anger and fear towards something that they could control: racism. During this time, several states were “offering” any Spanish speakers, Hispanic passing people, and other people of Hispanic descent to leave their state. Many states would attempt to bar Latinx people from entering, or force them to live in poor neighborhoods. The United States even went so far as implementing surprise deportations, arriving to Hispanic neighborhoods and grabbing anyone they could (citizen or not) to take to the border. These aggressive initiatives were employed because white Americans presumed that Latinx were taking their jobs. However, white Americans were upset that Latinx still had jobs while hundreds of white Americans lost theirs. And by jobs, I mean back-breaking manual labor, sanitary jobs, and other low paying jobs that no one wanted to take. They needed to regain the a feeling of control in a major economic crisis, and scapegoating a group of people was there way of doing so.
Discrimination in a Pre and Post- 9/11 America
As we head into the late 20th century, white Americans seemed to set their eyes on new targets: Arabs and Muslims in America. Throughout the 1980s, Hollywood began vilifying Arabs and Muslims in popular movies and TV shows. This all came to head when a home-grown bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma killed 168 people. This prompted attacks against Middle Easterners. Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners became public enemy number one and public punishments were a great source of retribution. They received daily death threats, bomb scares, and were physically assaulted by bricks, metal pipes, or mobs of people.
The FBI found that hate crimes against Middle Easterners increased by 170% directly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. White American hatred was unprecedented and unprovoked before, but now they had "evidence" that a singular isolated event was representative of 18 different countries in the Middle East. Violence rampaged throughout the United States. Mosques were burned, mass shootings flared up, people were murdered, verbal slurs were trendy and hate speech was welcomed. Middle Eastern Americans were afraid to leave their own homes, knowing their life was at stake. The 9/11 terrorist attack had shaken America to its core, the people felt powerless and useless as they watched plane after plane crash. To rid themselves of this feeling, they turned to violent racism which allowed them to dole out punishments as they saw fit. White Americans were transformed into unsung heroes, vigilantes if you will, of the 9/11 attack. They were using their racial status to bring order and justice back to the land of the free and home of the brave by terrorizing other hardworking tax paying citizens.
Recent Rise in Asian American Hate Crimes
Now, we are seeing this same pattern rise again except towards the Asian community. As COVID-19 forced Americans to become “prisoners” in their homes, white Americans looked for a way to regain some sort of control. Sensing this panic amongst his people, former president Donald Trump knew exactly what how tweet about the virus to ramp up his supporters: he called the coronavirus the “Chinese disease”. After being subjected to a disease that couldn’t be arrested or killed, Americans took this as their opportunity to resolidify the racial hierarchy.
In seconds, years of racial tolerance was obliterated when the former president seemingly gave a pass to be racist. COVID hate speech flooded the internet blogs, comments, and social media posts. The prolonged quarantine periods only fanned the flames of this growing xenophobia. As the economy begins to reopen, we can identify the same pattern white Americans have historically used to feel powerful in a powerless state. On January 28th, 2021 an old Thai man was forcefully pushed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death two days later. On January 30th, 2021 an old Chinese man was pushed to the ground in Northern California). On February 3rd, 2021 a 61 year old Filipino man was slashed across the face in a Manhattan subway.
This violent pattern against POCs is timeworn and banal. When will this cycle of violence end this time? When will white Americans feel like they’re in control again? White Americans are projected to become “minority whites” in 2045, and what will they do then?
At the end of the day white Americans will revert to any strategy to remain in power. Through violence, degradation, and humiliation, white Americans refuse to become the minority power. Though, this isn’t a new concept. We’ve seen time and time again how white Americans force assimilation because of the false threats that minority groups. As the nation of immigrants, white Americans don’t want to lose their position of being the “dominating” race.