Top positive review
EYE-OPENING EXPLORATION OF RACISM
Reviewed in the United States on August 13, 2019
Enlightening even for the supposedly enlightened...
I am White. I am an immigrant. My family came to this country when I was 6 years old, by far the youngest. I learned English fluently; while you would hear the accent of my older relatives to this day, you would not know that I was not born here, that English was not my first language.
I grew up on the idea of the Great American Melting Pot. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was always seen as the person from the country of my origin. It wasn't until my college years that I was relieved to finally be seen as simply American, from California rather than from my country of origin.
The Great American Melting Pot with its goal of assimilation made a lot of sense to me. We kept our family traditions, brought with us from the Old Country, at home. But outwardly, I wanted to fit in, to be simply American. It also made sense from an historical perspective. There was a time when Italians, Irish, Germans, and others fresh off the (literal) boat were seen as unwelcome newcomers, much as many from south of our border are sadly seen today. These European groups needed to assimilate. Imagine if Italian-Americans and German-Americans in this country had been seen as the enemy come World War II. Americans never could have come together to fight Hitler's armies or Japanese forces in the Pacific.
But you may note that I've only mentioned the assimilation of white people from Western Europe. People from China and Japan also faced persecution when they first arrived here (as no doubt did many others). The internment camps created during World War II for those of Japanese descent living in this country were a disgrace. (Please read They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.) To mention nothing of the Black or Hispanic experience of being American in this country.
What hit me hardest about this incredible book is largely summed by by the following paragraph:
“Assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas are the two types of racist ideas, the duel within racist thought. White assimilationist ideas challenge segregationist ideas that claim people of color are incapable of development, incapable of reaching the superior standard, incapable of becoming White and therefore fully human. Assimilationists believe that people of color can, in fact, be developed, become fully human, just like White people. Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act. Segregationist ideas cast people of color as “animals,” to use Trump's descriptor for Latinx immigrants—unteachable after a point. The history of the racialized world is a three-way fight between assimilationists, segregationists, and antiracists. Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.”
I have always fancied myself to be not racist. But I can see that I have a long way to go: from assimilationist to antiracist. Even my assimilationist ideas were clearly not well thought out.
Read this book. It's eyeopening, even for those of us who consider ourselves to be enlightened.
Well written. Extensively researched, with a good deal of history, including personal and family history. Extensively footnoted. Highly readable.