Reece Jones on How "Great Replacement" Idea RevivedHistorians in the News
tags: far right, racism, immigration, Great Replacement
On 14 May, in Buffalo, New York, 10 Black people were shot and killed in a grocery store. The 18-year-old alleged shooter is said to have endorsed the “great replacement theory” – the racist premise that white Americans and Europeans are being actively “replaced” by non-white immigrants. For a brief moment in the aftermath, it seemed the horror of the latest tragedy would be enough to ensure that the conspiracy theory would be consigned to the fringes of the far right whence it came. Instead, the opposite has happened.
The Fox News host Tucker Carlson had mentioned replacement theories more than 400 times on his show before the shooting. Afterwards, he initially sought to distance himself from it. “We’re still not sure exactly what it is,” he claimed on his show on 17 May. In the next breath, though, he doubled down. “Here’s what we do know, for a fact: there’s a strong political component to the Democratic party’s immigration theory … and they say out loud: ‘We are doing this because it helps us to win elections.’”
Until relatively recently, mainstream political discourse was not all that different. Racist scaremongering over non-white immigrants supplanting white populations has been a factor of US immigration policy for more than a century, explains Reece Jones, the author of White Borders, a history of US immigration policy, while the ethnic or racial group being scapegoated has shifted over time.
In the 1870s, the first US immigration laws were drafted in response to an influx of Chinese people. In the 1910s, it was Japanese immigrants. By the 1920s, it was Jewish refugees from Europe, then arrivals from central and southern Europe. “As new, different immigrant groups start to arrive, the same sorts of fears rise to the surface,” says Jones. “The same language was used about the idea that non-white immigrants were an invasion, that they brought diseases, that they were going to replace white Americans, that they were going to change the culture of the place. There really is a through-line in these things.”
Ironically, of course, it is white Europeans who have done much of the replacing throughout history. Counterarguments to the great replacement theory would point out that, if anyone has grounds for complaint, it is the Indigenous people of North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, Africa and many other parts of the world, who have been “replaced” by colonial settlers. Native Americans comprise less than 3% of the US population. Yet, thanks to the great replacement theory, the people that once forcibly colonised much of the rest of the world can cast themselves as oppressed victims.
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