Congressman Steve King Is Not an Outlier
Rep. Steve King
Dr. Karlos K. Hill is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History (Oxford University Press, under contract)
Several weeks ago now, Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted that Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders rightly understands that whites cannot restore Western civilization with someone else’s babies. By someone’s else babies, he meant non-white babies. King believes Western civilization is white civilization and therefore only pure white people can perpetuate Western civilization.
King’s unspoken assumption is that Western civilization is directly or indirectly responsible for the modern world: science, technology, democracy, and capitalism to name a few. In other words, without the white West, human beings would still be living in caves. Rather than understanding the growing racial, ethnic, and culture diversity of the United States as a core strength, King and others like him view racial diversity and dare I say racial hybridity as a weakness that is corroding white America and the West more generally.
As has been pointed out by many commentators (including his colleagues within the Republican party), Steve King’s comments are blatantly racist and should have no place in American politics. However, instead of simply condemning King’s comments as reflective of a racist fringe, we need to recognize two things.
First, Steve King has served uninterrupted as U.S. representative of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District since 2003. As documented by the New York Times, Steve King has made a career of making xenophobic comments about Mexicans as well as disparaging comments about the contributions of non-whites to civilization during his tenure as U.S. representative. And time and time again, the voters of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District have reelected him. So my point here is how fringe can his ideas be if Iowa voters have consistently reelected him? After all, King’s “someone else’s baby” tweet received 14,000 likes on Twitter.
Second, the idea of white racial purity and biological determinism runs much deeper than we are oftentimes willing to admit.
For example, we live in a country in which the one drop rule (a person with one black ancestor or one drop of black blood is considered black) still determines a person’s race. Barack Obama, our nation’s first biracial president, is perceived as black despite the fact that his mother was white. Now of course, Barack Obama embraced his blackness (thank you Barack) but had he not, he would still be perceived as black by most Americans. In fact, 69 percent of biracial adults with a black parent report that most people (including black Americans) view them as black and have experienced racist treatment due to their perceived race.
Historically, early twentieth century segregationists and eugenicists championed racial purity or the one drop rule because of their obsession with maintaining a pure white bloodline that was uncontaminated with the blood of racial inferiors. While most Americans today would neither align themselves with segregationists or the eugenics movement nor are they terribly obsessed with maintaining pure racial bloodlines (save Steve King), a recent study shows that biological determinism still plays a significant role in how whites view blacks.
According to the study, while whites generally believed that traits and behaviors are largely shaped by environmental factors rather than genetics, whites nonetheless perceived genetics as playing a greater role in determining differences in intelligence and athletic ability among blacks and whites.
Additionally, polling data from the 2012 American National Election Studies documented that when white voters were asked to rank black and white people on a scale from hardworking to lazy and from intelligent to unintelligent, 62 percent of white American voters gave black people a lower score in at least one of the attributes.
Highlighting the prevalence of anti-black stereotypes and the biological deterministic worldview from which they stem is to suggest that while Steve King may be outlandish, he is not an outlier. It is also to suggest that as a society we should not take too much comfort in chastising King for his remarks less we overlook how we are all complicit in and need to confront white supremacy in all its guises, past and present.
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