Mark, I have been alarmed by a gang of virulent, gun-toting xenophobes and racists here in Finland entering the mainstream and intimidating people in the Net– I have been targeted myself. In general, I think that while there have been horrible racisms in the United States, the innate dynamics of the United States– of the United States constitution– is antiracist and inclusive. In my opinion, there seems to be a strong conservative opinion in the United States which sees immigration as a broadly good thing– the underlying idea being, that “this America of ours sure is a great country, because everybody else wants to join America”. At the same time, in Europe foreigners are not seen as people joining our national project, but as foreign infiltrators who can never become one of us.

Do you agree that Europe is “innately” more racist than the United States? 

—Panu Petteri Höglund 

 

Neat, a chance to upset everybody.

 

As a general caveat, I think racism is pretty universal.  The Western racism that led to slavery and colonialism wasn’t some exceptional iniquity peculiar to Western culture— it’s just that Western racism could be imposed on the rest of the world due to Western economic dominance.  

 

Historically, American are good at welcoming immigrants— in the long term.  Hostility to Germans, Jews, and Irish, for instance, is a historical footnote, and the Italians, Scandinavians, and Eastern Europeans who came around the turn of the 20th century are nearly as Americanized.  East Asians and Indians are well on their way in this process; and despite 9/11 I don’t think native-born Muslims will ever be a problem.  Hispanics are something of a special case because, although they assimilate just fine, they keep coming, so there are always new immigrants for xenophobes to get upset about.

 

In the early 20th century it was a commonplace for Europeans to look down on us for our shameful treatment of blacks… the French could smugly point to their acceptance of Josephine Baker and James Baldwin, exiles from American racism.  But it’s not hard to accept a handful of distinguished immigrants.  Europe didn’t do nearly as well with the influx of Arab immigrants.  My impression is that Arabs in Europe and blacks in America face very similar attitudes and problems.

 

Those problems shouldn’t be intractable, however.  The American racial situation has been improving for decades; and I don’t see any reason they won’t look better in Europe in a generation, as Europeans get used to immigrants, to say nothing of more mobility within the EU.  We may have more experience with successful assimilation, but Europe has advantages too, such as a much firmer safety net for the poor.

 

The long-term view may not be much comfort if you’re being harassed right now by violent xenophobes.  We can’t merely hope that they  go away; institutions should be mobilized to combat them.  In the US, the RICO act has been used to decimate the Klan and other groups, largely by taking away leaders’ ability to delegate responsibility away to their hired guns.  I hope the European left has also gotten over its old infatuation with armed radicalism (à la Régis Debray); if the left is allowed to idolize thuggery it’s hard to maintain that the right should not.   

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