The book simply tells part of the story of systemic racism in our nation. "Part" is also an understatement. While the book focuses mostly on the issue in the western/southwestern part of our country, it also connects with the same issue throughout our nation, an issue that has been a national sin for more than a couple of hundred years.
What ignites my anger and sends my blood pressure up is the fact that essentially all of the data in the book was somehow omitted from American History classes in high school and college. What was included was glossed over very well. Since it began in the 1800’s, it isn’t like it had not taken place by the time I was in school!
The early sections deal with discrimination against Asians, especially in California, referred to as the "yellow peril." It moves on from there. I wonder how many of us are aware that the treaty that ended the Mexican American War, ceded over half of Mexico’s land to the United States which included three fourths of her natural resources? The land included California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Oklahoma. It also ended any further claim Mexico might have on Texas. That treaty was signed in 1848.
After the signing of the treaty, upwards of 125,000 Mexican people found themselves on the other side of a new border that made them foreigners in their ancestral homeland. In 1848 that represented a very large number of people. Their new nation continued to discriminate against them and mistreat them. State and Federal legislation at various time decreed that they were inferior as a race of people and deprived them of their rights. They were considered almost exclusively in the terms of their value as cheap labor. Sound familiar? Where would construction and the harvesting of crops be even now were it not for that distinction? The role played by management to subjugate them was deplorable. Parts of the labor movement were complicit as well. The bottom line was keeping cheap labor as cheap as possible. Ironic for this Labor Day week, isn’t it?
All of this specter of racism fed into that already in existence with other people whose skin color was not white. The systemic, deliberate and planned discrimination is frightening. Even more frightening is the role state and federal laws played into the entire process. According to the "nativist" movement, there was a need to keep the nation’s make up in line with the founders of our country: white and Anglo.
This book is an eye opener for anyone who cannot conceive of racism as an ongoing systemic problem that goes way beyond individuals and their respective biases. Unearned privilege also makes itself known. We have been taught racism and discrimination, period.
Think about how us queer folks fit into this and similar scenarios. We are just another category that so many deem to be less than the "ideal" of being white and straight. The difference? Our sexual orientation is not always known and certainly not always visible. Skin color is generally obvious. Those who would treat others less than worthy of their full dignity as children of God can’t always "see" us, particularly when we hide in plain sight.
I urge you to read this book as we continue to struggle through some very difficult days in our nation. We need to know ALL of our history as a country, not just the "pretty and patriotic" parts. Who might we have devalued lately just because they don’t look quite enough like us?
Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow