The Dig - Goodbye Columbus with Matthew Frye Jacobson

Dan's 2018 interview with Matthew Frye Jacobson on Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post–Civil Rights America. With a new intro from Dan on the Columbus myth and the politics of white ethnicity. Support this podcast with money at

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It's August tomorrow. And so today I'm posting a highly relevant rerun my June 2018 interview with his story in Matthew Frye Jacobson on his hyphenated American magnum opus routes to White ethnic Revival in post-civil rights America.

Last August I needed a vacation and time to finish my book this year. I need a vacation and time to work on building a Statewide left-wing political organization in Rhode Island 2020. There you have it. I do have some really great interviews coming up in the next few weeks Kelly Lytle Hernandez on her book Migra.

Raphael Randall and Andre Celine on COD Reformation in general and youth organizing in particular and then Matthew countrymen on up South civil rights and black power in Philadelphia and then a whole lot more including Bathsheba demuth on floating coast and environmental history of the Bering Strait and Nicole aschoff on this Smartphone Society Technology power and resistance in the new Gilded Age.

I'm posting this old interview today. Not just because I need a break but because Columbus statues are getting toppled while many italian-americans fight to keep them standing which makes you wonder why are so many italian-americans. So attached to the icon of a murderous colonialist from 15th century Genoa an independent republic with strong commercial ties to present-day Spain centuries before a country called Italy even existed today. It's rare that any Columbus Day event has a whole lot to do with the historical Christopher Columbus. These are celebrations of air SATs Italian identity a few Generations removed an incorporation into American whiteness of genocides shinsei simulacra.

To say that Italians are not engaged with Columbus. The man of course is not to say it's harmless as Jacobson notes the transmogrification of Columbus from the Inception point of settler genocide into the father of all immigrants was part of a process that went into overdrive during the mid-twentieth century that relocated our nation's origin story from Plymouth Rock to Ellis Island from the Brazen and self-confident white supremacist. Mm of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt to the nation of immigrants myth that performed Multicultural inclusivity. I'm in the politics of Cold War decolonization IF function to absolve White America that sins and in doing so to naturalize racialized class and social inequality and would jitomate the war on so-called illegal immigration. It's not that italian-americans are somehow more racist than the median white American. It's that the Mist comprehension of who Columbus was and what he mean.

Etiologically fundamental statue Defenders warned that iconoclasm will erase our historical memory. It's quite clear that the opposite is true Southern Italians who immigrated to this country in huge numbers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were targeted for racist violence in the South particularly, Louisiana where many came to do Loi work on the docks and in the fields, they were portrayed as degenerate and inherently criminal Italians were often consigns the black side of the color line and Minnie made their live on that side of the color line living among and marrying black people in 1892 President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed Columbus Day a one-time celebration after 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in Louisiana prompting of beers to protest from the Italian government Italians were often treated like black people, but they were still white however qualified that whiteness.

Came and they had a foreign government concerned about the treatment of their Nationals this murders episode and their reaction to it helped begin to lay the groundwork for italian-americans moving firmly on to the other side of the color line after the generally nativist in very much Auntie Italian National Origins quota laws of the 1920s were finally repealed in 1965.

Italian-americans emerged as white ethnics cherished members of a newly conceived a nation of immigrants high contrast black Americans did not have a foreign government advocating for their interest instead. They had an American government that was systematically aligned against them and after 1965. They still did so did indigenous people so did Latinos the desire to escape into the Fortress of American whiteness was not unique to Italians many Puerto Ricans for example tried and failed to do just that mid-century at my recent guests Johanna Fernandez R Accounts Puerto Ricans failure to assimilate as white ethnics in the face of white racism is what allowed for the young Lords to take root in Alliance with black radicalism. We have recently seen an inverse dynamic in Italy where many Southern Italians who have for so long been racially vilified by the northern League have joined.

Horses with a remade leg has powerful expansive nationalist racism targeting African migrants racism has always been made within our brutally unequal world political economic system from Columbus's genocide to the 20th century whitewashing of Columbus that helped expand whiteness. What's a remake and reinforce the color line a different politics in this country might see italian-americans honoring their actual ancestors the victims of the 1891 New Orleans lynching instead of the Mythic Columbus identifying with white racism makes identifying with a multiracial and Global working-class impossible etiology. That seems rooted in principle, of course is in reality founded if off in an indirect unconscious and stairways in material conditions of existence and so transforming Society requires that we not only topple statues but their foundations as well.

Briefly if you depend on this podcast for in-depth left-wing analysis of everything, please join your fellow listeners in supporting us at dig. We can only make this podcast and give it away free to everyone regardless of their ability to pay because those of you who can afford to do so contribute that's patreon. Com the Dig anyhow, here it is from the archives my interview with Matthew Frye Jacobson on routes to starting with my brief original introduction.

Welcome to The Dig a podcast from Jack magazine. My name is Daniel Denver, and I'm broadcasting from Providence, Rhode Island.

Who exactly are white ethnics how why and when did Americans of Irish Italian polish Jewish ancestry decide that they are hyphenated americanism who is not only critical to their own identity, but the identity of Americans or more specifically white Americans as a whole the answer to this question, it turns out furnishes a key to unraveling the last half-century plus American politics including critically the white racist conservative anti-immigrant reaction, who's most toxic embodiment is be found in the very person our current president. My guess today is Matthew Frye Jacobson. The author of several books on race in u.s. Political culture including routes to White ethnic Revival in post-civil rights America. That's the book that we're going to be discussing today and also whiteness of a different color European immigrants in the Alchemy of race.

He teaches American studies African American studies and history at Yale without further delay. Here's Matthew Frye Jacobson.

Matthew Frye Jacobson Welcome to The Dig what a big and Incredible Book. Thank you again by the mid-twentieth century. Every American could claim to be Wyatt was aggressively doing so and without any sort of national caveat or modifier, but then white ethnics that you write quit the Melting Pot and one of the major reasons, why was the Civil Rights Movement? What are white ethnics and what happened? So white ethnics server, usually the third or sometimes the 4th generation american-born descendants of European immigrants who came to the US really between the Irish famine in the 1840s and the diner.

Closing of the gates in 1920s 26 million people came to the US between the Civil War and in World War Book of this population, but then you go back even further and in Ireland have been any Germany actually since the forties have been sending huge numbers are tens of thousands hundreds of thousands of people to American Shorthair. So then you know several Generations down the pike their descendants american-born English-speaking American school knowing for the most part no other country, but the US are comfortably American Indian pretty much every way there is to be including their white privilege, but do not perhaps kill themselves to be living the lives that

Would seem to be described by the phrase White Privilege. So in the mid-sixties and after a lot of the white ethnics They seized on the model that is that is available. Now in the Civil Rights era the model of of African-Americans articulating a new kind of group standing in American political culture. So why do I think sees that and start to advance a kind of particular realistic group identity based on their Italian dessert their jewishness, are there irishness that at once I'm kind of you can become a language for a particular grievance. It can become a language for the disadvantaged with white privilege. Sometimes it's a raid directly against on civil rights as in the busing crisis in Boston, for example, and we're Irish Nest was deployed.

What are the languages of resisting Cool Springs out of the mid-nineteenth or the mid-twentieth century as a simulation and as a political response to this is?

In the early early 20th century not long before this would have been entirely Unthinkable hyphenated americanism was tantamount to an americanism particularly in the teens and twenties in during the Heyday of eugenics in the National Origins quota system America First 100% americanism. Like they're all these campaigns to to quickly absorbed The Immigrant Services as quickly as possible and to have them disavow all you know, all ties to foreign lands and and all kinds of cultural ties to to the old world's ways. So there's a kind of been forced assimilation which is enforced also by the immigration law, which really shuts down immigration from from most parts of the world's. I'm pretty dramatically so there is this kind of been forced to stimuli

And the immigrants themselves wanted nothing more than to be accepted and to become a part of American life literature. Mostly Progressive literature in the 1940s that in retrospect looks like the road not taken there is a kind of nation of Nations idiom of expressing americanism through the particularities of race and ethnicity.

Louis adamic was probably most famous writer in this vein, But there was there were several people at midcentury who kind of making this argument that was pretty much decimated ice taste her road not taken that was not that was not the popular view certain amount American politicians, but but in general not really am an immigrant groups themselves. There was this kind of push to americanize as completely as possible to the extent that I mean, you know most second generation on his people the first american-born generation of their family as to where we grew up in in immigrant households. I did not even learn the language of their parents in their grandparents, even if it was spoken in the home. They were they were kind of cash from learning it. I'm so the push to americanize was was definitely very powerful in there in the earlier part of the century. I think the tag line and it's the Patriotic fervor of World War 1 was 100% americanism the most consequential

About the white ethnic Revival you write wasn't that a change individual's identity is eternally did but that it changed the identity of Americans more broadly and it changed those identities or that identity in what was off in a quite reactionary way because it wasn't just a revolt against wasp whiteness though it was but but something that cleansed American whites of the sins of slavery and settler colonialism you write that it that it shifted the country's origin story from Plymouth Rock to Ellis Island. Say a little. About how it the white ethnic Revival shaped American politics on the right and to a lesser degree on the left from the 1950s on what I was doing this research. That was one of the training points per million in a real what kind of moment of realization because you know, it was that this so-called that neck Revival

You can date so kind of the late sixties and on into the 70s. It was there was no question that it was experienced by most people who experienced it as a very individual kind of thing. It was a kind of interior already identity story a kind of an individual Questar Origins a kind of family romance. It was it was really experiencing individual charms or maybe familial once at the very most what I discovered and looking at the. Was that it really was institutionalized in a in a thousand different ways. And so I may becomes institutionalized in the academic disciplines. For example in the rising literature of American ethnicity. It becomes institutionalized and popular culture through the Ellis Island in steerage narratives of Hollywood film and television programming becomes institutionalized in the know the national parks.

Chris reopening Ellis Island, not as an immigration station, but as a tourist destination so that the identity Quest X the millions of people who are undergoing at at the time and then added to that all of these institutions that were kind of mobilizing around that identity Quest really added up to a complete rewrite of the national narrative, you know such that when Ellis Island opened as a tourist destination in the early 1990s in that that was the culmination of a decades-long process that really starts all the way back in 1965, but when it reopens as a museum and a tourist destination more more people visit Ellis Island as tourists than head ever come to it as immigrants each year. I think just said something really important about the the cord that that was striking and that end in the story that people wanted to tell about

origin story of where this country comes from and what it's what is past consist of

your book covers a lot of ground and you write a lot about pop culture in the politics of pop culture and it seems like most important. Is it a pop cultural moment in this whole story of the white ethnic Revival is a television series based on a book that is not about white people at all Roots by Alex. Haley was aired in 1977. I watched it and immediately afterwards libraries were swamped not with people rushing to study black history and figure out how the this country have been going up. So horrific for such a long time to people of African ancestry, but but rather to research their own genealogies, it seems like these people were looking to their family histories.

For an Escape Route out of the present of of whiteness what was going on there and explain a little about the roots phenomenon sure, you know Roots is a spectacular of a cultural event, but the culture itself had been kind of moving towards something like that for a number of years through the popularity of and of the immigration story Inn in Hollywood film. For example

So didn't come out of the blue. But what routes did to was it it kind of idiot made of very compelling Saga out of the story of generations going, you know from from Africa to present day America and the cord that is truck among the white Neighbors in this is one of the great irony because this was really was the first truly kind of enormous airing of the history of slavery that that Americans experienced. I mean slavery was barely even taught in schools at this point, you know, if it would be a high school textbook from the 1960s early 70s, you're not going to find more than a paragraph or two about slavery. So the idea that 89 people would turn on their TV sets whatever I needed was 11 nights in a row or 12 is it is

Series that ran over two weeks, you know that that 80 million people would sit down every night and watch The Saga of slavery and freedom unfold before them is kind of astonishing understand the terms of the popularity of black history. But the thing that is capturing many of them is not the Blackness of the history or even the slavery story, but just the romance of generations and so people people start really hungry. Our people had been hungry but the genealogical project that Roots represents gave people a new a new way to direct those energies and just think about about their own family Saga as a writer in the nation put it everybody wants a village to look back to you and some for some Village was in County Cork and for some it was in the name of the old shuttle in czarist Russia and for some it was increased but white viewers across the country kind of took the route,

model and turned it inward on their own family histories in their own stories and that and that I think I kind of exacerbated the the racial politics that were inherent in the in the Bible because it was again it was another kind of turning away from the Civil Rights project of the 1960s and and after

film series that had more straightforwardly messed up racial politics was was Rocky and I lived in Philly for a long time and weirdly enough like a few weeks. I think before I moved to Philly I lived in Ecuador and was on a bus day long bus trip across the country and had to watch the entire every single Rocky movie dubbed in Spanish, but it's about a white Underdog and the Italian Stallion from South Philly. Who's who downtrodden and facing Apollo Creed who's a black Boxer who runs the show explain a little about Rocky and how it reflected the the politics of the emerging Politics the time around issues like affirmative action. Sure. All roots are a story in that it is

Kind of poor white neighborhoods that that are the stuff of white ethnic romance in these years for one thing and the building is like this the perfect kind of black bill in for that are on for that Behati and arrogant exactly near devizes a kind of white grievance that that had been kind of nice Italy expressed in in a huge proportion of The Rustic Revival the idea that no, we are not white privilege where where amongst or among the Nations victims and yet you know, we have it in us to be heroic. I mean, that's the other thing about Rocky Balboa is he's both is downtrodden in a way that disprove civil rights claims, but he's he's the hero that that people can hold up and you know, I have it as a hero, so

Keep it, So I mean that back fill in Vegas the first one but the first you in the in the Rocky Balboa series really become I'm kind of iconic expressions of the politics of grievance that is embedded in the white ethnic Revival Flashdance, which was once called Rocky and toe shoes. But is this similar to this this white ethnic dancers in Pittsburgh by day? She works as a welder. She wants to go to to conservatory and study dance and you know, and it's basically the story what's interesting in that one is the the dance moves that actually win her a spot in Conservatory are things that she she observed and stole from break dancers black break dancers on a Pittsburgh street corner. So tired of black cultural forms is

Embedded in the in the story as well. Although it certainly isn't the point of the story or you're not supposed to even notice that that happened. But all of these stories are just imbricated with with a sense of grievance intention around the kind of racial issues that have become on Central to American political discourse, you know since about 1963 like an uncritical version of Paris is burning unconsciously. There's another chunk of white ethnic pop culture and really like going through your book. If I go out these are these are really like the biggest films of of over these decades Fiddler on the Roof The Godfather grease in Saturday Night Fever you could I'm sure list a dozen or two more and a new right? That's what that one thing is. So remarkable is that in so many of these films

All of the white ethnics in all of their supposed particularities because particularity supposed to be the point where represented very similarly. So there is a kind of generic representation of the white ethnic even though as you say the point is supposed to be the opposite. Yeah. I mean it in that I think that I mean that's kind of where I suppose where the the the psyche in the market in a sec. So that the Jewish writer can create the shtetl story and public figure on the roof by the time it said production. You never being you know made for millions of dollars to be to be screened Nationwide for a popular audience. The meaning of jewishness has been kind of made entirely compatible with a range of other kind of a definite particularities. You don't write about this cuz it's a little outside of the scope with your

Just come to my house real quick. But Borat was about in terms of being from Kazakhstan, I think because it as far as Americans are concerned. It doesn't matter your from. Yes. It's in the end in medieval cartography whenever they when they came to a border and they didn't know it was on the other side of it. They would just right here be dragons that Americans including American field country talk about a little bit about that the early years of how this this picture of white ethnics started getting filled in a really critical early moment is John F. Kennedy thing. Is he a senator at the time when he

Does the write the book when you write a nation of immigrants the opening Salvo of a political project that will end after his death, but it will end with the signing of the 1965 Immigration Act. Which gun does the really harsh closures the 1920s act which is really close the gates. I'm almost entirely and and Kennedy's view is that

That I mean not only is this a nation of immigrants not only is America's role as the kind of Refuge of the world is an international Port part of our national identity. But that is a really good it's and it's what the nation owes its brightness to and so a nation of immigrants is a kind of you know, it's it's it's like a pay onto to all the great things that the immigrants brought to our Shores and I'm almost entirely European by the way. I think he tips his hat in, you know, if you paragraphs here and there are two groups who weren't European, but it was very much a book about his ancestors Meyerland about the people from elsewhere in Europe. So kind of like and it's a best-seller right? Is it supposed to load it becomes? Yes, it's the best seller and it's it it's a book that really does alter the nature of American discourse in that, you know, it's written in a pint.

Back. Win a hundred percent of simulation. Ism is is is the norm and is kind of police pretty heavily. And so he's arguing something different and you know that book it's meant to popularize a different kind of way of thinking about immigration as an issue and it's meant to start a legislative process and it does the process that outlives him. But when Johnson signs the the new Immigration Act in 1965, he's really he's fulfilling the promise that that Kennedy had made and I'll be done in a nation of immigrants are those those are really critical years 1957-58 to 63265, which is just as everyone remembers ich bin. Ein Berliner, but you know few days after that. He's in Ireland and it says it is his reach her.

And what people meant was not that she personally have been to Ireland before and was going back but that that his his his ancestors had come from there and that's what the return match and it was it was great to see if it's almost impossible to overstate the enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic for what that what that meant. What it meant to Ireland what it meant to the US and it was again. I mean it was it was an event that kind of shifted the the way Americans thought of their own country because it shifted the way and thinking about how to articulate americanism. So in his speech in Ireland's in a fresh breast from, you know, having appeared over the wall in Berlin with his binoculars. He's he's now at before the Irish Parliament and he's talking about the special gifts that the Irish brought to the US and a gift of the kind of

Thirst for Freedom that could have only been learned in the context of the kind of Celtic travails of the of the Irish nation has a special gift to the US. It really gave a certain burnished to americanism itself. So he's he's talking about americanism in a whole new way to be a sign of Ireland and to occupy the White House and so it's it's just a different way of conceiving citizenship of you know, anything by a president but he says any says this is not the land of my birth but is it is a land for which I hold the greatest affection. I mean that would have been cuz you're utterly treasonous not long before.

In in that election versus I'm not only in 1960 in Catholic winning the White House, but then going out on the road and talking about the importance of the instagala scism astonishing thing. So there's there's a sense in which you know, not that he was the single-handed author of The Bible and there were a lot of other things that were going into it, but those years the Kennedy years, I think really laid a foundation for what was to come because he offered an example for white ethnics about how they might inhabit their own ethnic identity and still claim americanism. That was a model that really didn't exist in the 1940s. As you said that the JFK story on immigration really ends posthumously with the signing of the Hart Celler act with Jens. The National Origins quota is what you've been in place these racist system that have been in place restriction at the races system that I've been in place since the twenties and that coincides with the

Official and popular rediscovery of Ellis Island initially. It was annexed to the Statue of Liberty National Park by President Johnson as part of public relations around liberalizing immigration laws, but Ellis Island today is so in four decades has been so familiar that is hard to believe that most Americans really didn't know much about it at all cuz I grew up so to discover that there was a time not long before I was born when the average American had no idea what Ellis Island was or what the phrase referred to or what the stories were that were attached to it. There was a group who wanted to to turn Ellis Island in 22 mag racial Museum in the 1950s and they got absolutely no traction zero.

There was just nothing about that project that captured anybody's imagination the people who knew the island best for the people who have been there. And then the last thing they wanted to do was remember it right. They got it and it took their it took their children and their children's children to have the kind of romantic attachment that we've been turn into an Ellis Island Museum, but it went from I need to put the SIM card in marketing terms Ellis Island itself went from Cannabis zero name recognition in the 1950s to one of the most really the most wanted most popular tourist destinations in the United States couple decades later on a detour to look at some passages from from Johnson speech at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as you signing the the Hart Celler act and I think it's incredibly revealing speech as a case study in how liberal immigration politics of the time what they what they revealed about so much about liberal Cold War.

American politics as a whole the first thing that I want you to respond to his he says are beautiful.

From a hundred different places are more.

They have poured forth into an empty land.

Joining and blending in one Mighty and irresistible tide.

The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peeps.

And from this experience almost unique in the history of nation.

Has come America's attitude for the rest of the world.

We because of what we are.

Feel safer and stronger in a world as varied as the people who make it up a world where no country rules another.

And all countries can be over the basic problems of human dignity and deal with those problems in their own way.

Now Under The Monuments which has welcomed so many to our Shores The American Nation returns to the finest of its Traditions today.

Then he then he said something that contradicts that last sentence the days of unlimited immigration our past but those who do come will come because of what they are and not because of the land from which they sprung right? So let's say yes, so there's let's start with the empty land. I mean that and you know that that can seat in both names of that word that can seat about the peopling of the United States is as I mean, it's it's it's kind of shocking the way the kind of liberalism of the immigration vision is just braided together with completely retrograde kind of Erasure of of the actual settling of the continent and it's it's at the actual Nations who occupied it before European conquest and immigration. There's just something kind of talking about that. It's over that Terrain.

The view of immigration as a source of strength. I mean that was a pretty new idea in 1965. So that is I mean, that's that's pretty I mean, I guess what I'm saying is that bet speech marks off pretty beautifully, but the outer boundaries have mainstream American liberalism in 1965 the kind of imperative to erase the ugliest features of American History to forget Conquest to forget slavery had to kind of create an origin story where the good the good immigrants come from all over the world inhabit an empty Nation, you know, that's pretty

It's a it's a conceit that is shocking for its erasers as it is for its kind of self-congratulation the days of unlimited immigration are our past is an interesting line given are you signing this liberalizing immigration bill, but he's making it clear that this is not a return to the status quo anti prior to the National Origins quota is Ellis Island is a museum and that's at least implicitly immigration is something that happened in the past more than it's about a present phenomenon. And in fact, he goes on he also I think LBJ that also says like this why is it important like symbol basically, but it's not going to change the makeup of the American people is wrong, but which is which is the argument that the Kennedy and his brother had always made that but you know, this was going to be a family reunification act it was going to bring in all the cousins from Ireland and briefs that it really wasn't going to change the name.

America at all that was one of the arguments the days of rapid industrialization or over so not that many people are going to come. Yes. So that that kind of that kind of a swaging argument to the foes of immigration is also built into what Johnson is announcing in that stage. So that's where some of us were some of the tensions come from it is in Immigration Bill buddy and yet he has promised that not that many people are coming and it's not really going to change anything. The notion that immigration is our strength and that our stature in the world is related to our diversity at home neck that really come straight out of Kennedy's Book on nation of Nations. Our nation of immigrants. The European aspect of this is important because in the both and are in the in the arguments that Kennedy and Robert Kennedy themselves made

Route to immigration law and the general debate in the House and Senate over immigration. The promise was and what became clearer and clearer was they really were only talking about Europeans coming. And so when the results of this 1965 act turned out to be quite different by the seventies it became clear that on the people who were really going to show up for this we're going to be from Latin America from from Asia from the Pacific later from Africa. Just changed. I'm not that probably changed the politics of the whole question and innocence the politics we've been living with for the last 20 years and more. We were kind of TWP for that by the promise that the immigrants were actually going to be Europeans another passage of the speech that I think is really important is why

that shows how liberal immigration politics but I'm not only serve to erase the u.s. Is settler colonialism Roots, which the last passage also did but also to legitimate the present-day American colonialism of the time he says,

where they came from

by eliminating that same question as a test for immigration.

Did Congress approves ourselves worthy of those men and worthy of our own Traditions as a nation and then he goes on to say and so it has been through all the great interesting moments of American History our history this year. We see in Vietnam men. There are dying men named Fernandez and zajac and zelinko and Mariano and McCormick. Neither the enemy you killed them are the people whose Independence. They have fought to save ever. Ask them where they or their parents came from there. All Americans it was for free men in for America that they gave her all the gave their lives and subs.

George W bush his speech on the first anniversary of 9/11. Where does he go to give that speech he goes to Ellis Island and she said something very similar to what you just said. He talks about talks about American diversity as the reason why were beloved around the world. The reason why it's in the world interest to band together through with us and fight this war on terror. I mean, there's a whole Litany of things that the world needs to do on our behalf, but the linchpin of it is the ways in which since we represent the world's kind of demographically, we also represent the world symbolically really interesting the way that the politics of this are our kind of Cobble together with certain remembrances and erasers in this very strange pattern and then the last line and I'm sorry for the species just full of gems is when he announces that he was ordering the emission of Cuban refugees.

I proceeded freedom and he makes a point of leveraging that to Proclaim American exceptionalism or as evidence of American exceptionalism know you're a chosen Nation. He says of our times is sharp and clear in this movement of people from One land to another

once again

if stamps the mark of failure

on a regime

when many of its citizens voluntarily choose to leave the land of their birth

bar a more hopeful home in America

the future holds little hope for any government.

Where the president holds no, hope for the people. I mean we can break down the politics of our current moment part of it is based on emotions of justice that are rooted in in 10 social questions of race inequality. Some of it is a liberal pro-immigration politics. Now even is rooted in something very similar to what you just read which is gone. I got kind of a sense that that the story of the story of mass immigration to the US is the story of American exceptionalism in that it's the story of choice worthiness. We are the nation that people chose to join.

And that's a relief has been an important part of the national narrative, you know for a generation more listening to The Dig a great place for analysis about where we are how we got here and what can be done. It's my favorite podcast and you can support it at This episode of The Dig is brought to you by our supporters at and by n + 1 magazine which feature some of the most urgent and exciting political writing essays fiction in cultural criticism on the left today and plus one brand new issue transmission is now available in print and online and is full of great pieces. That just might be perfect for dig listeners like you

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the white ethnic Revival as we've discussed at various points already is a form of remembrance that's also very much about forgetting and one of the big icons of this is the is the The Immigrant the white ethnic ghetto of the past and the black ghetto of the present and it's a time when black ghettos are in Revolt and it's at the very same moment that many white Americans begin to yearn for their own ghetto story, but it's a ghetto story that has an entirely different trajectory the story of determine bootstrap overcoming of hardship that that both implicitly but but often very much explicitly is contrasted against black Americans ongoing plate explain a little bit about how that how that works undergirds it and it is for the most part invisible but its crew

Is that for most foremost white immigrants and later white ethnics families? Whether it's a trajectory over to Generations are for for the most part the truck from The Immigrant get O2 to the suburbs and two wider American success were undergirded by housing laws that were racialized such that the very thing that got them out of the ghetto and into the suburb is the thing that has locked African Americans into the ghetto. So I mean that's there's something very perverse in that but you know that the hell you have crabgrass Frontier CF origins of the urban crisis. There is the housing laws in the 1930s codified in law.

Formal racism of real estate practices in such a way that in the post-war. When when suburbs were being built, you know that the move from City to suburbs was really a government-subsidized move. It was it was under written by mortgage guarantees. It was under written by the GI. The GI bill was underwritten by all of these structural governmental kind of policy instruments that that made it made it very very easy for whites to leave the city and to move into the new suburbs in made it almost impossible for African Americans to do that. So so that's one piece of it is there's this kind of move from the city center that then becomes the site for the romance about the earlier. That's one piece of it and then the other piece of it is this kind of

Scents that you know, we made our we made our way out. So anybody could do that. That's how America works and that's become one of a standard through lines of American conservatism since the 1960s is here's how America works you get off the boat. You live in a ghetto. You work your way up you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you you know, you moved on to the suburbs you you borrow against your house and you send your kids to college and Skinner within three generations. You got it made that is like the standard Narrative of how the how this country works. It has only work that way for white people. So explicitly by contrast if if multiple of three generations in for generations and whatever you're still in the ghetto and it's not America's fault, it's your fault exactly and then and then the privileged that structures that multi-generational experience is written back into the Romance of the immigrants themselves. And so so there's this

There's this romance about you know, the kind of robustness and the hard-working in and all the stuff about who the good old immigrants were and it's proven by where they ended up or where their families ended up over time. And then that romance is used as the barometer for measuring current day dwellers, whether they're black or Latino or newly arrived immigrants from China or wherever the standard the kind of barometer by which the peoples of America are measured is not a reality so much as it is a romance or their kind of Icon the romance and in Richard Nixon has is her heretic Matic remark on this while he's delivering that when he's dedicating the American Museum of immigration on Liberty Island in 1972. He says about immigrants they believed in hard.

They didn't come here for a handout. They came here for an opportunity and they built America right and you know exactly what he's talking about yesterday that you know, that freshly minted immigrant Romex, which at that point is only a couple years old is is pressed immediately into the service of a kind of anti affirmative action anti welfare rights anti anti everything but the Civil Rights Movement had been had been fighting for the kinds of equity and equality that the that the Civil Rights Movement have been fighting for like racism or generally this also serves certain political economic and under American capitalism in this sense. In this case at to legitimate the the myth of upward Mobility first in this moment when black Americans are demanding an end to their exclusion from upward mobility and then as the long Christ

Working class Americans as a whole takes hold in the 70s and intergenerational economic Mobility begins to evaporate. I think it serves like a similar purpose in two different moments in your book disability of know whether to call it in dishabille or or forgotten or willfully forgotten and maybe some of all of those things but the lack of awareness about structural Advantage is I mean, it's just been a detriment for our public discourse, you know for two generations now in the most most white people in America have no idea that the house they grew up in was was theirs by virtue of their race or that the loan that their parents got to send them to college was alone. It was open to them because of their race or that the promotion that their grandfather got or

Where are the modest Suburban House their grandfather was able to to buy in the 1930s became his by virtue of the Jim Crow Union that he worked in. You know, there's like a thousand ways that that structural Advantage is a central to the to the European immigration and to the White ethnics story and it's just totally erased sucks that I mean, I think I'm nothing important compound now in what we're experiencing as the kind of politics of a white displacement in Trump's America. There's this enormous Perry powerful betrayal at politics of weight of a white displacement or white grievance with no sense that there ever has been such a thing as white privilege. I want to talk about neoconservatives a little because you show that the white ethnic Revival is that they are absolutely essential to the movements formation.

And there's a lot that's really interesting here. But one thing that that really surprised me was how many of them were preoccupied with their white ethnic identities Visa V black Americans well before they turn to the right Michael Novak who was an important figure in the story Road about how he struggled to explain to people quote that migrate and this is before he turned to the right that my grandparents never saw an Indian. They came to this country after that nor were they responsible for enslaving the blacks or anyone else? They themselves Escape serfdom barely four generations ago did rise of the unmet multiple ethnics in 71 as a member of the new left, but you really see the sort of germs of what developed into his new conservatism in in that book as well as such a articulation of what white ethnic.

Identity means meant to a certain generation of a certain moment. And and like you said, I mean you can you can see both the right word in the left word tilt in it in his very words, but that's that's true. I mean, I think even you know for him by then he'll take it just sharp turn to the right over time. But even at that moment and progressives though, he would he would claim to be in that moment. He was already kind of marking his will he was ordered or someplace or whatever I need his grievance for being accused of possessing exactly from the start and it's not sure it's not it's not adopted in a vacuum and it's not it's not innocently adopted either. It's very much adopted relationally in this context where

You know kind of race identity and power are are being hotly contested in the American setting Irving Crystal as well who also focused on white ethnics before is right turn in in 1990 after the turn. He said it may be noted in passing that discrimination did not prevent Jews from acquiring wealth education influence. It created hurdles, but not impossible barriers. Another important figure was Nathan Glazer who was most interesting to me about your analysis of his trajectory was that he he didn't just have this

Did this narrative about this bootstrap narrative about white ethnics working their way out of the ghetto? He described them as very different sort of ghettos. Then the current black ghetto and saw in the white ethnic ghetto this kind of conservative Utopia of sorts where they were all these Community institutions that were then supplanted by state institutions is in this context of you know, kind of looking back at the old the old good last night keto. I can't remember who it was a good surprise from Bourke small platoon use the small platoons of society that will get whatever became an important.

Services on after the the 1970s or so and it was very much rooted. I mean it was read it in a kind of anti New Deal and Great Society big state liberalism, but it was it found. Its it found its favorite fables and stories in in stories about the Immigrant keto the notion that the Immigrant ghetto was somehow somehow existed independently of the state or that these white ethnics work their way out of the ghetto without help of the state. I mean obviously absurd for reasons. We've already. You know, I I accuse us knew better than to blend them to not know about the structural advantages that they enjoyed yam. They chose they chose to conceal the presenter write them out of History.

Not a matter of opinion or interpretation. Okay. The last thing on the neocons that I want to discuss is Norman podhoretz is 1963 Infamous 1963 commentary essay also written before he had identified as having turned right my negro problem and yours and it's incredibly revealing of a lot most notably his fears and anxieties around black people and he's just the only solution to that is miscegenation and you write like those nineteenth-century abolitionist before him who advocated the colonization of Africa by America's freed slaves. No matter how powerful his professed yearning for justice Potter. It's was finally able to imagine a smoothly functioning American polity in which discernible blacks continue to exist explain what it reflected about Potter. It's his thinking and what it reflected about the where

Are the coming Neo conservative movement was heading and and you know, like like someone like Novak. I mean, I think she feels misunderstood as a white ethnic. I think he feels as though he's been kind of missed interpolated into a history. That is not exactly his own. I'm so it's partly that to that I say is partly that grievance about were called privileged but I don't really see it when I was growing up, you know, we were not only were we poor but I looked around and there a lot of black kids in the neighborhood and seem to be better off than I was and there's also I mean we should say here there's an undercurrent of a kind of anxiety about masculinity that runs through the I say to that is separated, but it is kind of an independent.

Freeman in his thinking I don't know. I mean, I think the BSA itself is less interesting and less important than then the way it was kind of seized upon as an important articulation of something that had real residence for people. I think I can train you said 1963 is when NSA was and I believe him so I mean I think that it is one of those really early articulations that went ahead and Glazer's Beyond The Melting Pot there were a couple of things from right and internet was the year of the Kennedys returned to Ireland there a bunch of things right around that time 63 that remark in a real way the beginning of the new kind of discourse about American identity in the plural in about nothing particular isms, as a way to kind of understand the American success story and I would I would quit Potter's is ice a kind of Courts.

Games that tradition which then becomes a very long tradition of Mind a hand various institutions of a black life are are indicted by facets of the white ethnic Revival we talked about that the black ghetto but obviously the black family was very important as well. It's at this moment that there's this kind of, you know innocence to revolt against wasp dominance you write a form of of anti modernism dissenting against the source tarot mid-twentieth-century wasp consumer culture and it was a form of what you call family values that these Familia values of the warm immigrant family intergenerational that has like big dinners together was really celebrate it against the backdrop of the infamous Moynihan report which diagnosed Infamous and influential Moynihan report which diagnose the black family

As suffering from a tangled web of pathology the measure of African-American status in the u.s. Is is the Immigrant story itself. You know, I'm so African Americans as newcomers to America who just need to wait their turn for Success because he's measuring their presence in the US has on their presence in the in the northern city. So like there's there's no such thing as an African American in Churchill The Great Migration and then you can see that you know, if their trajectory is true to the the same trajectory that has been Jews and Italians and Greeks Apollo. Do you know just give them give them a few more decades and they'll be fine, you know, so so that kind of equation or they're both kind of false.

Alsip frequencies between the African American story in the Immigrant story or are very much written into on when it has whole way of understanding these questions and more to the 4 in in Beyond The Melting Pot then in the morning report itself, but in the morning and Report, you do get you know, the African American family. I'm not only is kind of ripped out of a kind of structural context of what what African Americans are faced with in the in the northern city in the mid-twentieth century and after butt ripped from the context of the kind of of structural racism that determines experience in a way that it actually never did for the earlier migrating groups. So, you know, there's a sense in which you know the whole idea of the

The symbolism of the black family cruise the righteousness of the white ethnics family in this set of equations Father, which is about criminals family has that are more robust than the tangled web is pathology and the others that that warms. I mean the idea of the ethnic Harris in the warmth of the family and the old ways and the elders and all of that. It's written into the Necromancer is another brand of of of a kind of Auntie modernism that I think is really powerful in the mid-twentieth century Henry Miller called at the air-conditioned nightmare, but if you really if you really want to get a sense of aside from the race question what other idiot logical work is that the way they think we want Revival doing, you know, read a book like some of those mid-century

Sociology tracks like the organization Man by William white which word describes kind of the Scandal the big think science the big university the big bureaucracies a big Corporation. I'm the suburbs. There's just there's this kind of collectivization of American Life Center in the little ice lived on a huge scale that people are very resistant to and it becomes the a site or kind of spinning out romances of simpler times. And that's part of what the Bible is the best part about the roots phenomenon was to thinking about the upside of life as it was lived before migration, whether that was voluntary or forced migration, but the upside of living in that Old World Village. I think his is a kind of ship a protest against the kind of Bureau.

Credit corporate highest large-scale kind of antiseptic social conditions that are coming to characterize mid-century American life. We talked about politicians intellectuals pop culture, but this was also really pervasive and Powerful when it kind of came to mass politics in terms of the mobilizations against school school and housing integration. They were very much articulated in the language of white ethnic particularity. I don't know if you read the book maybe it's even cited in your footnotes. I'm up South civil rights and black power and Philadelphia by Matthew Countryman immediately. I went and found this decide the passage in it after after reading your book. He's in one passage. He is writing about a conflict over black students at Bok High School in South Philly in the late sixties, and there's just

Massive anger amongst the among the white neighbors demanding that the school be closed because of the black students there and one sign at one of the protest reads Italian power one resident says Italians are peace-loving people, but you try to touch me or my kid. That's when my day go Blood starts to boil touch us and we'll fight back during won March of white South philadelphians there the soundtrack had a Wallace for president sticker on it and standing on that soundtrack with a speaker who said we don't care if you're Polacks are Jews, we want whites. When you see that you see that everywhere in the north is specially you see that in the busing crisis in Boston words. It's mostly it irishness is sometimes Italian. This is deployed as the kind of language of the grievance and prior right? Imma see it in my

Lucky we're we're pulls are our kind of defending their neighborhoods against the incursion known African Americans that white ethnic particularity becomes one of the languages of you know, who belongs and who doesn't in in certain neighborhoods, especially during me as you noted during that the bong. Of integration which we are still in by the way, that's another piece clean everything up. And so I said there was a. I haven't heard in awhile. I think that was more of it was more language of the late sixties and seventies maybe on into the 80s, but but why doesn't particularly through that stretch was a very common language of white tire rights in that in that kind of setting and the kind of fighter Spirit, by the way is one of the one of the reasons why boy that's next time.

Rally around old world symbolism whether it's whether it's it's modern day Israel and the kind of fighting Spirit of the Israeli army or whether it's the solidarity movement in Poland or whether it's a long history of an obstreperous resistance in Ireland on the old world historical identity are also immobilized and end as as important icons and symbols for these very localized American struggles. These these stories are about migration all the way down in the sense that first you have the the white ethnic Revival and the story that it tells about non wasp immigration and then second you have the reaction to the black Great Migration from the south and the incredible both structural and popular reaction that needs it. And then third you have the white migration to the suburbs which was itself a recapitulation of

Pioneer story about movement and people's relationship to place not to get too abstract is always real relational and it's often geographical. He's fine. So, you know the sense and this is what we see when you know, when you know, when white people are calling the cops because a black person is, you know sleeping on a couch or is you know, sitting in a Starbucks, you know that has to do with the way that places are raced in people's imaginations the ones where and not is is not going to racial question in end. Yeah, and it is in part because space is political and it did organized has power but in part it is as you're saying because because racial history in this country is rooted in migration, you know from from the first time, you know from

Encounter in Conquest onward. I'm space has been raced ultimately the Ellis Island immigrant. Mythology becomes a Cornerstone of the Contemporary anti-immigrant movement our living with today because Ellis Island's a Counterpoint not only to the black ghetto but also to the southern border most white ethnic immigrants their families had entered as free white persons, which four years was a status denied to people of Africa setting Native Americans and until 1952 invasion you write ironically nativist thinking in a settler democracy like the United States must somehow consecrate previous ways of the waves of immigration even as it lament the arrival of the most recent immigrants. So there's a contrast between the good immigrant verse about immigrants The assimilable Immigrant vs. A hopelessly alien immigrant the immigrants who came to Rite-Way versus those who came illegally say a little of

About how Ellis Island mythology shape shapes that the Contemporary nativist movement that ultimately helped bring Donald Trump the power sure place where the narrative conceals as much as a review. Those are concealed some more than it reveals. There's more Erasure than actual memory in the tale of European immigration. So you go back and look at the historical record, you know to look at what Native us were saying about Jews and Italians in 1907 and it is exactly the same thing that Donald Trump is saying about Mexicans in an 2018. I'm exactly they're unassimilable. They're no good there. No good people there bad students. They are smart. You don't need to just go through the list of arguments against them and it's an unchanging list. You can go back into the to the 1840s and find people saying exactly the same things about the Irish, so

That piece of it has been erased the romance the romance that white ethnics have with their own family's history is that they they came they adopted American way they were greeted with open arms and rightly. So because they were they were worth it. They were good bet for the Republic and they came legally, you know not to not to mention that the category of illegal immigrant as as we know it in in 2018 did not exist until the law of 1924. So I'm quite sure that my my grandfather who led from czarist Russia I would have come here illegally is that was the only way he could have done it but because of the way as the longer it and there wasn't a way for him since he couldn't have been any of the categories were such that he can only cut me and I just didn't exist. There was no way to to do that.

Let's part of the forgetting some of it the kind of grievance against illegal immigrants is based on a sense that we did it right we did it, right and so why can't they are living totally different times with totally different laws in their face with you know, their own set of catastrophes just as our grandparents were and they're doing the best I can but there's this massive forget about what that history actually was and what it actually look like if you're on the ground in 1907 or 1911. And so the romance is standing in as part of the argument against today's today's migrants Final question. You can answer it to add whatever kind of parting shot no to wrap up your contribution as well. You make it very clear in your book that the white at her Bible is utterly Central the rise of modern conservatism the sum of the numbers you point to that beginning in 1972 Majoris in the blue-collar and Catholic vote predicted every election with the exception of 19.

V8 you point to Italian-American supports for Democrats plummeting from 77% in 1964 to 50% in 1968 to 39% in 1984. You point to working-class Irish and polish words in Chicago southside going from strongly Democratic to shifting mostly Republican in 1966. The very same year that King was leading protest for open housing in in Chicago near met with spectacular white violence. Where do you see white ethnic politics in the politics of white ethnics standing today a left-wing friend of mine from Staten Island told me that that that that he believes that it's been in recent years Eclipse by buy new forms of ordinary white person reactionary Radiology. What do you think about you don't hear you don't hear the kind of specificity is of of ethnic identity being articulated the way they were in

32 on the other hand, I will say every time I think the Bible is gone for good another another movie about an Irish boxer in Boston. So I would not give up. I think that this is a cultural phenomenon that has a really long tail to it. I think that it's been dampened by a number of things. I think I'm on them is is the total crushing of the union movement. I think that without unions well a couple of things I mean strategy started in 1968 way of kind of thing white voters Republican party has basically one and one's really thoroughly even among many white ethnics in the north and I can part of that is the crushing of the Union without without without a robust union movement. The Democrats have a much smaller claim on white ethnics than they did a generation ago. So that's that's an important piece.

Puzzle in an absent that kind of of kind of structural and specific instrument for economic gain.

On the left side of the of the political Spectrum. I think it makes it much easier for people to be won over by the the myths and the kind of language of Greece later on the right side of the political spectrum is against not to say that the attack Revival this time for good and it keeps it rears its head every few years when you least expect it. I think it is a robust part of national discourse even now, you know, whether or not we hear people talking about them as Irish or Italian or you know articulating claims in that language Ellis Island still is pretty Central to our national narratives. And so I don't see it being totally this place yet. It's maybe the substrate of the current obsession with working class whites.

Matthew Frye Jacobson, thank you so much. And thanks for such an incredible book.

Matthew Frye Jacobson is the author of roots to White ethnic Revival in post-civil rights America and nestorian a Yale.

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