White Nationalism – It’s Nothing New

Many who espouse it today were once the targets

ku klux klan
Klanswomen on Parade [Photo from the National Archives]

White nationalism is nothing new.  As the United States population becomes less and less “white,” those who enjoy the privilege that being considered Caucasian brings react, sometimes in less-than-civil ways.  They see a threat to their privilege.

Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced into “internment camps” during World War 2.  Less well-known is that Italian and German non-citizens were also “relocated” from coastal communities in California from the Oregon border south to Maricopa  in February 1942, two months before the Japanese roundup.  The Italians and Germans, however, were white, and the ban was lifted in October, while Japanese Americans had to wait until the war was over.

Italians were not always white.  Large numbers of immigrants from Southern Italy and Sicily came to fill the needs of mass production factories in the late 1800s and early 1900s, along with emigrants from Eastern Europe, many of them Jews fleeing their native countries own nationalist terror.  The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 set immigration limits for the first time.

The Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas for specific countries based on 2% of the U.S. population from that country as recorded in 1890.  As a result, populations poorly represented in 1890 were prevented from emigrating in proportionate numbers—especially affecting Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles and other Slavs.  The 1924 law also banned Asian emigrants, replacing the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which had banned Chinese and Japanese emigrants.

When Irish refugees from the Potato Famine began arriving in large numbers in the mid-1800s, they met “No Irish Need Apply” signs at factories, and heard themselves referred to as “n—–s turned inside out.”  Their Catholic faith was suspect, as with the Italians a few years later.

White privilege goes way back.  The Naturalization Act of 1790 declared that only people of white descent were eligible for naturalization, but was modified in 1870, when eligibility was extended to people of African descent in the wake of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  

Citizenship was granted to African Americans in 1868 with ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, but it would be almost another 100 years before African Americans were accorded full protection under the law and discrimination outlawed.

The original Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization (and citizenship) to “free white persons,” ruling out slaves and free blacks, as well. However, free blacks were accorded a quasi-citizenship in some northern states, being allowed to vote and hold property, but this gradually diminished after 1800. And contrary to what some might believe, free blacks endured significant racial discrimination in the North.

If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not African Americans were entitled to citizenship, the Dred Scott decision of 1857 specifically set forth that African slaves (and their descendants) could never be citizens and had no citizenship rights.  While the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln did free the slaves in Southern states and many fought in the Union Army, it was the Thirteenth Amendment passed in 1864 that outlawed slavery throughout the United States; it did not, however, confer rights of citizenship.

Following the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, did grant citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, but it did not end racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was intended to end segregation but was rarely enforced; and in 1883 the Act was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that state governments had no power to prohibit discrimination by private individuals and organizations, paving the way for Jim Crow laws and confining African Americans to the status of second-class citizens. Many of the provisions set forth in the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were later restored in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nearly a century later.

White nationalism has a long history in the United States, and often used violence to proclaim and enforce it.  The Ku Klux Klan targeted not just African Americans, but Italian and Irish immigrants, Jews, and Catholics, along with opponents of Prohibition.  That violence continues.  Other groups – the White Citizens Council, Aryan Nations, American Freedom Party, American Nazi Party, many more – continue to fan the flames of racial and ethnic discord.

We all originated somewhere else.  Tracing it back to the beginning, the human race originated in Africa and spread out from there a long. long time ago.  Over time races developed, national identities were formed, nations created, torn asunder, and re-created.  Some peoples’ nationalities changed, at least on paper (or papyrus), several times in a generation as conquerors asserted control.

Today there are over 43 million foreign-born people living in the United States, almost half of them naturalized U.S. citizens.  Of the non-citizens, over 13 million are lawful permanent residents, nearly two million hold temporary visas, and an estimated 11.1 million are unauthorized migrants, “illegals.”  The total number has more than quadrupled since 1965, when the foreign-born were five percent of the population, and by 2015 immigrants made up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population.

In 1960 75 percent of the foreign-born were from Europe, while by 2015 that was down to 11 percent.  In 2015, 27 percent – 11.6 million — were from Mexico, 2.7 million from China, 2.4 million from India, 2 million from the Philippines, 1.4 million from El Salvador, 1.3 million from Vietnam, 1.2 million from Cuba, and over 1 million each from the Dominican Republic and South Korea.  Those numbers reflect U.S. foreign policy; many of the new immigrants are refugees from war and violence unleashed by US-backed wars and coups– especially in Central America.

Predictions based on census figures see Asians becoming the largest immigrant group over the next 50 years, with the number of Mexicans in the U.S. actually declining.  Calls to “Go back where you came from,” if taken literally, would depopulate the white world.

“Go back where you came from” was a common taunt used by racists against African Americans, now also applied to Hispanics and Middle Easterners.  Crowds shouting “Send her back” echo that.  One of the American Nazi Party’s goals is to help fund the building of a new city in Africa and encouraging African Americans to “Go back to Africa.” with loss of citizenship status if they refused.

While President Trump said on March 15, 2019, “I don’t really” see white nationalism as a rising threat around the world, white nationalist rallies and demonstrations in the U.S. increased from 76 in 2017 to 91 in 2018.   Those events often turned violent, with clashes initiated by both the nationalists and counter-demonstrators.  A Nazi Party spokesman told me years ago, “We have to do something really sensational to get any publicity.”The FBI reports that there were 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, over 2,000 of them against African Americans and a few against whites.  All were based on race, ethnicity or ancestry, and do not include attacks on the LGBTQ communities.  The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 18 hate groups active in Arizona, most in the white nationalist camp.

The President has declared that he is “the least racist person that you have ever met,” but his real estate company and casinos have been fined for racial discrimination, and Trump has been reluctant to disavow support from white supremacists like David Duke or the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer.  Trump disparaged his black casino employees as “lazy” according to a 1991 book by John O’Donnell, a former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

“And isn’t it funny. I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” O’Donnell recalled Trump saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.  “I think the guy is lazy,” Trump said of a black employee, according to O’Donnell. “And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”

Trump implied that Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge presiding over a class action against the for-profit Trump University, could not fairly hear the case because of his Mexican heritage.  “He’s a Mexican,” Trump told CNN of Curiel. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can’t even believe.”  Judge Curiel is an American citizen who was born in Indiana.

Whether the President is “the least racist” or not, his remarks and tweets have encouraged white nationalists, including far-right hate groups.  And resonated with many white Americans feeling threatened by census projections that confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary engine of the nation’s future growth. The new statistics project that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations.

America has seen “race wars” in the past.  We have seen where unbridled hate against minority populations has taken the world to war and genocide, including our own slaughter of Native Americans.  Many Americans alive today have experienced the second-class citizenship of legal segregation.  Arizona had segregation in its Constitution until civil rights activists fought for equality.  Here’s a bit of our state’s racial history:

— 1901: Marriages between whites and “Negroes, Mulattoes, Indians, Mongolians” and their descendants is deemed illegal. This law would not be repealed until 1962.

— 1909: Segregation in Arizona schools is deemed legal in areas that have more than eight Negro children.  Applied to Mexican Americans as well.

— 1920s: Electors, or voters, were required to pass literacy tests.

— 1920-40s: Minorities are legally barred from owning homes north of the Railroad tracks in Flagstaff Arizona.

— 1947:  Segregation of Mexicans ruled illegal by courts.

— 1950:  Racial segregation in Arizona ruled unconstitutional.

— 1954: With the implementation of Operation “Wetback” police did systematic raids on Mexican-American neighborhoods searching for undocumented workers. Police could randomly stop and check identification of any “Mexican looking person.”  US Supreme Court rules racial segregation unconstitutional nationally.

— 2019:  Stay tuned.

About Albert Vetere Lannon 103 Articles
Albert grew up in the slums of New York, and moved to San Francisco when he was 21. He became a union official and labor educator after obtaining his high school GED in 1989 and earning three degrees at San Francisco State University – BA, Labor Studies; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts; MA, History. He has published two books of history, Second String Red, a scholarly biography of my communist father (Lexington, 1999), and Fight or Be Slaves, a history of the Oakland-East Bay labor movement (University Press of America, 2000). Albert has published stories, poetry, essays and reviews in a variety of “little” magazines over the years. Albert retired to Tucson in 2001. He has won awards from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors.


  1. I have an in-law whose grandparents were Blackfoot, and who has an African-American half-sister, Hispanic surnamed children, and Southeast Asian grandchildren. She is called a racist and white supremist by some of her colleagues because she is a Christian conservative Trump supporter. Go figure.

  2. Thanks albert for an informative historical perspective. I did not see it as a rant. I guess only those who feel persected by what you said see it that way. As a person of sicilian descent it was interesting to learn that my ancestors were not considered white as we are today but i guess ” colored”. If we go back far enough, i bet every group we can identify today was at one time considered “less than” the majority.
    We are all humans and that is the biggest most important factor linking us and making us more similar to each other than other members of the animal kingdom. I wish someday we can honor our subgroups without having hierarchy. Just humans. Thanks Albert.

  3. That interesting take on American politics in regards to present day racial identities. Given the 1790’s to 1830’s much of the country was still possessions of other colonial gathering countries. States rights to slave ownership still continued up till the 1865. Lets just forward to current day “The Southern Poverty Law Center” has lost it’s integrity with Morris Dees and the top 3. Not hard to find people that hate usually those casting the blame

  4. Read the header, looked at the pic, read the by line, and briefly scanned a small portion of the article. That was enough. Albert gets off by stirring you all up. Ignore him already.

    • Indeed; and reading the history of CPUSA in the 20th century it’s the same old clap-trap from 100 years ago.

  5. I embrace my “White Privilege”. My Dad fought in WWII and worked his way through college with help of the GI bill. He & Mom worked hard all their lives to get to where they are. All 3 children worked and saved to go to college. I’m so tired of all the clap trap out there about color, race, gender, money differences & weather. Get the HELL out there, get off your butt and make something of yourself. STOP BEING A VICTIM…… BUT THEN YOU’D HAVE TO GIVE UP BEING A DEMOCRAT.

  6. Do NBA teams look at diversity to populate their teams, or do they try to get the best players!

  7. So what is nationalism when everyone every ethnicity is involved? You just sound like your stoking fires. As if only WHITE (which I am not and in fact probably the smallest ethnicity in America)nationalism is in question. What about when other ethnicities practices their own nationalism. No one is prosecuted about that. Sounds like biased journalism to me. There will always be that opposite group of conflict.

    • Nationalism of a country’s people, regardless of ethnicity, is different than claiming that country for one race or ethnicity when the population is diverse. We all felt national pride when, 50 years ago, Americans walked on the moon. That is way different than groups claiming superiority over other groups and trying to demean, diminish or destroy the groups they see as inferior — i.e. the KKK, Nazis, etc. In the USA white people are and have always been the dominant group (altho’ some were not considered “white” at times, like the Irish, Italians and Jews). The power structure, the decision-makers, are — with rare exceptions — white. So white nationalism equals white superiority, and chants like “Send her back” smack of past racist — and I use the word advisedly — taunts from the KKK and Nazis, etc. They come from a white nationalism that feels threatened — by immigration, by popularity of minority politicians, by having black families in their neighborhoods, by seeing white power publically called out and challenged.

      And Leon, the point of my rant is to hopefully get people thinking about race and ethnicity in ways that bring us together instead of dividing us. We — or our ancestors — all came from somewhere else, and my Italian grandfather was not considered white when he emigrated to fill America’s need for cheap labor. Subjected to taunts and discrimination, he became super-American, and thus white, all-too-ready to join in the white racism of the day against African Americans.

        • No, I was raised to be anti-racist. I just want to MASA — Make America Sane Again! Example — the big hoopla about raids against 11 million undocumented immigrants — mostly people who have overstayed their visas — netted 35 — count ’em, 35 — arrests. That’s just nuts!!

          As to your other comment, obviously the best — but if the system is rigged against some folks because of race or ethnicity and they don’t really have the chance to develop into “the best,” that’s something we need to fix. True equal opportunity, equal access.

      • The point of your rant is to disparage people based on their race. A blanket decree of white racism. If you’re white, you’re a racist. I don’t accept it and I condemn your divisive bluster. You pick and choose historical incidents without putting them in the perspective of the era they occurred. You ignore the emigrants who initially populated this country and the sacrifices they endured to do so. Remember indentured servants? They were basically slaves under contract for a set period of time, white or otherwise. They risked that obligation for the prospect of opportunities that followed. Opportunities that were not promised or guaranteed, and often not achieved.

        The facts are, this country has provided more hope and opportunity to more people than any other country in history. People are literally beating down the doors to get in despite the lying claims of racism, xenophobia, etc., etc. They know better. Your article is a veiled attempt to shift the focus away from ILLEGAL immigration by declaring anybody that opposes doing away away the borders in this country as a racist. You will never hear a liberal make the distinction between legal and illegal. They would rather dissolve this country than make that distinction and lately, they have made their stance crystal clear.

        • I love the “historical perspective” argument. So slavery was all right back then? And it was good that women didn’t have the right to vote? And segregation, in my lifetime, was just fine? And slaughtering Native Americans was just and proper? I don’t need to label anyone a racist — they do a good job of announcing it themselves.

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