The images horrify.
On the banks of the Rio Grande, a child floats lifelessly, her arm around her father, both drowned while trying to cross from Mexico into the United States. Refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe regularly drown. A Honduran mother dragging children flees from tear gas at the U.S. border. Children in cages.
The policies terrify. A border wall. Family separation. The purgatory of waiting for asylum in a third country.
In December, the Washington Post reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants to use migrant children in detention as bait. Adults who show up to claim them would be targeted for arrest and deportation.
The words incite fear. “Bad hombres.” “Rapists.” “Criminals.” “Shithole countries.” When uttered by a U.S. president, they carry even greater weight.
Britain, Poland, Italy, the United States. Around the world, countries once proud of welcoming immigrants seem determined to find ever more devious ways to keep them out. Are these signs of a newly ascendant nationalism? Or the last gasps of existential fear?
The worldwide immigration crisis — and the racism apparently driving it — can trace its roots in part to a century-old book, Madison Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race.”
In publishing a centenary edition of the 1916 work, white nationalist Ostara Press praised the book as a “call to American whites to counter the dangers both from non-white and non-north Western European immigration.” Grant proposed a “Nordic race,” loosely centered in Scandinavia, as principally responsible for human social and cultural development. He feared immigration and intermarriage would dilute this race, dooming it to extinction.
Grant’s fears of his “great race” passing are very much alive today.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s ongoing study of emails sent by Stephen Miller to Breitbart News in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election document his affinity for white nationalism. Miller, an architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, lauds former President Calvin Coolidge for signing the Immigration Act of 1924, which hardened non-white immigration and eased white immigration from Western Europe. It also established the U.S. Border Patrol, the predecessor of Customs and Border Protection and ICE.
Grant’s writing is credited as part of the inspiration for the creation and passage of that 1924 Act. Hitler called Grant’s book, “my bible.” Grant’s ideas defined apartheid. His book fueled the U.S. eugenics movement.
Eugenics is a pseudoscience of race that seeks to breed and maintain a “Nordic stock” of human beings, while culling undesirables — blacks, Jews, Asians, South Americans, homosexuals, the physically and mentally ill, and others — through measures ranging from forced sterilization to death.
In Grant’s day, eugenics attracted the rich and famous — Carnegies, Rockefellers, and the Kelloggs of Corn Flakes fame. Eugenicist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, saw birth control work as eliminating “human weeds” and Alexander Graham Bell presided over the scientific directors of the Eugenics Records Office, a research institute in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.
Eugenics is very much in vogue among white nationalists and far-right groups worldwide, though refashioned now into broader conspiracies like “replacement theory,” which originated in France with the writings of Renaud Camus and proposes that U.S. and European whites are being intentionally “replaced” through low birth rates and liberal immigration policies.
“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in 2017. A gunman in Norway who murdered 80 people in 2011 portrayed the act as a defense of the Nordic race from the scourge of Islamic immigration. Similar “replacement theory” fears influenced mass shooters in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, El Paso and Charleston.
Surprisingly, Grant was as an early conservationist who saw in the fate of endangered species — the moose, the buffalo, the redwood tree — a similar fate awaiting his “Nordics.” He helped establish the U.S. National Park system. Modern-day environmental and climate movements have roots in Grant’s work, leading to a convoluted, bizarre specter:
The U.S. and European countries that Grant lauded manufacture the “greenhouse gases” threatening the environment that Grant sought to protect. Meanwhile, the climate crisis produces refugees from countries that Grant abhorred, seeking shelter in countries with draconian immigration policies that Grant helped to create.
Yet Grant was right. His “great race” is passing. Studies cite 2050 as the tipping point, when U.S. whites will become a statistical minority, and most Americans will be people of color. Whether crafted in overtly racist language or couched in covertly racist immigration policies, fear of the “great race” passing is used to win elections, cling to power, manipulate public opinion and grow organizational membership.
Immigrants built America. This new wave is no different. They are the face of the future, deserving new lives in a country that helps them succeed.
Yes, the “great race” is passing. Good riddance. And we should turn to finding ways to help everyone accept this inevitability — and thrive from it.
Clyde W. Ford is the author of “Think Black,” a memoir about his father, the first black software engineer in America.