We spend a lot of our time talking about immigrants, minorities, and foreigners. But we almost never talk about white people. And we should. After all, there’s so many of them. According to the 2010 US Census, the United States contains 223,553,265 of them. They make up 72.4% of the country’s population. (For some reason, that number also includes all of our nation’s Arab Americans, but that’s another question for another day.)
Despite their strong numbers, many white people feel that they are losing their country. And, well, they are right. Many social scientists have proposed that by 2042 white Americans will become a minority, just like the rest of us. And they don’t seem too comfortable with that. They want their country back. Yes, “their” country. See, white Americans believe something essential about themselves. It’s something that the rest of us can’t really grasp. Simply put, they believe that this country belongs to them.
Why do I say this? Well, I went to school in this country, in a community of very nice white people outside of Philadelphia. I imagine my history classes were just like everyone else’s throughout America. And when I learned about the first white people to get here, my teachers called them “settlers,” “colonists,” and “pioneers.” They never called them “immigrants.” “Immigrants” was a word reserved for non-white people who came later. But those settlers, colonists, and pioneers were immigrants. In fact, they were undocumented immigrants. From what I remember, I don’t think they got a visa from the Cherokee embassy in London before packing into the Mayflower.
In high school history, we also learned about something called “manifest destiny.” Manifest destiny was the belief that Americans (white Americans) were preordained to settle from coast to coast. And they did, removing Native Americans and dismantling Mexico in the process. “Manifest” is an adjective that means something is “clear or obvious.” “Destiny” means that certain events will “necessarily happen.” So, in other words, 19th-century Americans (white Americans) believed it was clear and obvious that their expansion would necessarily happen, regardless of the cost. And we all know who gives you your destiny. Those “manifest destiny” Americans very clearly believed that God was on their side. Who knows? Maybe he was. Things have turned out pretty good for them.
And there’s another thing about my history classes. I seem to remember learning about ancient history in places like Greece, Mesopotamia, and China. We learned what happened there three thousand and four thousand years ago. But for some reason, history started in America when Christopher Columbus arrived. It seems that nothing happened in our country before 1492. It really does make you wonder where all those pesky Indians came from (note: they weren’t from India).
See, white people always think that they were there first, wherever “there” might be. A few years ago, I was in a car with one of my white friends. Let’s call him Dustin. We were driving in his suburban neighborhood at night. All of a sudden, a deer came into our path. Luckily, we stopped in time to avoid any sort of accident. We sat there, staring down the animal. Dustin then inquired, quite annoyingly, “What the hell is that deer doing here?” I think he didn’t understand that the deer was looking at him, thinking, “What the hell are you doing here? I was here first. You moved into my neighborhood, I didn’t move into yours.” As a Palestinian, I understood the deer quite well. Dustin did not.
Let me stress something. I believe the vast majority of white people are perfectly polite and well-meaning people. But they do suffer from this delusion that America belongs to them. And it is a delusion, a misunderstanding, and a hallucination. For instance, only thirteen of the fifty states possess names that are English in origin. The rest are derived from Spanish and Native American tongues. And the reason for that is simple. Those people were there first. In fact, the entire southwest of the United States was once part of Mexico. Those states had Spanish names, and they still do. Well, one didn’t, and when white people couldn’t think of new name to give it, they just gave up and named it New Mexico.
In fact, many of the Mexicans who today live in Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada are actually from Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada. They were there first. Only a delusional person can tell a Mexican he doesn’t have a right to live in a place called San Antonio. It must be a weird feeling when a white person tells you that you shouldn’t be in a place that your people named.
Now, let me say that I am quite thankful for white people. They have built a great country. I travel to many places in the world. And I would still rather live nowhere else. I love American capitalism. I love fast internet, free refills, and the McDonald’s dollar menu. America is a great place. It’s the only place in the world where poor people can be fat. And for all of our uniquely American problems revolving around race, we still elected the African Muslim guy twice.
But not everything white people have created is praiseworthy. Somehow, they have managed to inform the entire world that almost all of our adults are in fact not smarter than a fifth grader.
Now, not all delusions are bad. Sometimes we need to believe in illusions in order to move forward. We need to dream. I am at least thirty pounds overweight, but I still look in the mirror every day and wonder how the world can tolerate such a handsome specimen. I am hallucinating, but it is good for my psyche (or at least I tell myself it is).
The problem with the white delusion I am describing is that it is actually harming America. It is patently un-American. We like to call ourselves “a nation of immigrants.” We like to say that “we all came from somewhere.” But if we are to all feel truly American, it will only happen when white people honestly confess that they are foreigners, just like the rest of us.