We “Americans”. It’s such a loaded phrase. I generally say I’m Texan in my best northside Dublin accent. It gets a wry smile. I love this place for all the things that Donald Trump wants to ‘fix’ about it. As I explain to my more conservative friends, it is my country now. You gave it to me alongside my US citizenship.
“White” here is more than a complexion: it is a set of cultural norms that I perceive as Anglo-American. It is substantially Protestant, haphazardly committed to education, fully committed to property and reverential of tradition (its own).
“White” is the default “American”. When Irish-Americans say they’re Irish, they mean they’re not of English heritage. I do not think Irish people understand that, and Americans are too polite to correct them.
In 1960, 88.6 per cent of Americans identified as white. At the time white males had exclusive access to 95 per cent of executive and managerial roles, most of the inherited wealth and most of the technical and skilled blue-collar jobs. There was law and order. Jim Crow law and white-supremacist order. That is not how it was described, but that is what I think.
Then women started getting rights and competing for jobs. Then “minorities” and immigrants got in on the act too. Today 56 per cent of the US population identify as white, and exclusive male access to the nice stuff is illegal. (Civil rights, anyone?)
The US is brutal to its poor. There is a tendency to blame people for their poverty, especially if they have a different complexion and you are benefiting from the low cost of their labour.
Some people say the “great replacement” is real. In simple terms this far-right theory states that welcoming immigration policies – particularly those impacting nonwhite immigrants – is part of a plot designed to undermine or replace the political power and culture of white people in the US. The people who believe this say this has happened in a generation.
Americans like me are fully aware of how easily poverty can come for us and our kids. It is an unnameable, undiscussable fear. The “great replacement” is an almost subconscious manifestation of that fear for a surprising number of people.
Everyone knows college education is key to a future worth having. Here there are three dimensions to it: cost, course and brand. There are thousands of colleges. In a nutshell, your high-school class ranking, SAT/ACT scores and extracurriculars give you currency to pick a school and get money to attend it.
Each family manages its own application process. The “quality” of the high school and size of the class enhance the value of the class ranking, which is based on your grade point average (GPA). This GPA starts before you get to high school and is measured every week, in every subject, until you graduate. It’s a bit like a four-year Tour de France with sprints, points and jerseys, where every choice matters and a bad semester means you’ll never catch up.
Money tends to fix everything, and some people find a way, but if you want a top or even medium-brand college education, and to be able to afford it, you play the game.
As for politics, imagine if there were a byelection for every Dáil seat every two years and the voters who registered as supporters of their political party got to decide before each election who would run for their party. The first-past-the-post system that the US uses means that if 55 per cent of your constituency are Fine Gael and you are not, you won’t win. Now imagine if every position in government, including judges and the people who run local schools, were elected. That’s the system here.
I vote multiple times a year. The US president’s term is four years, so the elections this November are congressional midterms. Only the truly committed vote in midterms. The old and the angry. The GOP – the Grand Old Party, as the Republican Party is also known – is trying to be smart and pander to the largest group in the electorate. Recent decisions of the US supreme court might motivate people who want a diverse future to show up. If they don’t, the GOP will win.
White men in the US are transitioning from being a comfortable majority to being an uncomfortable plurality. Any white women who want traditional roles as dependants also see their opportunities disappearing. People in Ireland should not get too smug. Drive to Belfast. Look around you. Majorities are shifting.
Meanwhile, the US has 400 million guns and growing. People want to feel safe. They don’t.
Given all that, you might ask why I am so optimistic and happy to be here.
For a start, I’m not invested in “whiteness”. I’m an immigrant. The valedictorian, or top pupil, at my son’s high school for four years couldn’t have been more Anglo. She ended up ranking second by .001 to a first-generation Greek. My daughter was in the Asian student union. She isn’t Asian, of course, but competition makes us all better, and if we are smart we can all benefit.
Many people are losing something, and that should be acknowledged, but they’re going to gain so much more: growth, resilience, wealth and agility in this rich cultural soil.
The US is a big canvas with broad influence and great resources. The minority is about to be the majority. Who wouldn’t want that?
This land is mine now, and this Irishman is going to work for it.
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