In his recent speech promoting his goal of comprehensive immigration reform, United States President Barak Obama said, “A century ago,” Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants were “subject to rank discrimination” and were the object of negative stereotypes.
Although this statement is true, and the acknowledgement of such behavior by the President is appreciated, it is nonetheless misleading. It is true that these immigrants were subject to discrimination and negative stereotypes a century ago, but Obama’s remark implies that these European immigrants are no longer subject to them, as if it were only true “a century ago.” However, public opinion surveys suggest that a disturbingly large number of Americans hold negative stereotypes about Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent, for example. Typically, the entertainment industry portrays Italian-Americans either as criminals or buffoons. Even commercial advertisements often play on such negative stereotypes. As a result, despite historically having one of the lowest crime rates of any ethnic group, a majority of Americans falsely believe that most Italian-Americans are involved with organized crime.
Furthermore, Obama’s statement seems to contradict a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in which the United States admitted that it interred Italian immigrants, as well as immigrants from other Axis Powers during World War II, in addition to the more well-known internment of Japanese immigrants. Even some U.S. citizens of Italian origin were among the internees. Immigrants from these foreign states were also subject to a variety of other discriminatory practices by the federal government itself. See also my post from May of this year, Proposed Textbooks Debunk a Liberal Myth of American Racism, in which I discuss this matter in more detail and note how recent history, as written in proposed new textbooks, debunks the liberal opinion that only Japanese-Americans suffered discrimination from the U.S. because of American racism.
Obama’s minimization of discrimination against European immigrants reflects the liberal view that America is racist, which fails to recognize a more general anti-immigrant populist strain of American opinion that is not necessarily based upon racial discrimination. It also reflects the liberals’ simplistic tendency in regard to the issue of race to lump all European ethnic groups into the monolithic group of “whites,” regardless of their level of culpability in or victimization from racial discrimination in American history, as well as liberal favoritism toward certain groups they regard as political constituencies. But in order for all prejudice to be eliminated, it is first necessary to acknowledge prejudice in every form it takes without minimizing it and to better understand its origins.