George Graham

Why Would Most Americans Favor a Racist Law?

The graphic flashed on my TV screen and vanished with hardly a word from the commentator. It left me stunned.

Were my eyes deceiving me? Or had I really seen that 51 percent of Americans support the racist Arizona law stating that people who might seem to be illegal immigrants must carry papers proving their legal residency in the U.S. at all times?

If I had seen right, 51 percent approved of the Arizona law, which has triggered protests across the nation (photo above). Only 36 percent think it goes too far. And 9 percent think it doesn’t go far enough.

So America in 2010 is still a racist society?

How can that be? The answer might lie in the ethnic roots of the 300 million-plus people who call themselves Americans. Or more precisely in the 220 million or so who think of themselves as “white” Americans.

According to Wikipedia, German Americans make up 16.5 percent of the U.S. population; Irish Americans account for 11.9 percent; English Americans, 9 percent; Italian Americans, 5.8 percent; Polish Americans, 3.3 percent; French Americans, 3.1 percent; Scottish Americans, 1.9 percent; Dutch Americans, 1.6 percent; Norwegian Americans, 1.5; Swedish Americans, 1.4 ercent, Scotch-Irish Americans, 1.2 percent; Russian Americans, 1.0 percent; and Welsh Americans, 0.7 percent. Those ethnic groups make up 58.9 percent of the “white” population, Wikipedia reports.

Apparently, some Hispanics are also classified as white, although it seems to me that anyone who speaks Spanish- or whose ancestors spoke Spanish – is regarded in America as “Hispanic or Latino,” and to many American politicians that’s definitely non-white.

What about Jews?

A friend who is Jewish told me that when she was a little girl in Miami, she saw signs banning “Jews and dogs.”  Jews were considered non-white by the American majority well into the 1950s and early 1960s. Racially-restrictive covenants and housing laws in America, prior to the late 1940s, targeted African Americans, Asians – and Jews.

Do today’s “white” Jews turn up their noses at the Hispanics? Do they support the discriminatory Arizona law? Some Jews that I know would definitely run the risk of being stopped and asked for papers if they venture into Arizona when the new law comes into effect. Some Italians, too. Southern Europe was once occupied by Moors and the Mideast experienced various migratory tides over the years. The evidence lingers.

And, if they’ve been in America long enough, nearly every “white” American family has a dash of Native American blood. Suppose one of these folks inherited “non-white” characteristics? Would he or she risk being harassed by the Arizona police?

In the vision of Aryan supremacy that helped get the Arizona law passed, Semitic people are definitely not welcome. That also goes for my Lebanese friends, who are descended from the ancient Phoenicians and look as “white” as anybody.

The Irish Americans of today probably don’t even know that back in the days of the Potato Famine, when starving immigrants from Ireland flooded the U.S. shores, the “white” people who were already here regarded them as untouchables. “No Irish need apply” was a common phrase in help wanted ads.

And where do the Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans fit in? Do they arouse “reasonable suspicion” of being illegal immigrants? I would advise them to stay out of Arizona or be sure to carry their “papers” with them when they go there.

Obviously, the pernicious practice of luring cheap labor from Latin America has to be stopped. If only because of the thousands of undocumented immigrants who die miserably trying to cross the border from Mexico.

But racist laws won’t help.

The borders will be secure only when politicians have the will to crack down on those who bring undocumented workers here to exploit them. And that includes extremely influential interests.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for