Replacement theory and American Indians

“Replacement theory” comes to my mind often; it has since I first heard the idea that at some point in the near future, white people are going to be a “majority minority” in America. In other words, we white folks will no longer be 50 percent of the total population, but we will be the biggest of the several rainbow groups that are “replacing” us. The fact that white now includes people of southern and eastern European extraction, Italian Catholics and Greek Orthodox—folks who a few generations ago, roughly before WW II, were not the Northern European, Scotch and English who had dominated the first century or two of white settlement—is not discussed.

The Baltimore harbor ship and bridge catastrophe, in which laborers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico who were patching pavement on the bridge in the middle of the night were lost in the collision, brought Replacement to my mind again. Those midnight workers, and millions of others in low-end and often nighttime jobs in health care, the service industry, and dangerous meat packing plants, constitute a sizable portion of the swelling numbers of non-whites who are changing the nation’s population statistics. Replacing us.

We sometimes hear from dairy and field crop farmers that they cannot find enough workers from our still mostly white citizenry, that they have to rely on documented and undocumented immigrants—who are often labeled Asian, Mexican, Black, Brown—to get food on our tables. But we hear more often about the crisis at the border. We are asked to fear immigrants, to consider them criminal and even immediate personal threats. (And we blur our own immigrant roots as we fear theirs.)

At the same time, we whites fervently watch majority Black professional football and basketball, and cheer for the highest paid immigrant in the country, Shohei Ohtani, as he plays baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our long history with Asian, and especially Japanese, immigrants, is not pretty. As a nation, we’ve admitted that our World War II internment camps were wrong by actually paying reparations. But we still fear Asian dominance in our elite universities. And most whites—me included—cannot differentiate Asians with roots in a dozen different countries and cultures on their appearance.

It’s not only sports. African-Americans play big in music and entertainment, and Latinos are making their marks. African-American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains his specialty on television, and correspondents—many of them women—with names that say Latina, African, south or east Asian give us the news from around the world. We are also learning that African-American women were prominent early in women’s suffrage movement, and that women, even Black women, are and have been involved in science and national defense for decades.

Somehow, in the middle of all this, rest a number of white Americans who see themselves being squeezed out by people of color. They are scared and thrilled by LeBron James and Beyonce, and only scared by TV stories from the border. They don’t think much at all about the meat packing plants, the landscapers and the drywallers, hospital aides and cleaners who keep them in food and health. They’ll eat at a Mexican restaurant while advocating for a border wall. Consistency is not required when we’re talking Replacement. We can shuffle to allow “our” Mexicans to have restaurants and do our lawn care.

American Indians sit in a unique place in this color constellation. If you are in any way Native American, you are not an immigrant—though ancestors from many places outside of the Americas might be strong in your personal genetic background. You are not taking a white person’s land—which in fact has been taken from you! Or job or livelihood, which also, maybe more indirectly by prejudice and white peoples’ lies and liquor, have been denied to you.

You are also, in these times of climate change and social upheaval, a carrier of important knowledge and a survivor of broken treaties and boarding schools for which we feel guilt. It is now generally agreed that traditional Native American care of land and water was healthier than Euro-American practices that have resulted in severe fires, floods, and fish and wildlife loss. We now admit that taking children from Indian parents and forcibly indoctrinating them in boarding schools was wrong, that breaking treaties and stealing land was illegal.

Maybe American Indians can be the honest brokers in the controversy over Replacement. One, historically they were replaced. And Indians today carry the DNA of most immigrant groups from the first Anglo-settlers through slavery and bracero programs. And unlike the rest of us, Native Americans have fought in ALL of our wars—from the Revolution through the Civil War to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They are—even those with small quantum Native blood counts—indigenous, patriotic, and not Replacers.

I humbly suggest we have a council of Indian elders from across the States meet and consider the questions of immigration and demographics. It would be hard not to listen to them.

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