Steve King's Comments Hurt People Like Me

by Noor Al-Sibai

Iowa Rep. Steve King, who famously insinuated at the Republican National Convention that white people contributed more to Western civilization than any other "subgroup," is once again under the national spotlight for racially charged comments. This time, King went even further, suggesting that he would "like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same," and claiming on Twitter that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." While these statements are incendiary at face value, King's comments deeply harm multi-ethnic people like me, who don't fit into his "homogeneous" worldview.

Despite my apparent whiteness, I have always been made aware by my non-immigrant peers that I'm inherently different because I have a white mom and an Arab dad. As a kid, my classmates would sometimes refer to me as "mixed," and it wasn't meant in a positive way. At my mostly white public liberal arts college, my Arab heritage was either swept under the rug or viewed as "exotic" by my peers. These experiences are essential to my understanding of race and ethnicity, but they also acted as a strange and silent form of education that took place alongside the schooling I got in public institutions. No matter whether folks fetishized or demonized my multi-ethnic identity, I was always treated like my background made me somehow different than other Americans.

Despite these subtle and often casual forms of bigotry, however, it's still shocking for me to see condemnation of ethnic mixing from someone who has power over other Americans.

Folks who have immigrant parents are known as "first-generation immigrants," because we are members of the first generation to grow up in the West. Along with "second-generation" immigrants (think the Kardashians — the American-born children of a first-generation immigrant), we are projected to constitute a third of the U.S. population by 2030. The multi-racial and multi-ethnic population is undeniably growing, and although Barack Obama's presidency appeared to be a celebration of American diversity, an angry and quietly growing subset of voters was less thrilled about what he represented.

Now, along with President Donald Trump, people like King feel like they no longer have to hide, and they are in positions of power that don't just allow for bigoted remarks, but also for bigoted policy decisions and lawmaking.

During a CNN interview defending his tweet, King expanded on his well-known belief in the superiority of Western civilization, and made remarks that seem tantamount to white supremacy:

If you go down the road a few generations or maybe centuries with the intermarriage, I'd like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same.

On so many fronts, these statements are difficult to read. Not only do they seem to betray King's deep-seated belief in the superiority of white people, but they also are clearly aimed at white people themselves. King's initial tweet references "our civilization," but says that it cannot be restored with "someone else's babies." Whose civilization is he referring to, and whose babies are supposedly setting back that civilization? The answer appears to be the "babies" of non-white immigrants — in short, King seems to be referring to people like me.

Even before the election, growing racial and religious conflicts were adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of people of color. Growing concerns about the links between post-traumatic stress disorder and viral publicity surrounding police brutality against Black people and mental health issues related to Islamophobia began to be documented and discussed in psychological communities.

I experienced the latter myself as I began to understand how my upbringing during and after 9/11 and its Islamophobic backlash contributed to my own mental health issues. After the election, a seeming rise in Trump-related anxiety resulted in the tongue-in-cheek "post-election stress disorder" diagnosis, but for those of us who already experienced heightened anxiety from public attacks on our identities, it only got worse.

King's comments, however, were beyond the pale for me. Like Trump, King veiled his attacks on people of color and immigrants much more thinly than conservatives worried about political correctness. Finally, someone basically came out and said it: People like him don't want people like me here. The implications are far deeper when you consider that King, along with his fellow representatives (who are now working to distance themselves from him), will not only decide what happens to our healthcare, but also continue to overlook the actions of our president who has already done significant damage to immigrants regardless of their legal status.

If we've learned nothing else from the 2016 election, it's that bigoted speech from politicians does far more damage than merely hurt feelings. Bigoted dog whistles aren't just winks and nods to racists — they also can be linked to growing hate crimes and violence.

When King discusses "our civilization" and "someone else's babies," he appears to wink and nod to white nationalists, who take his comments as an open avowal of white supremacy. When our elected officials are praised by former KKK David Duke, it's not just an example of rhetorical bigotry — it's also reminds those of us who people like King consider "impure" that we might be in danger.