“I want my country back”

Above is a photo a friend put on Facebook, below is a comment. This has become a very common message on the American right. It’s always come across as one of slickest forms of political race baiting yet. I don’t even know if the people who repeat this line even recognize it, I think it just hits something inside they intuitively feel. I think it’s that people who say mean it in an subconsciously racial way, which is different than outright racism. The country has changed, quite a bit, since most of us came to political sentience. To wit:

… from my own eyes, and I think a lot of others, there’s a very racist undertone to this. Back from whom? Who took what from who? When did it happen? In two decades of obsessive politics watching I never saw this meme until the first black president took office. And it happens to pop up in the midst of some milestone demographic shifts, like whites accounting for less than half of births in the US. Minorities groups now have a very loud and strong voice and were instrumental in getting Obama elected. Whites and whatever exists of ‘anglo-saxon culture’, as a political force, will now forward always be of shrinking political importance. And in that sense, it would make sense for some white’s to want “their country back” -as they did control it and that control is slipping away. If Obama wins this election (70% chance by Nate Silver’s predictions), a big part of the reason will be because of the demographic shifts that have happened even between 2008 and today.

This isn’t to say that *you* are a racist or this is what you’re thinking… but it’s difficult to see where this is coming from on the right wing.

Personally, I have similar feelings about wanting to take my country “back”, but from a different group and I’m less sanguine about the historical realities about who ‘had’ the country to begin with. For me, I see the financial industry, big oil and a few other big money/high power groups sucking the democratic lifeblood out of the country and driving a political agenda in which they nearly always win. I never thought, for instance, one could simply spend enough money to purchase climate change denial in the country and change an entire parties platform (from supporting cap & trade in 2008 to officially believing it’s a conspiracy today). But you can, and they did. I think the third party alluded to here – libertarians – explicitly want to untether what few checks we have over these sectors. But the country can’t be “given back” because ‘the people’ never had it. So I think we are saying different things. You don’t want it back from those “them”, but a different “them.”

So I guess that’s it – there are two centers of power from which to “take the country back,” an administrations run by a black guy and powerful corporations and their political outlets. And I don’t think you mean the second one.


As an end note, I think it would be healthy for America (and Europe) to be able to talk about these transitions. I think Pat Buchanan, at his best, tried to talk about it at a higher level but usually failed because it was so difficult to tell when he was and wasn’t just being racist. A difficult question, and one I won’t attempt to answer here, is whether it’s ever OK for a majority ethnic group to form ethnic-based voting blocs. Put another way, do we have a logically consistent way where we can say that it’s OK to have a politically powerful National Association for the Advancement of Colored People but that it’s racist to even consider a National Association for the Advancement of White People? If there’s a ‘colored’ agenda, can their be a ‘white agenda’? What about an ‘Asian’ agenda, as if Filipino- and Korean-Americans had the same political concerns in the US? Deep questions. And ones I don’t have answers to, only preferences. I know why I don’t like the NAAWP, but it should mean I don’t like the NAACP too.

This is all so say that I think that the meme/slogan has racial origins, but that maybe that’s it’s something we should embrace if we’re to be political realists and pluralists?

One Comment

  1. Jimmy Copens said:

    On July 31, 2012 the Reverend William Owens spoke at the National Press Club, along with several other members of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP).
    During this press conference, CAAP implies they’re taking the country back, they compare the president to Judas, and basically throw the first black president under the bus, back up, and run over him a few more times before the press conference ends.
    I would say this pretty much closes the book on whether or not the phrase “I Want My Country Back” is racist.
    Furthermore, this phrase, as I and others see it, is about FREEDOM.
    Regardless of your race, your beliefs, or political ideology, the facts are:
    –The TSA grabs your junk whether you’re black, white, Republican or Democrat.
    –The DHS can stop and interrogate you at a warrant-less, suspicion-less checkpoint whether you’re black, white, Republican or Democrat.
    –The drones fly over your backyard, whether you’re black, white, Republican or Democrat.
    –You can be forced to buy health insurance, or pay a penalty, whether or not you’re black, white, Republican or Democrat.
    Sound like freedom to you?
    Without freedom, you can’t do anything–except what you’re told to do.
    I Want My Country Back

    August 14, 2012

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