Sometimes we just have to assume people are simply telling us who they really are. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is just such a person, a person who started a small brush fire during the GOP’s Trumpster Fire with his comments about Western Civilization. [DesMReg] The response, of course was full and fast. [Salon] [Time] However, King’s own response was also instructive.
“Following his controversial remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Monday, Iowa’s Steve King defended his comments Tuesday, saying “somebody needs to stand up for the contributions that have been made by Western civilization.” [DesMReg]
Now having put his foot in it, this is the longer version of his “explanation:”
“Rep. Steve King attempted to clarify the controversial comments he made Monday afternoon about “white people” doing more for civilization than any other “subgroup” during an interview with ABC News later that night, stating he meant “Western civilization,” not “white people.”
“What I really said was ‘Western civilization,’ and when you describe Western civilization that can mean much of Western civilization happens to be Caucasians. But we should not apologize for our culture or our civilization,” said King.
“The contributions that were made by Western civilization itself, and by Americans, by Americans of all races stand far above the rest of the world. The Western civilization and the American civilization are a superior culture.” [Variety]
For a non-apology apology this is classic. Nor does this take the White Supremacy out of the mix simply by generalizing beyond “white people.”
We could lecture Representative King from now until the end of time about the scientific advances of the Egyptians, the mathematical contributions of the Hindus and Arabs, the 75,000 year history of art in Africa, the preservation of Aristotle’s work by Muslim scholars…. We could but it might be a waste of time.
He still doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with a Confederate States of America flag on his desk, or his bill to keep Harriet Tubman off our currency, or with comparing Mexican immigrants with livestock, or the college bound children of immigrants with pot smugglers, or opining that we shouldn’t have to provide translators…
This district has elected him to Congress six times now. In this district with 121,925 active registered Democrats, 191,308 active registered Republicans, and another 162,432 registered non-partisan voters [IAsos pdf] King must be saying something someone likes? It’s not too much of a stretch to say that King’s message aligns with the demographics – of a total population of 758,690 an estimated 708,907 are white; only 9,489 are African American; 14,535 are Asian, and Native Americans count for 4,249 of the total. Hispanics make up 49,204 of the total. [Census] King’s district is 93.44% white. Why would he feel the need to appreciate the meaning of the battle flag? The importance of Harriet Tubman’s contributions? The Chinese inventors of paper?
King’s not too far removed from another source of national embarrassment, former coach Lou Holtz:
Speaking at a luncheon the Republican National Coalition for Life hosted during the RNC to honor Phyllis Schlafly, Holtz said the high number of immigrants coming to the U.S. constitutes an “invasion.” And he said new immigrants need to assimilate better. Holtz added that his grandparents learned English after immigrating to the U.S. from Ukraine, and insisted his family learn it as well. New immigrants to this country, he continued, need to learn and speak English and “become us.”
“I don’t want to become you,” he continued. “I don’t want to speak your language, I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!” [TDB]
There’s nothing terribly new about this terrible expression of negative sentiments. It’s factually inaccurate, sociologically inaccurate, and patently bigoted. The most significant portion comes at the end, “I don’t want to become you…”
We might translate this in a number of ways, but the first coming to mind is “I don’t want the white dominant culture in this country to become contaminated with foreign language, foreign holidays, and foreign entertainment.” If true, then Holtz may want to stop using terms that very possibly started as Irish street slang in NYC — “stiff,” “Gee Whiz,” “ballyhoo,,” “swank,” or “snooty.” [IC.com] Nor can he speak of a “glitch,” “chutzpah,” “kibitzing,” or even a “tush,” without speaking Yiddish. [List]
Holtz and his ilk, do not, and possibly will not, comprehend that the language they are speaking with such pride is, itself, a mixture of appropriated verbiage from “abandon” (French) to “moccasin” (Algonquian) to “zenith” (Arabic). Further, Holtz may be concerned that a local retailer could be mounting a Cinco de Mayo Sale Extravaganza – it’s reasonable to assume the local retailer isn’t a bit worried about cultural implications, just whether or not the sales figures are positive.
Does he object to Mardi Gras in New Orleans because it’s of early 18th century French origins in that city? St. Patrick’s Day celebrations? At Notre Dame? It appears as though Holtz isn’t so much affected by the foreign origins of American holidays as he is by the prospect of NEW American holidays being added to the already crowded calendar of when we “go retailing,” or have another excuse to fire up the barbeque grill.
King and Holtz are kindred, and uncomfortable, spirits. The new and the unfamiliar are vacuumed up into the “foreign” category to be disparaged because they are not understood. They also give every appearance of having it backwards – cultures do not die if they are dynamic and growing, they desiccate and die off if they do not.
Robert F. Kennedy summed them up:
“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.”
And, now we have an entire convention devoted to them in Cleveland, Ohio.