When you listen to the decidedly racist rants of Donald Trump – and in the recent past of many Republicans – one wonders where America has come to? Past has a trick called nostalgia by which it can make the worst of crimes seem like “Good ole days”! America’s past is something like that. The last three centuries have not been just about the making of the America but more importantly of humanizing of it!
In October 1764, Benjamin Franklin lost the elections to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly because of his abusive and controversial comments about immigrants. Franklin was a Anglophile who wanted the British customs, language and culture to be the bedrock of US and not that from other parts of Europe. In one essay titled “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc” (1751) Benjamin Franklin wrote this about the Germans:
“…why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their languages and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?” [Source: van Doren, Carl (1991). Benjamin Franklin. Penguin Books. pp. 216–8. ISBN 978-0140152609.]
Once he realized the political damage that his “plain talk” which bared his own prejudices could do – it eliminated support amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch! – he retracted this statement from the future editions of the essay!
But this wasn’t the only racist rant that Franklin had in his essay. That he was an out and out racist is clear from this paragraph 24 of his essay where he pushes for the control by ‘purely white people’ and how they will bring “light to the eyes”!!
24. Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.
When one looks at the mentality of Benjamin Franklin one is struck by the remarkable level of prejudicial mind this man carried. What these minds – the so-called Founding Fathers – perpetuated in the US has taken 3 centuries to humanize!
The fighting of racism and its inhuman ways has taken a lot of toll. And it continues to take toll even today. Many innocent and many ignorant people – minorities mostly – die because of an ingrained racism in the country’s psyche. A psyche which was cultivated by the promise of Pure White ownership and supremacy.
The black, the tawny and the ones with swarthy complexion were seen merely as making this planet dirty! Something that only the purely white could rectify.
It was against the ingrained racism of the founding fathers of this nation, that the humanity of its citizens in the years later had to rebel against. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t simple. But a lot of ground was covered. Specifically in the last 8 years with a “Black and Tawny” (in Ben Franklin’s words) figure in the White House.
No wonder that the answer to that assault on shameful racism of this nation’s past (and present) was to bring back someone in Franklin’s own racist skin – Donald Trump!
But what an irony that Benjamin Franklin has been brought back via the son of German immigrants who have always been afraid to reveal their German identity!!
In the middle of the night, Friedrich Trump left his house in Kallstadt, a small town spotted with vineyards and a Lutheran church, for a northern port city that served as Germany’s gateway to America.
A few days later, on Oct. 7, 1885, Friedrich, then 16 years old, bought a steerage-class ticket on the S.S. Eider, the start of an adventurous life as a barber, restaurateur, saloonkeeper, hotelier, entrepreneur, gold rush prospector, shipwreck survivor and New York real estate investor.
It was an immigrant tale that would make any family proud. But for decades, the Trumps almost never talked about it.
Friedrich Trump’s son, Fred, came of age between the World Wars, a period marked by resentment of and even discrimination toward Germans in the United States.
The wheel had turned a full circle. One of the Immigrants who were hated is now leading the chargefor hatred of all others!
And, this is the story of America’s problem with both Racism and Immigration. Two sides of the same coin seeped in prejudice and hatred.
However, what is of paramount importance in today’s times is that ironical or otherwise, Donald Trump will set the clock of America’s moral compass back to Franklin’s times. After decades of struggle that has taken blood and pain from those of color – Franklin’s tawny and black – it will all come to a nought! Despite the progress made and the laws enshrined, we – the Americans – will again be marching to the horizon of prejudice, racism and hatred. Isn’t it worth pausing to think about?