The idea of assimilation in the United States dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. At the time Benjamin Franklin and others were alarmed about the growth of the German population in Pennsylvania. In an effort to “anglicize” or “anglify” the Germans, Franklin partnered with William Smith and founded the Society for Christian Knowledge.

The term “assimilation” has been used throughout US history to describe non-white people who conform to the predefined and well-established white ethnostate. Franklin used the term to describe his fears of the “Germanization” of Pennsylvania if German-speaking immigrants didn’t assimilate into anglo society. Sounds like today’s xenophobes, doesn’t it?

In a letter to Peter Collinson, Franklin wrote: “Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation, and as Ignorance is often attended with Credulity when Knavery would mislead it, and with Suspicion when Honesty would set it right.

In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious,” Franklin continued.

While much of the xenophobic language and ideas Franklin used prior to the Revolutionary War live on today, we can’t deny that assimilation is what white power structures seek. It’s not about assimilating in a “melting pot” sort of way – which would mean an amalgamation and acceptance of myriad cultures residing in the US. Instead, for the ethnic nationalist, non-white people must accept white supremacy as it is. Further, they require non-white people to protect the ideology.

As Benjamin Franklin noted to Collinson, assimilation was crucial. Franklin advocated for breaking up German-speaking communities: “Yet I am not for refusing entirely to admit them into our Colonies: all that seems to be necessary is, to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English Schools where they are now too thick settled…”

Franklin’s letter quickly devolved into expressing fears of anglos being corrupted by Germans: “I pray God long to preserve to Great Britain the English Laws, Manners, Liberties and Religion notwithstanding the complaints so frequent in Your public papers, of the prevailing corruption and degeneracy of your People.”

Capitalism or White Power Structures?

It wasn’t just Franklin. During the era, many other so-called “founding fathers” were just as guilty of expressing racist and xenophobic ideas that still live on today. Moving from Franklin to the modern era, the rhetoric bears quite a resemblance. George W. Bush pushed assimilation hard when on tour promoting his immigration reform agenda in 2006. As did Trump in 2018.

Bush made arguments suggesting the lack of assimilation by “illegal immigrants” was “testing America’s Soul”. Again, this was not about work ethic or fitting in among US citizens despite cultural differences. It was about accepting white supremacy and assimilating to the point of protecting it under the guise of protecting capitalism – something new to many immigrants. 

Most immigrants celebrate capitalism. The United States represents nearly unfettered access to all the world’s markets. Something many countries don’t enjoy – in part, because of US policy. Cubans, for example, are typically overwhelmed by their first trip to the grocery store in the US As are many others.

But that celebration of access is often manipulated. We see it in many cases with immigrants “assimilating” into US society by going so far as to defend or even promote racist ideas in order to be more accepted. This type of assimilation is found in people like Afro Cuban Enrique Tarrio who go beyond the online banter and inevitably get involved with hate groups like the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers. This is what the ethnic-nationalist wants from non-white people.

And there are plenty who have committed themselves entirely to promoting and upholding white power structures. They support the gatekeeping of access to resources and social programs only seen in white suburbia. They’re fine with leaving large portions of the population in poverty and relegating them to the fringes of society with no chance of escape.

Be wary of anyone who uses assimilation when discussing immigration, Indigenous people, and the Black community. It’s a weapon that destroys our cultural makeup and empowers “white culture” which only serves to leave us with no culture or sense of community. Whiteness was invented for the purposes of cultural genocide in the West.

Don’t contribute to it.

The Antagonist Magazine is a project made up of journalists, activists, and writers focused on amplifying the stories of marginalized communities. The goal is to educate the public by sharing narratives focused on independent voices. Born of an online community in 2019, our platform operates independently; free of corporate influence. Please consider supporting the work of dozens of writers from various communities.

Arturo Dominguez

Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice.

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