As a college instructor operating behind enemy lines, I am constantly forced to reserve my radical opinions to myself and debate politics with “objective” criticism. The arguments I make are rarely successful at persuading liberals to open their eyes, but I have provoked fascinating moments of honesty when liberals are pushed to defend their beliefs. One such conversation was with a twenty-year-old white female who stopped by my office. A white liberal professor also happened to be present. The student wanted to discuss immigration and our conversation went something like this:
STUDENT: Arghhh! I’m so frustrated. I don’t understand what Republicans are doing or
what they want. Can you help me understand?
FORREST: I will certainly try. What is bothering you?
STUDENT: Why does the Right want to keep Brown people out of this country? Are they all just a bunch of racists?
FORREST: I’m not so sure about that. From what I’ve read, many people on the Right want a moratorium on all immigration, no matter what your ancestry is or where you come from. They think we need a timeout—a twenty to thirty year freeze—that will allow this country to assimilate the immigrants who have already come here. Actually, this would be quite similar to the moratoriums that occurred in earlier periods of American history when the majority of immigrants were white.
STUDENT: But what does assimilation even mean? Am I assimilated if I wear Nike and listen to American music?
FORREST: Hmmm. Good question. Assimilation probably has a lot to do with patriotism. It means loyalty to this country before all others. The Right tends to think it’s a pretty good idea for citizens to prioritize national interests over the interests of foreign countries. Next, it probably means adopting certain values and ideas about life. You know, like who gets what and why…or what role government and religion should play in our lives. If you don’t share these American values, then conservatives probably don’t want you here.
STUDENT: Well, by what right do Americans have to keep anybody out? They came here and stole this land from the Indians and the Mexicans.
FORREST: I understand your point, but don’t you think that the Indians and Mexicans conquered people too? Just about every society in this world has been established with some form of conquest or violence.
At this point, the white liberal professor (WLP) entered the discussion.
WLP: Well, even if the Indians did conquer and kill each other, they didn't massacre entire peoples like the Europeans did.
FORREST: That may be true, but now we are talking about power, not morality. Or do you really think the Indians would not have done the same things to Europeans, and each other, if they had the power advantage that Europeans did?
WLP: Well…what about the moral crime of slavery? Explain that.
FORREST: Hmmm. This too seems to be an issue of power rather than morality. Or do you really think the Africans, who were already enslaving one another long before the slave traders arrived, would not have enslaved Europeans too, if they had the power to do so?
WLP: Well…I still think White Europeans were just evil.
FORREST: Ah. So we have finally arrived at the bottom line.
I turned to the student.
FORREST: If you learn anything from this discussion, understand that the core principle guiding everything liberalism stands for is based on one very simple idea: The White man is inherently evil and is somehow responsible for all that is terrible in this world.
At this point, both the student and white liberal professor appeared flustered and agitated. For reasons of self-preservation, I decided not to press the matter further. Had the conversation continued, I might have said:
FORREST: If you are going to morally evaluate people in history, then you have to appraise them by the relative morality of that time period. Or, alternatively, if you want to judge them by the moral standards of today, then you have to judge all peoples of that timeframe, not just Whites, by the same set of standards. Indeed, by either of these measurements, Whites actually look much better than Africans because at least they weren’t enslaving other Whites. Africans were enslaving each other, and if they were doing this, then there is little reason to believe they would not have enslaved anyone else they could force to submit to their power.
I might also have concluded the discussion with:
FORREST: Don’t buy into the myth of the noble savage. And don’t feel guilty that your ancestors did to theirs, what their ancestors would have done to yours, but were not strong enough to do. If someone tells you to feel guilty about what your ancestors did, then you should tell them to be ashamed their ancestors were so weak they could not prevent this from happening. Superior power, not inferior morality, was the cause of American slavery and the genocide of Indians.