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‘What is it to be white,’ and other thoughts from Keith Ellison

“It does mean something to be Norwegian. It means something to be Polish or German or Spanish. But ‘white’ is simply a catchall.”

Playing off the fairly stunning fact in the latest census that a slight majority of babies of born in America are “non-white,” and that in the foreseeable future the United States will have no racial majority, an online journal of African-American culture call “The Root” decided to discuss these matters with Congressman Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the only “non-white” person ever to represent Minnesota in Congress.

The interview is awesome. For purposes of enticing you to read the whole thing, here’s a taste. What’s below is part of one of Ellison’s statements in interview:

“What is it to be white? It does mean something to be Norwegian. It means something to be Polish or German or Spanish. But ‘white’ is simply a catchall for ‘light-skinned person.’ It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s basically an invention to suit the slaveocracy in America during [the] antebellum [period], and it still works today because of that legacy of Jim Crow … So yes, the idea of whiteness might decline in terms of its meaning as well.

And in my district, for example, it’s difficult even to just say ‘black’ people. We have the highest percentage of Somalis in the whole country. We’re either first or second in the number of Liberians.. The reality is, when you say ‘black’ people, who are you talking about? The Somalis? The Liberians?

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And now, in Minnesota, we’ve started talking in terms of ‘traditional African Americans,’ and what we mean is, those people whose ancestors were brought from West Africa and made to work for free for a few centuries in the South, and then their families immigrated to the North — or didn’t.

One of the things that will decline over time is the demand that the society or the government bring forth a particularized racial remedy based on a history of deprivation. That will be even more difficult to do in the future.

Now, I’m not saying that I advocate that. Like I told you, I believe in affirmative action. But I believe it will become more difficult. That’s why it will become more important to propose economic solutions that will benefit a broad cross section of American working- and middle-class people and the poor, but to make sure in the implementation that these benefits are shared.”