Steve King didn’t just come out as Latino — what he said was far more insulting

Earlier today, apparently trolling Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Steve King appeared to come out as Latino:

That’s right: Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King, notorious for saying some of the most horrifically offensive things about Latinos out of all of America’s current elected officials, claimed that he is “as Hispanic and Latino” as one of our government’s most high-profile Latinos.

Steve_King,_Official_Portrait,_111th_Congress

Steve King

But while the quick assumption was that King had, idiotically, claimed that he, too, has Latino heritage, I’m pretty sure he was saying the opposite: he was saying that Castro, by dint of his American citizenship, isn’t Latino at all.

This is a budding meme that anti-immigration hawks have started to circulate to a broader audience: that “Latinos” in America are, by definition, undocumented immigrants, and that all citizens are unhyphenated Americans who have dropped all claim to cultural or ethnic identity. Put another way, once you’re an American, you can’t identify as anything else.

And if that’s your baseline assumption, it makes perfect sense for you to whitesplain to those who embrace their ethnic identities that those identities don’t actually exist for them, as we saw earlier this week when a conservative commentator told a Latina Republican strategist — to her face — that “I don’t think you’re a Latino. I think you’re an American, just like me:”

[iframe src=”https://mediamatters.org/embed/204384″ width=”480″ height=”360″]

Making a concerted effort to blur the lines between nationality, culture and heritage in this way is far more offensive than simple trolling on Twitter. However, if they aren’t called out for it, immigration hardliners are going to turn this budding meme into a talking point. They’re going to use this blurred distinction to assert that they aren’t racists — they don’t hate Latinos, they just want them to go back to their own country. This will make sense to them — and they’ll argue that it should make sense to us, too — because there aren’t any Latinos here legally. To them, all of the legal ex-Latinos should be calling themselves Americans, perhaps to make it easier to identify who we should deport.

Keep in mind that Steve King has no problem telling people with whom he shares no heritage what their heritage should mean to them. It wasn’t too long ago that he goysplained to me, and other Jews like me, that we weren’t real Jews if we didn’t think that everything the Israeli government does is good and just and righteous.

These insulting constraints on who people are and what they should believe don’t necessarily stem from a lack of understanding of identity. On the contrary, they stem from a completely different conception and willful negation of identity.

No matter how tightly you wrap that message up in (white) nationalism, it’s always going to be transparently racist.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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