Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
While speaking on a talk show about the 2016 American presidential candidacy, celebrity satirist Jon Stewart briefly commented on the rise of Nativism in many countries today. Nativism he defined as a self-protective attitude among the the original population of a country to increasing immigration and the rise of multiculturalism that has come along with globalization.
There are two things that strike me about this. First is that it's not a 21st century phenomenon. Second is, while I get some of the reasons for it becoming big again, it still comes across as a degree of naïveté or denial. And three are the factors behind its current rise.
A Defining Trait
Nativism seems to arise any time a local population has been invaded or when new blood from other foreign groups starts to become intermingled in the blood lines. When a group of people settle a land for their own, they form traditions and create a shared history that all their families can look to as their identity, strength, and self worth. A new group of people who do not know that shared history and took no part in the formation of its values forces an adjustment in that society as the groups merge. Something new is created that is usually an amalgamation of elements from both. Depending on how threatened the original community members feel, this can create a momentum of push back, trying to hold onto what made them who they were to begin with or to specific social positions.
Examples of this is when the Romans took over lands in Britain during the 1st century CE. Identity as what was clearly Roman and what was not became important for holding to their native traditions. More so when they rebelled and fought against them, destroying everything that was Roman in their path.
Likewise, many Romans began resenting the Germanic and Gaulic tribes serving in their frontier armies because they were not true Romans and yet gaining prestige. Though Legions were never beyond adapting local tactics into their armies, in early Rome, they were always primarily comprised of Romans: men born and raised in Rome or at the least in the Italian peninsula. It's easy to imagine that they probably saw themselves becoming just as mongrolized as the multicultural horde led by Hannibal that almost sacked Rome itself centuries before.
In today's world, it's more about merging societies than about invading armies. Europe is seeing a surge of far-right groups and politicians arise over the influx of Muslims, Eastern Europeans, and Asians into their countries. Most of these people are seeking better opportunities that they don't otherwise have in their native lands. An increasing number are people fleeing civil wars that are making life in their homeland near impossible. Despite these non-malevolent motivations though, they still bring over lifestyles, ideas, and blood that were not part of the original portrait.
And some people in these societies, already changed from exposure via technology and earlier political changes and migrations, feel that they are losing themselves. They are afraid that their homeland is turning into an imitation of the migrants homeland, or that it's becoming something entirely new and unrecognizable, which can be frightening. And terrorism has only heightened this. It's all the more disturbing considering Europe's reputation as being more open than most of the world.
Nativism isn't aggressive either. Even those who may hold no prejudice or grudge against their neighbor from Pakistan or India and would never actively support a far right politician may feel a need to hold to some sense of what it means to be them.
Silver Lining in the Dark Continent
Nativism in Africa stems from the reassertion of self-identity outside that of a European colony. Starting in the post-war years after World War Two, African nations no longer saw their rulers as invincible or superior and begun to demand independence. Today it comes across as a mix of racial, national, and religious pride that at times work together. At other times, it causes war with each other.
Simply put, it's a transition made difficult and bloody due to colonial powers trying to hold their old territories, redrawn lines that the natives do not recognize because they created them, or simple human greed and ambition. However, there is still a sense underneath it all of who and what they are that is readily apparent whenever any American or European is even suspected of declaring their superiority. American Nativism is even more complex because in many ways it represents the best hopes of multiculturalism and the worst fears of Nativism.
America is a Nativists' worst nightmare in that the original inhabitants were indeed driven from their lands. Their populations reduced (when was the last time you saw Native American couple in a mall?), and their practices and history becoming a footnote in the cultural mindset. Though the tribes absolutely had a sense of who they were and fought to keep it, only two chiefs in the entire history of the conflict with the whites saw a sense of identity that transcended tribal rivalries to become about their race and culture as a whole: Pontiac and Tecumseh.
In South America, where there were entire empires, the results were worse. Not only were they taken over by Spanish conquistadors, but almost the whole of the original population died out thanks to small pox and war brought over by the Europeans. Most of the population is now mixed with only a handful being directly descended from the original natives.
Outside of the Native American experience though, North American identity was never a clear cut either. The majority of the original settlers that came over in 16th century were from England and Western Europe. They were largely protestant. The 19th century saw an influx of Catholic populations from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. This created was a Nativist vortex from multiple sides, all conflicting with each other and trying to get ahead in a new land hostile to all of them. At least in Europe, it was more black and white. In this sense, America is a Nativist worst nightmare and more. Obviously, prejudice arose from this storm, its most violent form being that of the Klu Klux Klan, who besides being against Blacks, also hated Catholics and people not of Anglo-Saxon descent.
America also shows that Nativism is wrong and out of place. In the middle of these conflicts, a merging of values and ethics did occur that Europe experienced later in the 20th century. Particularity in the 19th century, American industry and business became strong because of the practices and values brought over by immigrants who did somehow manage to get ahead. Later in the 20th century, the idea that different groups could intermingle and not become weaker or be morally wrong emerged when oppressed groups, along with White supporters, rose up for a nation that was strong and not separate. This struggle continues today, but in comparison to its past, it's in a far better place.
American Nativism today is more about what is believed to be the original ideals of the nation than it is about geographical landmarks. Racial background and family history matter less than what it is you believe how people and American society should operate, and in a way that might be more contentious than the former.
History's Bastard Child
Nativism is not a product of any one group or movement, but the progression of history. Many Nativists would like things to go back to the way they were, with landmarks marking you over there and us over here. That view is more naive than arrogant. While globalism and multiculturalism are far from perfect, thanks to history, it is also inevitable. Since humans first began migrating from Africa and the South Pacific, different groups have interacted with each other. No land stays pure for long, whether that's due to an influx of people or of ideas.
The countries that try today, like Pakistan and parts of the United States, find themselves in internal turmoil because of many in their own populace who want the change. Nativism can stifle a society. New ideas that may improve the lives of others are missed out because of some are angry that they didn't come up with it first. Or contributions those groups can make are sacrificed to remain as the other. It can cause conflict when nations and people caught up in nostalgia or wishing history was different begin risking conflict with others so they can hold onto their native prestige.
I am not saying that the reasons for Nativism are wrong and not worth considering. Disrespecting your host nation or taking advantage of others ignorance of your ways or collective guilt can cause a blow back response as much as people wanting to stay in their bubble. Completely forgetting about past crimes will only lead to those same crimes being committed, and so on.
However, what Nativism does is try to turn back the clock, or at least keep its hands from turning. It is always 11:59pm for a Nativist. One way or another though, history is going to force that hand. It will drag us kicking and screaming as it has been doing and may still going forward, but it will move regardless.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.