By Jordan Geriane
The United States education system is flawed, there is no denying it. Our founding fathers built this country on white supremacist and Christian values (or lack thereof) that empower white people and disenfranchise nonwhite people. As this nation has developed, Herrenvolk Democracy has reigned in subtle ways within our schools by erasing key parts of our history while depicting other aspects as heroic. For example, historically contingent ideals such as Manifest Destiny and immigration enforcement are seen as patriotic and honorable when they are the opposite of those things. In this two-section post, I will discuss the idea of Herrenvolk Democracy, as articulated by Cristina Beltrán, Ernesto Chaves, and Laura Gomez, in order to expand our understanding of a hierarchical racial order, white supremacy, and their connections to racist paramilitary groups along the U.S.-Mexico border. This framing helps us understand the history of Latina/o/x immigration and the Latinx community in the United States under the tyranny of white supremacy.
According to Cristina Beltrán’s introduction to Cruelty as Citizenship, Herrenvolk Democracy embodies tyrannical characteristics and “a form of democratic violence that generates violence and taught tyranny.” This suggests that throughout our country’s history white citizens have operated under Herrenvolk logics and have essentially given each other ‘permission’ to engage in and support extralegal acts of white violence against those deemed to be nonwhite. Such violence included acts of lynching, raping, defrauding, murdering, and rioting against nonwhite bodies and communities. The most sickening fact about these acts is they have been consented by the local, state, and even federal governments. These acts are scarcely ever given any consequences to those who commit them. When reading through this history, students will discover how white settlers and white citizens created ways to take it upon themselves to ‘defend’ their communities from nonwhite people. In our current K-12 history books, white settlers are written about as heroes, fighting against oppressors (nonwhite peoples) for centuries.
Our history books tell white citizens that they are the rightful owners of the land they live on even after acknowledging how white settlers drove Native peoples and Latinx people (Mexico and Puerto Rico) off what was originally their land. Beltrán discusses the historical tragedy of westward expansion, a tragedy that pushed innocent Native Americans and Latinx people away from their homes and off land that was rightfully theirs. This is where the idea of manifest destiny projects. It is the belief that white settlers were destined and justified to settle across America. In school, we were taught that this concept was a revolutionary and righteous historical conquest in most history classes. Though in reality, such conquests damaged the culture and lives of many Latinx and Native American people.
Upon pushing nonwhite peoples out of their homelands, an anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and anti-nonwhite narrative gradually built itself up in the US. Through the legal system and cultural ideals, white citizens have painted these Latinx people as incompetent, dangerous invaders. These perceptions have built racialized societal structures and systems over time, such as criminal justice, education, and healthcare. Our education system fails to teach students about them time and time again. The erasure of Latinx history in the United States is a systematic problem that we must fix so that students preserve their history and lived experiences in this country.
Given this, I argue that our education system in the United States is propagandist. The way US History is taught in our public education system is biased. Latinx, Native American, Asian, and Black experiences are deliberately ignored and twisted in ways that are harmful to everyone living in our society today. Concepts such as westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, the American Revolution, and the Louisiana Purchase are all parts of history where students are taught to adulate our founding fathers, our former presidents, and the ‘first’ Americans to colonize stolen land.
Chicano/a scholars Ernesto Chávez and Laura Gómez discuss themes Beltrán describes as part of Herrenvolk Democracy. Chávez and Gómez describe manifest destiny as central to this white vision of white democracy. Both authors examine how these ideas are essentially the same thing: They are deeply rooted in racism.
Chávez considers manifest destiny as the pursuit of western territory in the United States, and that it was “the belief that Americans had a God-given right, based on racial superiority, to expand to the Pacific Ocean.” This ideology continued to cast all nonwhite people—Indigenous, Mexican, Asian and Black people — as inferior beings. This toxic pursuit of power established a racial hierarchy that eventually embraced the acts of slavery, discrimination, and hate crimes in the coming years, radically developing into what we know now as white supremacy.
This destiny — this flawed and dangerous way of thought — ingrained a toxic and violent right to build a nation through territorial expansion and was essential to ideas for the development of white American racial superiority. Gómez articulates that Americans, Anglo-settlers and white citizens, “tend to not think of themselves as colonizers.” They tend to forget that they chose to war with Mexico and that their ‘brave pioneers’ attacked Mexico with aggression. Nonwhite people who lived on this land were seen as unwelcome invaders. There was no altruism or peace for these people, only war and pain, and all that history is seemingly nonexistent in our US history classes.
Frustratingly enough, the way such historical events are taught or muted within the US education system demeans and erases the lived experiences of Latinx immigrants and people. It highlights the wrongdoers as heroes, and the innocent as disposable. To this day, our brothers and sisters of color are continuously being erased and living in fear. Immigrants, specifically Latinx immigrants, are still targeted for simply living their lives. In my next post, I will further discuss the growth of white supremacy and how violence has skyrocketed into institutions that allows white supremacists and racism to play out under the law.