The not-so-subtle racism of Rep. Steve King

Photo by Casey Gomez

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

Those aren’t the words of a blustering guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars podcast or an online commenter masked by his Reddit account. They’re the words of sitting United States congressman Steve King. In two short sentences, King not only demonstrated his profound level of bigotry but also reminded Americans that fifty years after the passage of a set of civil rights acts and the deaths of countless men and women killed in the fight for racial equality, we have not yet moved past open racism, not even in our nation’s legislature.

How did we get to this point? Any congressional candidate who has a robust section of his Wikipedia page entitled “Racist comments, controversies and far-right politics” shouldn’t be in a position to declare victory on election night. Yet King won his ninth term in Congress last November, defeating Democrat J.D. Scholten by a little over three percentage points. But each and every one of King’s previous comments was swept under the rug without real consequences. He claimed that terrorists would “dance in the street” if Barack Obama, their “savior”, was elected president. He described racial profiling as “an important component of legitimate law enforcement.” He claimed that white men were the most productive subgroup in human history and then said he meant not to refer to white people but to “Western civilization”, a convenient dog-whistle. 

King’s racism has gotten clearer and louder as the years have gone on. “[Dutch political candidate Geert] Wilders understands that demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies,” he said in a 2017 tweet, which was then liked by none other than former KKK leader David Duke. And prior to his idiotic, frankly flimsy, defense of white nationalism, this was the comment that stung me the most.

I’m the son of Indian immigrants. I was born in the United States and I’ve lived my entire life here. As difficult as people like King try to make it, I love this country. What about Steve King’s “demographics” makes him any worthier a parent of good American children than my mother or father? And is this civilization he’d like to restore made entirely of Mayflower passengers and Native Americans? The beauty of the United States, when it’s not in one of its nasty bouts of nativism, is that no one who wants to make a life for himself in this country and play by the rules is “someone else’s baby.” 

Who knows why Republican leadership finally decided to act on King’s blatant racism by stripping him of his committee assignments. Maybe overtly defending white nationalism instead of making heavy allusions to it was a bridge too far. Maybe in the wake of their drubbing in the 2018 midterms, the party realizes that aligning with racists is not the way to go. 

At any rate, I’m not angry about Steve King’s comments. I’m glad he made them, because they show everyone, once and for all, what’s on his mind. King claims that “[white supremacy] never shows up in my head [so] I don’t know how it could possibly come out of my mouth.” After years of consorting with white supremacists, attending their conferences, praising their virtues and supporting their candidacies, I find that story hard to believe. 

“Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” If King’s conclusion after years of education is that white human beings are inherently superior, then I, too, wonder why King sat in those classes. He’s missed the messages of tolerance and diversity that are fundamental to the American experience. 

King might be the only congressman stupid enough to openly defend the sullied name of white nationalism and white supremacism, but chances are good that he isn’t the only one who feels that way. We should treat congressmen who defend King — like his colleague Louie Gohmert — with the same withering stares and political consequences he’s earned.