Congressman Steve King Asks What Nonwhite “Subgroups” Have Contributed To Civilization

While we were all distracted by Melania Trump’s eyebrow-raising speech at the Republican National Convention, it turns out some troubling discourse was going down in other quarters of the Republican Party. On MSNBC’s Hardball Monday night, Representative Steve King of Iowa asked what nonwhite “subgroups” of people ever contributed to “civilization.”

Taking umbrage with Esquire writer Charles Pierce’s description of the RNC crowd as “unhappy, dissatisfied white people,” King said to his fellow panel participant: “This whole ‘white people’ business gets a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where have these contributions been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” King then clarified that by “civilization” he meant “Western civilization … and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world.”

First of all, “subgroup”? Really? If you’re going to go there, you might as well have the courage of your convictions and commit to saying “subhuman.” He can’t mean “subgroup” in terms of population numbers, because most of the world’s population lives in non-Western countries. Plus, there are a lot of us living in the West as well — even in Iowa, Representative King. We’re in your state as you speak.

His remark is particularly ill-judged given that Melania Trump is alleged to have stolen large parts of her RNC speech from First Lady Michelle Obama, who is a) black, b) married to a black American president, and c) has been very sociopolitically active for her own causes, as well as on behalf of her husband. So for starters, nonwhite people have provided material for Republican speeches, and that’s just from one day ago.

Also, remember slavery? Those several hundred years when black people built America and white people sat back (in between literally treating them as property) before taking credit for the work of the oppressed? Since King displays a Confederate flag on his desk despite living in Iowa, you’d think he’d know about that. He may not know, however, about the Chinese work crews who built America’s railroads, to whom he’s indebted if he’s ever taken public transport. Going back even further, the broadly pro-gun King is evidently unaware that gunpowder was invented in China in the ninth century, while his statements on Muslim refugees and Sharia law also suggest he doesn’t know that coffee, algebra, lifesaving surgical techniques, and a number of inventions that are now integral parts of modern Western life originated in the medieval Arab world. Oh, and by the way, Christianity was founded in the Middle East.

It’s easy to dismiss these as the ramblings of a racist — because they are — but such statements can still be dangerous. These narrow definitions of “civilization” portray anyone who doesn’t fit into them as less than human, which gives the civilized license to take humanity out of the equation. That’s how people get held without trial in offshore prisons and cops shoot children without facing even the lightest consequences.

But Representative King and I do have one thing in common: I’m tired of this whole “white people” business, too.