I wish we didn’t have to talk about “the great replacement theory.” It’s stupid and racist, two terrible tastes that taste worse together. But not talking about a problem has never once solved it. And the problem is only getting worse.

This violent conspiracy originated with white people, which means it’s the responsibility of us white people to figure out how to end it.

In case you haven’t heard about “replacement theory,” it is the idea that white Americans are being deliberately replaced by non-white immigrants, usually at the behest of some shadowy group of “coastal elites.” The more mainstream believers and spreaders of this conspiracy theory blame Democrats; the politically incorrect ones in the worst reaches of the internet blame Jewish people, who have traditionally been history’s scapegoat.

On its face, “replacement theory” is ridiculous. For one thing, getting rid of white people is notoriously difficult. Ask the Indigenous folks of any country that was colonized by Europeans. Also, natural demographic change, which is the result of slow-moving socioeconomic factors, is not the same thing as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-style “replacement.”

But like most fanatical beliefs, this belief has a growing body count. Last weekend, a young white man walked into a grocery store in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo and killed 10 people, in part because he believed in replacement theory.

In 2019, a young white man walked into a Walmart in El Paso, a city in which the population is majority Hispanic, and murdered 23 random shoppers, because he was scared that Hispanic immigrants were going to outnumber white Americans.

Advertisement

In 2018, a middle-aged white man killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh because he believed that a Jewish group working to resettle refugees was bringing in “invaders.” And if political and cultural leaders keep using words that make immigration seem like something to be afraid of, something that steals from so-called “real Americans” and puts “real Americans” in danger, the list of deaths will continue to grow.

A poll done by the Associated Press found that almost half of Republican voters believed that there is “deliberate intent” to “replace” white Americans with immigrants.

The thing about fear is that it doesn’t require logic to work. I’m very familiar with fear. I have an anxiety disorder. I feel fear more often, and more intensely, about more stupid things, than mentally healthy people do. A partial, but by no means incomplete, list of things that I am afraid of are: heights, deep water, spiders, bright sunlight, the dark, thick fog, going to the doctor, not going to the doctor and chickens. (They just freak me out, OK?)

The more fear I feel, the more irrational I become. Fear is an ancient emotion, more animal than human, and it has exactly one goal: to keep you alive. But it comes at the cost of disengaging rational thinking. (This is why it’s so easy to ignore plot holes and bad dialogue in horror movies.) It can make you believe stupid stuff.

Fear is a powerful fuel. It’s one of the primary reasons that Tucker Carlson has the No. 1 cable news show. It’s one of the reasons Republicans are so good at getting people to vote for them. But fear is a fuel the way plutonium is a fuel: powerful, unstable and extremely dangerous.

When I was a kid, my parents told me the same lie that I think all parents tell their children who get bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And while on an individual level it’s certainly possible to decide not to be bothered by name-calling, once you scale up, words become far more dangerous than sticks or stones or even, to an extent, guns. Guns can only hold a limited number of bullets. Words can be repeated on and on forever.

Advertisement

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The. Word. Was. God. That’s how important words can be.

I try to use my words responsibly. I have not always succeeded. I know I have hurt people with my words before, including people I’ve cared about. I carry that guilt and those regrets with me constantly. But I do try to learn from my mistakes. This column is such a small platform that I’m not sure I should even call it a platform. It’s more like an upside-down milk crate. But I can’t imagine using my words to deliberately make people violently afraid for my own personal gain. I’d rather be perpetually broke than morally bankrupt, I guess.

As a commentator, I am supposed to commentate. But I don’t have any good words to meet this moment. I certainly don’t have solutions. But the Bible has somewhere to start: Be not afraid.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.