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Gangs in the USA

"A Chronic Case of Know-Nothing Amnesia," up today at Lapham's:

While MS-13 has taken center stage in our national discourse, the criminal groups of yore have become legend, cult figures, thrilling antiheroes. A gang is nothing if not fundamentally American; consider the outlaws of the West, the pioneers (those decimating forces), the bands of stagecoach robbers, the mob, all deeply embedded in American consciousness. We now glorify yesterday’s outlaw cultures—see Gangs of New YorkDeadwood—while continuing to vilify the newest outlaws and insist that, if not barred from entering our country, they will be our nation’s downfall. Race and who is considered a minority outsider have something to do with it. The Italian and Irish Americans who were once kept out of country clubs and barred from entering the country in too large numbers are no longer ill-considered minorities in the U.S. but, rather, part of the white majority. The cycle of excluding, marginalizing, and vilifying the newest groups of young immigrants continues with a retrograde abandon and scorn. We move predictably on to other targets of darker skin.

As much as “bad immigrants” are endlessly covered in the press, their eventual and invisibly slow conscription into the war against outsiders is a pervasive, if hardly remarked upon, phenomenon. Once the slandered immigrants of yesterday have been brought into the folds of today’s white majority, society turns them into heroes and finds new bad guys to take their place. For those of us from white immigrant or “model minority” backgrounds, it’s easy to succumb to historic amnesia, forgetting that we, too, were once the maligned newcomer.

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