Latino and Asian Racial Formations
at the Frontiers of U.S. Nationalism
Nicholas De Genova
Next to the case of the black race within our bosom, that of the red on our borders is the problem
most baffling to the policy of our country.
—JAMES MADISON TO THOMAS L. MCKENNEY (1826)
As the color of our skin began to confuse the color line drawn tyrannically between blacks and
whites in the United States—segregated in the respective corners of their misplaced conﬁdence
about their races—we Asians and Latinos, Arabs, Turks, Africans, Iranians, Armenians, Kurds,
Afghans and South Asians were instantly brought together beyond the uncommon denominator
of our origin and towards the solidarity of our emerging purpose.
—HAMID DABASHI, ‘‘THE MOMENT OF MYTH’’ (2003)
There is a key to unlocking the hegemonic polarity of whiteness and Blackness
that has so enduringly distinguished the racial order of the United States,
especially as that tyrannically drawn binary has deﬁned the decisive parameters
for the racializations of ‘‘Latinos’’ and ‘‘Asians’’ and all other groups historically
racialized as neither white nor Black. That key is to be found in the history of
the U.S. nation-state’s subjugation of Native Americans.
From his vantage point as a ‘‘founding father’’ and the fourth president of the
United States, James Madison’s formulation about the vexations presented for
‘‘the policy of our country’’ by the ‘‘black’’ and ‘‘red’’ races recalls to mind, not
simply that white supremacy supplied the bedrock of U.S. nation-state forma-
tion, but moreover that the foundations of racism were devised not singularly
around the enslavement of Africans and the denigration of racial Blackness but
also by the genocidal dispossession and colonization of American Indians.
Madison’s elegant turn of phrase invites us to revisit the precise meaning of his
implicit but self-consciously white U.S. nationalism and its two-sided formu-
lation of the racial ‘‘problem’’ as one that was posed with respect to both
its ‘‘bosom’’ and its ‘‘borders,’’ in relation to both an ‘‘inside’’ and an ‘‘out-
side.’’ This originary triangulation of whiteness with the subordination of both