A few weeks ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center outed Roan Garcia-Quintana, a co-chair for Nikki Haley’s re-election campaign, for being a member of the Council of Concerned Citizens, a white supremacist group. In the days that followed, the governor’s camp defended Garcia-Quintana, but he ultimately resigned from the Haley team.

The CofCC is clear in its desire to keep America, well, European. The SPLC interprets this as being about white supremacy, and many seemed confused by the entire affair. After all, how could a Cuban-American who supported an Indian-American governor who appointed an African American to the Senate be a racist? The answer to that question revolves around a dirty secret that the GOP has suppressed for years: class is more important than race to certain people.

The concept of “race” is one of the most convoluted, misunderstood, and poisonous ideas dropped into the minds of humanity. Our current understanding of it retains the permanent stain of “scientific racism,” an effort dating back to the Enlightenment that was aimed at establishing scientific reasons why Caucasians — primarily Europeans — belonged at the top of the human food chain.

Garcia-Quintana is correct to assert that he is a Caucasian, but this is where confusion comes into play. After all, most Americans aren’t accustomed to thinking of Hispanics as Caucasians, even though every demographic survey we fill out delineates between “white” and “non-white” Hispanics. Not everyone bothers to learn that some Spanish settlers mixed with Native Americans, all of whom descended from an early Asian tribe, while others in the New World didn’t. Oddly, Garcia-Quintana is a product of the very thing he fears most: the invasion of one culture by a new one. This is the modern face of racism. It is not the open and virulent racism of the past but a subtler form in which racists are scared of losing their grip on America’s cultural hegemony.

Racism, at its core, is nothing more than a simple tactic of divide and conquer played out on the larger battlefield of class war. It is so insidious and ancient a tactic, in fact, that its strongest adherents remain oblivious to the manner in which they are often used by a small and privileged elite to advance causes which are not their own. It is such an ingrained part of our history and culture that we are almost completely blind to its actual purpose – namely, a method of controlling a larger population who share more in common than the minority of the population who rule the land. The simple definition of “us” and “them” is a tool by which the privileged classes of a society are able to deflect the angst and hatred of their people’s not-so-fortunate sons onto someone other than themselves.

In the early days of the American colonies, the British ruling class sent poorer colonists westward to endure most of the resistance from the native population. Later, the descendents of those same upper-class British established the slave trade in North America. When it became apparent that white servants and black slaves were capable of overlooking their “differences” and working together (often escaping from their masters in mixed groups), the ruling class established laws against white and black fraternization. This was little more than racism codified into law to protect the interests of the elite. These same interests led to the American descendents of those colonists establishing Jim Crow laws. Those laws served not only to disenfranchise African Americans, but gave poor white people some measure of comfort that they were, if not rich, at least part of the system – even if, in truth, they had little more political power than their black neighbors.

Today, these same tactics are used against “immigrants” and “foreigners” in an attempt to protect a largely nostalgic view of America as the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant country of our forefathers. Politicians, largely conservative but certainly containing some moderates and liberals, use xenophobia to maintain their tenuous grasp on power, both political and economic. These people are free then to use “ethnic” figures, such as Garcia-Quintana, Haley, and Sen. Tim Scott, as the vanguard of their new, non-racist policies, which are nothing more than the old policies now supported by assimilated people of color.

Knowing this does not simply wash away the sins of the past committed in the name of colonization and progress. To suggest that would be tantamount to the conservative suggestion that using affirmative action to right the wrongs of the past is itself wrong. It isn’t, but I suggest you look elsewhere for elucidation on that matter. The effects of racism still haunt us, even if those effects were, to borrow Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson’s words, “ginned up” by a ruling elite set to keep us fighting amongst ourselves.