The history of US White supremacy lingers at the center of these territories’ legal status. Nothing is more fundamental to citizenship than equal rights under the law, but for the last century, citizenship in these territories has been limited and conditional — an institutional vestige of imperialist decisions made in the past because of race and ethnicity and reinforced by politicized racism today. The federal government must offer full and complete statehood or independence to the residents of these territories. The choice of whether to accept it should be theirs, as it should have been 100 years ago.
Washington has advocated for full statehood as well and has found strong support among some Democratic lawmakers. Efforts to obtain DC statehood have stalled in the Senate, however, largely because of Republicans’ fear of losing political power, since the District’s predominantly Black population reliably swings overwhelmingly Democratic. But it’s not the only territory with limited status. Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands are all technically affiliated with the United States or part of the Union but exist as second-tier territories.
Accordingly, the US government had three options: they could maintain their White supremacy and imperial designs but would have to abandon their republican values; they could retain their White supremacy and republican values but would have to abandon their dreams of empire; or they could still expand their territorial holdings and encourage republican self-government but would have to welcome new governments run by non-White citizens as their equals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, republicanism was the easy target.