The first time I heard the racial trope “go back to where you came from,” I was getting off of a school bus in a White section of town in Brooklyn, N.Y. Little did I know then I’d hear those words from kindergarten through 12th grade, and the N-word was usually coming at the end of the phrase than the beginning.
By my senior year in high school, very few White students and their parents hurled those words at us Black kids who were in the school’s new college-bound program. And, many of our White teachers, school administrators, and staff employees didn’t have to, because it was not what they said to us, but rather their treatment of us.
The treatment of “otherness” I experienced from my years of being bussed I learned had less to do with the people targeted, like myself, and everything to do with the group in power. I learned that their perceptions of birthright, citizenship, ownership, and racial entitlement were bolstered by laws and institutions keeping their belief system in place.
It is the belief, at least in my generation and older, that it takes a long time for attitudes like that to change, if they change at all, because changing those people, their systems and laws can take more than one lifetime.
However, not with the four Democratic congresswomen, fondly called “The Squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
When The Squad called out the president and his administration for the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants detained in cages, and the deplorable and squalid conditions they are forced to live under, President Donald Trump, in his inimitable style of ad hominem tweets, tweeted the following rather than address the crisis head-on: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came…These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
Trump’s statement illustrates how perceptions of birthright, citizenship, ownership, and racial entitlement have upped the volume of xenophobia and racism these days. Many more people feel emboldened to call the cops on Blacks, to tell perceived foreigners to leave this country, and to concoct birther conspiracies of American born children of immigrant parentage, like presidential hopeful U.S. Senator Kamala Harris from California, and former President Barack Obama.
While many Americans are shocked that more than 90,000 people liked Trump’s tweet, and many of his fellow Republicans stand behind him, Congresswoman Presley clapped back at Trump, stating, “This is what racism looks like.” And, she’s right.
Trump espouses a racist nostalgia of his childhood during the 1950’s-1960’s Jim Crow era, which to him was when America was great. Most see how racist the country was back then. However, do we see it now?
I realize, however, I am not alone in my telling of being outside of my perceived racially confined area. A Red Sox fan recently posted in the New York Times comments section the following: “As a young person of color in Boston, I would hear “go back to Roxbury where you belong.” This while I, an American-born citizen, ventured out of the public housing projects to the downtown area or to Fenway Park.”
The volume and the degree to which everyday White American citizens have called 911 on Blacks for sitting at Starbucks, barbecuing in a public park, playing golf too leisurely, or napping in a school’s college lounge, to name a few, not only speaks of Trump’s vile acts as aberrant to secure his perceptions of birthright, citizenship, racial entitlement, and ownership of this country, but it speaks of and to other ordinary White Americans, too.
While the American public have heard, many times, Trump utter his the now-familiar refrain “I am the least racist person you have ever met” when it comes to defending his racist behavior, similar refrains are spoken by ordinary White people.
When the American Colonization Society failed to send all freed Blacks and slaves “back to Africa,” the dominance and societal backing of the White gaze allowed for the “othering” and policing of non-Whites. While it began with the slave codes, which did not permit Blacks to assemble without the presence of a White person, it didn’t end there. The White gaze morphed into various permutations of policing over history: KKK, segregation, White citizen councils, and White privilege, to name a few. And, each of these permutations makes clear that a White person’s discomfort, unease or suspicion of the “other” trumps a non-White person’s civil rights.
President Trump’s proclivity for racist remarks comes as no surprise. His comment stating a preference for immigrants coming from a Scandinavian country like Norway than from Africa and Haiti, which he depicts countries as nations with nothing to offer the U.S, is based solely on his xenophobic racism.
The Squad has a lot to offer this country. They are the hope of what democracy should look like. And, for the record: all of them are U. S. citizens, three born in the states, and one, Omar, became a naturalized citizen in 2000.
Rev. Irene Monroe is an African American lesbian feminist public theologian, sought-after speaker, and preacher.