You never forget your first time. I must have only been in the 2nd grade when it happened to me — I was playing in the driveway of my North Carolina home when an older white kid ruined the otherwise peaceful moment with a message to “go back to your country.” Much like my dad’s interest in my life, it was over as soon as it began, as the kid raced down the street on his bike alerting residents of the threatening presence of a seven-year-old. OK Paul Revere.
There’s no way he knew my exact ethnic background or that my parents were the ones who emigrated from Pakistan, not me, but none of that mattered. He may have only been regurgitating the views of the adults around him, but his claim stemmed from an analysis of my appearance and the belief that non-white Americans have somewhere to return to even when we’re born here.
For immigrants and their children, stories like these are the first of many throughout their lives, and Trump’s recent tweets are just another page in the book.
At 24, I thought such rhetoric would come with nothing more than a bored eye roll as I continue to scroll through Twitter, but now I’m spending the time at work where I’d typically do nothing thinking about the issue. When I first read Trump’s tweets calling for four congresswomen of color to “go back” to the “crime infested” places from which they came, I was stunned. These women are fighting for the political interests of marginalized Americans and the President is suggesting they have no business here doing so. The words are painful every time you encounter them. To me, the spirit evoked by this language is the same used time and time again to reject the humanity of People of Color, subverting them to a lesser status.
White people telling People of Color to return to their countries is racist. Full stop. The expression is divisive and seeks to punish non-white Americans for challenging a status quo that doesn’t work for everyone living under it. To even think such a statement could be race neutral is careless, but what makes a literal child on a bike and a figurative child in the White House tell someone to “go back”?
When a white person believes they have the social dominance to push someone out from a space, it is literally a case of white supremacy at play.
You won’t see Trump hurling the same warning to white members of Congress because implicit in his argument is a belief that white people are the sole owners of this country. To be clear, white supremacy has permeated the U.S. in many ways. White supremacy is a history of chattel slavery, colonial rule, and “civilizing” missions. White supremacy is promoting state, police, and military violence at the expense of Black and Brown bodies. White supremacy is systemically decimating communities in one generation and blaming them for running “shitholes” in the next. White supremacy is me getting promoted earlier than you at a job I don’t even like, but you thinking you’re more competent than me for no apparent reason (yeah, I said it). Last but not least, white supremacy is being delusional enough to tell someone to leave a land your ancestors themselves were once immigrants to.
(Featured Image: Painting of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 by Junius Brutus Stearns)