Sunday of last week President Donald Trump sent out a tweet.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Much of the nation reacted in horror, and rightfully so. Assistant speaker of the House, Ben Ray Luján called them “Racist tweet(s) from a racist president.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of trying to make “America white again,” adding, “Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.” The House even passed a resolution condemning the tweets. People across the country were shocked by the words. But, they shouldn’t have been.
Attacking people of color, especially those that challenge the status quo, as “Unamerican” or telling them to “go back to where they came from” is old hat. It’s as American as apple pie. The claim that immigrants or perceived outsiders in government don’t hold American values or have American interests at heart is a cover. The feelings behind it are of the same identity politics the right claims to hate.
There is a massive double standard for citizenship, nationality, and patriotism; one standard for people who look like me, and one standard for all those who don’t. My cultural status here is guaranteed despite my having done nothing to earn it, while those that have fought the hardest for their right to be here are questioned the most.
I was born here, a citizen. Both my parents were born here, citizens. I am white. With that I get all the benefits of unquestionable “Americanness;” free speech, a presumed right to exist within US borders, the right to a jury of my peers, and the right to drive through any state in the union without fear of detainment or deportation.
I get all this despite the fact that I dropped out of high school my senior year, despite my misdemeanor convictions, including vandalizing a police car, and despite my open vitriolic criticisms of this country.
Not once in my life have I been told to go back from where I came from.
Ilhan Omar, was a refugee. Her family fled civil war in Somalia when she was eight. She has lived here since she was 12 years old. Three years later she completed the long process of naturalization and became an American Citizen. She excelled in school and took an interest in politics as young as 14 years old. In 2016 she was elected to congress, the first Somali-American Muslim to ever do so.
I do not often speak of the “American Dream” as a concept to be taken seriously. I don’t believe that it is alive in our country today, or that it ever was. Having said that, what could more perfectly exemplify it than Omar’s life story?
“Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The daughter of poor immigrants comes to the shining city on the hill, works hard, respects the laws, and respects our democracy enough to run for a seat in Congress.
“Why don’t they go back from which they came,” says the pompous, spray-tanned son of a millionaire.
This is not just a suggestion made to immigrants to this country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley were born here. They have known only this country as their home. The “broken” places from which they came are Queens, Detroit, and Boston. And there they are, working to fix them, working to make life better for the people of their district.
“Certain people hate our country…IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE YOU CAN LEAVE!” reads the official presidential response.
Go back to Africa, said Lincoln to the newly emancipated slaves. Go back to China said Chester A. Arthur to the Asian migrants of the late 19th century. Go back to Russia, said McCarthy to the communists. Go back to Mexico, said Nixon to Céasar Chávez and the UFW. It is when these groups speak out against injustice in America that they are asked to leave.
Ibram X. Kendi wrote, “I can dine on American soil until I demand a role in remaking the menu that is killing me, like those four progressive congresswomen of color.” And he is right. The issue Trump takes with “The Squad” of progressive democrats is not exclusively the color of their skin. Nobody has ever questioned Ben Carson’s Americanness. It is their challenging of the status quo that ruffles the feathers of America’s elites. Skin color and immigration status are tools used to delegitimize valid critiques of an unjust system. And what is more American than speaking out against injustice?
Like Omar’s defense of Palestine, or Ocasio-Cortez’s defense of the migrants locked in cages, we are a nation founded on resistance, on bucking oppression, on protest, and on revolution. That is the America I believe in. Fred Hampton, Cesar Chavez, Gloria Steinem, the Stonewall Rioters, Omar, Pressley, Tlaib, and AOC. If they can’t be Americans, then why can I? And why would I want to be?