Rep. Ilhan Omar was not the only freshman congresswoman told by the current racist president of the United States earlier this week to “go back” to the countries they came from; but, at his Klan meeting masquerading as a political rally in Greenville, North Carolina, it quickly became evident that someone informed him that his vile rhetoric was as ignorant as it was violent.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a Puerto Rican woman born and raised in the Bronx, New York City; Rashida Tlaib is a Palestinian-American Muslim woman born and raised in Detroit, Michigan; and Ayanna Pressley is a Black American woman born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised in Chicago, Illinois.
Rep. Omar—Black, Muslim, woman, and unbossed, represents everything this white supremacist nation hates. Omar was born in Somalia—a nation still under relentless U.S. airstrikes—before migrating to New York City in 1992, at the age of 9, with her family. So, though Trump still attacked Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib by name—a dedicated screed against Pressley was notably missing—he whipped his rabid base into a frenzy by othering, demonizing, and targeting Omar because he knows how best to conjure hate on command.
The alleged Commander-in-Chief of this nation stood back for 13 seconds as his racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic followers and reflections chanted “send her back” after he said Omar’s name. It was almost an incantation, a white supremacist ritual made more terrifying in the shifting of power and choice. This was not simply “go back to Africa,” which any Black person who dares offer any critique of the United States has heard more than once. “Send her back” is an order, a plan, a mission. It says this Black, Muslim woman does not belong here and if she doesn’t want to leave, make her go.
While Trump initially said he “felt a little bit badly” about the chanting, by Friday he had walked that back.
Of course, this “record crowd” was not filled with the wealthy, white Trump supporters who hide behind decorum and gated communities, or huddle in voting booths pretending to liberal; these were their unleashed, bloodthirsty kin. The ones who have been led to believe that if this nation were free of the daughters of the dust, then they would not be suffering and scrimping and saving in a nation they’ve been led to believe is their birthright. These are the ignorant racists that Dr. King laughed at even as he sat in a Birmingham Jail cage, telling them:
Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes. …. You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.
These are the racists who haven’t yet realized that the wealthy will cannibalize those who share their white skin and make an oppressed and targeted class out of them as soon as anyone decides to “send back” the Black people who have been targeted in this country since slavery and through every single one of slavery’s iterations.
And while the loud chants encouraged by the sitting president of this country should be condemned, so should whispers of the same; for the whispers this nation ignores make the screams seem even more jarring to those who like to pretend that they don’t exist.
There are whispers of “send her back” in de facto segregated school systems like that of New York City. “Send her back” can be heard in racially gerrymandered districts. “Send her back” can be heard in discriminatory drug policy laws and the gendered, racialized violence of reproductive injustice. This white settler-colonial project does not want to send us back; no, it wants to control us, leave us cowering and powerless beneath whips. It wants our children, when not trained to be in service of a white supremacist capitalist nation, crushed, broken, and bleeding out on streets from Florida to Ohio to Missouri.
Because they fear us. They fear that nothing they have tried has worked—not the beatings, nor the bombings, nor the lynchings. They fear that we dare to be revolutionary in our joy; that we dare to, paraphrasing poet Lucille Clifton, celebrate that every day something has tried to kill us and has failed. They fear that we dare to lead and invent and serve not a nation, not the mass of scarred, stolen land on which we stand, but the people.
They fear us because we still dare to believe that the people will win.
There is nothing un-American about any of this. These shows of whiteness at work are institutional and intentional, not interim acts until a better president comes along—more albatross than aberration; more foundational than fleeting. This is America.
From the first moment that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to be openly antagonistic toward the four BIPOC congresswomen, Trump’s amplification could have been predicted—in fact, it was. And I’m not saying that Pelosi is racist; I’m saying the racists believe she will do nothing to stop them. And in the end, and in the now, being complicit vs. being a co-conspirator is a difference without distinction.
We can no longer ask or expect this nation to be true to what it said on paper—the generations of blood spilled made the paper illegible long ago. It’s time for a reckoning. It’s time for this nation to stop lying to itself about the depth of its character.
#IStandWithIlhan, and her Squad, because for those of us on the side of institutional accountability and systemic repair, for justice, equity, and peace, the cruelty isn’t the point: