“Go back where you came from.”
If you are a minority, or a foreigner, you know why that statement stings. You know why it is offensive. There has been no time in American history where saying these six words have not incited a sense of superiority in some, and inferiority in others. They are a sign of an ugly time and an even uglier way of thinking.
When President Trump made this statement regarding four congresswomen-Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.,) Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.)- all U.S. citizens, it was a painful that not all Americans are equal.
A fundamental piece of being an American is being able to speak out against the government. Throughout Americas’ existence people have undoubtedly disliked policies, laws, and leaders. Publicly expressing disappointment about an area of government, in hopes of creating change, has always been American. One need only review the Constitution to understand that.
Unfortunately, what has also been American is the racism that continues to spout from the current administration. It is woven into the country’s historical fabric. The mistreatment of Natives. Slavery. Jim Crow. Japanese internment camps. The numerous events leading up to the civil rights movement. These events were influenced, and fueled by the same racism, and ignorant fear that continues today.
People being held in cages. Struggling to make ends meet. Police brutality. Inadequate educational systems. Poor housing. Limited healthcare. People’s rights being trampled on. Bigotry coming from the person that is supposed to represent leadership in this country. To see these things and not say anything, or feel compelled to do anything, is what is truly un-American.
Witnessing injustices and standing up for people who feel their voices have been lost in the circus that is this administration is the reason Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley were voted into their positions. People felt there was a level of representation missing in congress, a level of understanding, and these women- with their diverse backgrounds and perspectives- helped to fill that gap.
In voicing their opinions, though, it seems it has labeled them less patriotic. They’re un-American or anti-American. The irony in telling these women to go back where they’re from, when they have cemented their place in this country through their service, lies in this country’s image that the American dream still exists.
Emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, America literally says to people of all ethnicities, cultures, and religious beliefs, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If American citizens do not have the liberty to speak their minds, without racist rhetoric taking a front seat, then what does this country represent?
I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “One of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right.” I am no political pundit, or disruptor, but I believe to do anything else would be uncivilized.
About the author: Latanya Muhammad is a writer, advisor, and group facilitator. Her writing has been featured in several publications. When she is not writing, she is wrangling her two children and husband. To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook and Instagram.