Dystopia Journal #31: This Land Is Your Land

Dystopia Journal #31: This Land Is Your Land July 24, 2019

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As he draws more support from bigots and less from everyone else, our white supremacist president is becoming more and more brazen in his rhetoric. Like last week, when he told four progressive American congresswomen – one of whom is a naturalized citizen and the other three of whom were born here – to “go back” to their home countries. His zealots took the ball and ran with it, erupting in chants of “send her back” at a rally later in the week.

There’s no possibility of good-faith debate about this: remarks like these are deeply, flagrantly racist. They exemplify the prejudiced thinking that white people are the only “real Americans“, and that people of color can never truly belong here, regardless of where they were born or how long their families have lived here or what they went through to come here. It spits in the face of America’s self-image as a multicultural society built by immigrants, where anyone can come to seek a share of the American dream.

This viral Facebook post by Aaron Semer delves into the background of the four congresswomen Trump denigrated, and further illustrates just how vile his remarks are:

Ilhan Omar has been a US Citizen 6 years longer than Melania Trump. Omar is from Somalia and is Muslim. Her family fled the Civil War and she spent 4 years in a Kenyan refugee camp as a child, until her family secured asylum in the US in 1995. She naturalized in 2000 at age 17. She broke every glass ceiling imaginable to become a U.S. Representative.

Melania is from the [former] Socialist Republic of Slovenia and is Catholic. She began modeling at 5 and became successful starting at age 16. She began working as a model in the US in 1996, initially illegally. She married Donald Trump in 2005 and got her citizenship in 2006.

I have no issue with either of these women being a naturalized U.S. Citizen. But only one of them is being told to “go back to their country.” If you don’t see why that is the case, then you, my friend, are a racist.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 2nd generation on her mom’s side, and 3rd generation on her dad’s side. That is – her mother was born in Puerto Rico, and her father was born in the Bronx, but his parents were from Puerto Rico (AOC’s grandparents). She is a combination 2nd and 3rd generation American.

Donald Trump is… wait for it… 2nd generation on his mom’s side, and 3rd generation on his dad’s side. That is – his mom was born in Scotland, and his father was born in the Bronx, but his parents were German immigrants (Donald’s grandparents). He is a combination 2nd and 3rd generation American.

Only one of these people is being told to “go back to their country.” By the other one, in fact. If you don’t see why that is the case, then you, my friend, are a racist.

(Also, Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., not a country. All Puerto Rican citizens born after 1898 were granted US citizenship in 1917, meaning even AOC’s grandparents were citizens, meaning even my calculations about 2nd and 3rd generation are not accurate – they were all US citizens.)

Ayanna Pressley is an African American, meaning she is the descendant of enslaved people brought to the US against their will. Both of her parents are from Ohio, a state that sits just north of the Ohio River which was the line between free and slave states, and to which enslaved African Americans frequently escaped prior to their emancipation in 1865.

She is being told to “go back to her country.” She has no other country to go back to. If you think this is an OK thing to say to an African American, then you, my friend, are a racist.

Rashida Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress, and one of only 2 Muslim women. She is a 2nd generation American, born in Detroit. Her mother is from the West Bank, and her father is from Jerusalem. Her father came to Detroit to work for the Ford Motor Company. She was educated in Michigan public schools from K-12, and received a Bachelor’s and Law degree from Michigan Public Universities. She was also the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan state legislature.

She is being told to “go back to her country.” She is a 2nd generation American citizen, born, raised, and educated in this country. If you think this is an OK thing to say to an American citizen born in this country, then you, my friend, are a racist.

Some commenters have suggested that this is a deliberate strategy to fire up resentful white voters, but I don’t give Trump that much credit for tactical thinking. He just says whatever gets the most cheers from his base. But when they hear their Dear Leader give voice to these racist sentiments, it makes them feel excited and less inhibited about expressing their own bigotries even louder, in an escalating positive feedback loop.

Either way, the result is the same. When the powerful deliberately stoke the coals of racist hatred, it makes ordinary, bottom-feeder bigots feel less inhibited, which leads to incidents like last year’s thwarted bomb plot against Somali-born Muslim residents of Kansas, or just this month, a hate crime in my home neighborhood in Queens:

Just one day after being released from the hospital, Hindu priest, Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri shows PIX11’s Jennifer Bisram his bruises and abrasions all over his body, including his face.

…He said around 11 a.m. Thursday, near the Shiv Shakti Peeth in Glen Oaks, while he was walking down the street in his religious garb, a man came up from behind and started hitting him, repeatedly. He was beaten so badly, he had to be rushed to the hospital.

People who attend the house of worship say they believe he was targeted, adding his attacker screamed things like, “this is my neighborhood,” during the incident.

It would be naive to say that these ugly sentiments are a brand-new problem. To the contrary, they’ve been part of this nation from the beginning. The American soul has always been a push-and-pull battle between openness to immigrants and hostility to immigrants.

Still, after civil-rights activists became national heroes, after the landslide election of a black president, there was a window of time when it was just possible to believe we could put this behind us. It was just possible to believe that the pockets of bigotry which remained were a dying remnant of the past, and that a bright future of greater tolerance and acceptance lay ahead. Instead, this may be the first time in American history that we’re being dragged backwards to the dark days of nativism and loud-and-proud xenophobia.

This is all the more true in light of the deafening silence from Republicans. Simply put, one of our two major parties has given up on inclusivity and has cemented its identity as the party of white supremacy and white grievance. Like the apartheid rulers of South Africa, they’ll stop at nothing to cling to power indefinitely. Since they’re a shrinking minority, it’s very likely that desperation will lead the most deranged among them to resort more and more often to violence. And the president of the United States of America is all but giving them permission to do so.

Image based on HARRIS.news via Wikimedia Commons, released under CC BY-SA 3.0 license


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