Recently, the President of the United States said that four minority congresswomen originally came from countries with broken governments, that they should go back and fix the crime infested places they came from instead of stay in the USA. Yet 3 of them were born in this country and one has been here since she was a child. The only reason the President referred to them in this way is because of their black and brown skin.
My first thought was about how boringly common that kind of racist language is. So common it even has a term; the concept of the Perpetual Foreigner in the United States is basically that US Citizens who are not white will always been seen as an alien or a foreigner, as belonging somewhere else.
However white citizens, whose ancestors definitely originated somewhere else, are never spoken of this way, never questioned or seen as foreign simply because of their race. No one is telling Pelosi to go back and fix problems in Italy. No one told Hilary to join British Parliament instead of run for President of the USA.
My second thought was about how frighteningly damaging those words are when they come from the President and not just a random person with an internet connection and no real influence.
As the weight of the President’s words toward black and brown women who are serving our nation in elected office sank in, my own experiences with this sentiment ate away at me.
So, while my husband drove our family to Portland for the day, I sat next to my baby in the back seat and wrote this on my phone to post on my Facebook profile. I needed to try again to explain why this hurts. Even though I actually have written about this very thing several times recently on Facebook. I am reposting it here, below the next heading.
So, white friends, do you think it is ok or normal to assume that someone who is not white was not born in the USA? That they actually belong in another country? That they should go and fix that country before they can positively contribute to the USA?
If you have any doubts about how common it is for non-white (and I will say especially asian) people to be told to go back to “where you came from” or asked a variation of “Where are you REALLY from?” (which might be asked with friendly intentions but still makes the same problematic assumption)…then I will personally verify this for you.
It happens to me. It happens to my non-white friends. It’s so common I don’t even talk about it when it happens usually. Last time it happened I didn’t even tell my husband because I was a little embarrassed about the circumstances.
It is important that you know these assumptions and comments and questions are based in the (often unconscious) belief that white is default, white is normal, and white always belongs. Therefore anyone not white is other, is not expected, and does not belong.
It is important to know that it is not the one individual incident that is the main problem. It’s the lifetime of these recurring incidents happening in the first person, witnessing it happen to others, seeing it expressed in movies and the news.
It is the cumulative effect that is so damaging, like one thousand soft punches to the exact same spot that begins to ache then bruises and eventually immobilizes the entire arm.
Even if you know not everyone thinks that way.
So when I hear people in power speak this way, I am rightfully angered and grieved. I know that it increases the perceived acceptability of these assumptions and normalizes these comments.
If you hear about these kinds of incidents and your instinct is to find a way to explain why these comments are not racist and/or to minimize the impact on non-white people, it’s like you’ve witnessed someone softly punch my broken and bleeding arm and rolled your eyes at me when I cried out in pain. It’s like your telling me I shouldn’t feel pain because they didn’t know that was a sore spot. You might as well punch me yourself.