A place to call 'home.' Taunts to 'go back' have stirred up racial animus for years in US politics: ANALYSIS

Ahead of the Detroit debate, Trump's comments play on identity politics.

July 30, 2019, 8:28 AM

It was just a tweet, one that urged four congresswomen of color -- all U.S. citizens who criticized President Donald Trump's policies -- to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

His comments, roundly criticized as racist, speak to a critical question during this political cycle of American identity and, by extension, who truly has the right to call the U.S. home.

They are comments likely to be referenced in the upcoming Democratic debates as the presidential hopefuls dissect matters of race and place inherent in those remarks.

President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., July 17, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The president’s comments over the weekend lashing out at Rep. Elijah Cummings and describing Baltimore -- part of which the congressman represents -- as "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" in which "no human being would want to live" have a similar resonance.

The veteran lawmaker, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, had previously said ""yes, no doubt about it" when asked if Trump was a racist and took the acting Homeland Security secretary to task over the administration's use of family separations on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Attempting to silence people of color is nothing new, said Alana Hackshaw, an African American studies expert and clinical associate professor in the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy.

Trump has said his comments aren't about race and that he is merely responding to critics.

Yet, Trump is leaning on an old playbook and, in so doing, stirring up a complicated history that has vilified those who ask questions, aren’t white and reject societal norm, political experts say.

“This history of how we talk about who is allowed to criticize has always been connected to race,” Hackshaw said.

It is a strategy that has long been used to divide groups into “us” versus “them” to drum up votes and, incite violence. It’s pragmatic and it’s about scoring political points.

“Who, even as an American citizen has a right to say, I expect more of my government.” she said, “Be it through immigration, slavery or worker programs. You don’t have a right to criticize. You need to be silent and you need to be thankful.”

The Naturalization Act in 1790 was the first law “to specify who could become a citizen" limiting that privilege to free whites of “good moral character” who had lived in the U.S. for at least two years.

Slaves of Thomas F Drayton of Magnolia Plantation, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1862 pose for a picture.
Getty Images

Fearing that free blacks posed a threat to the institution of slavery The American Colonization Society was formed in 1817, co-founded by plantation owners who wanted to send free African-Americans to Africa rather than emancipate them in the U.S. They went to work immediately, establishing an African state that in 1847 became Liberia.

Chinese workers and Irish Catholics in the 1800’s heard "go back".

So did the Italians, and Eastern European Jews fleeing violence during World Wars I and II, and the Japanese who were forced from their U.S. homes into government-run internment camps.

Newly arrived immigrants disembark from the passenger steamer Thomas C. Millard upon their arrival at Ellis Island, in New York, cicra 1905.
Bain News Service/Interim Archives/Getty Images

The Vietnamese, Koreans, immigrants from Latin America, and blacks who sought to integrate schools, pools and neighborhoods all heard these words… still hear these words in tense exchanges caught on cell phones on videos that now instantly go viral.

The idea of sending a group "back” to their home countries or telling them to “go back” hasn’t been pushed exclusively by those in the majority.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Marcus Garvey made a home for himself in Harlem. The descendants of former slaves realized they hadn’t been afforded true social or economic independence and feared they never would. Garvey led a growing call to “go back home” to their ancestral African homelands, advocated for separate but equal accommodations for blacks and elevated the philosophy around the Pan-African movement that sought to establish independent black states, according to the Library of Congress.

In modern politics, however, it's generally considered taboo to make such overt racial appeals.

Trump, political experts say, is breaking those unwritten rules.

“He’s stepping back into the era of George Wallace and segregationists,” Andra Gillespie a political scientist at Emory University said referring to the former Democratic Alabama governor who was a staunch segregationist and who stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent black students seeking to integrate the school from being able to call it "home."

"The racism isn’t new, the packaging and bundling is a little different, "Gillespie said.

In a rejoinder to the “go back” taunt, the freshman Democrats collectively known as “the Squad” sought to reclaim that narrative. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. were unapologetic.

Ocasio-Cortez in a series of tweets shot back that she, and the other women Trump, attacked are indeed already home.

PHOTO: Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks as, Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a press conference to address remarks made by President Donald Trump earlier in the day, in Washington, July 15, 2019.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks as, Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a press conference to address remarks made by President Donald Trump earlier in the day, at the US Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

"Mr. President, the country I “come from,” & the country we all swear to, is the United States," she tweeted and added in a subsequent Tweet that "You are angry because you don’t believe in an America where I represent New York 14, where the good people of Minnesota elected @IlhanMN, where @RashidaTlaib fights for Michigan families, where @AyannaPressley champions little girls in Boston."

Days later Trump paused for 13 seconds while the mostly white crowd at his North Carolina rally chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar. He later said he disagreed with the chants, despite fanning flames with his rhetoric for days.

It was: “I know the right way to be a patriot, and you don’t level critiques against your government, not this way and not if you’re a person of color,” Hackshaw said.

Trump has a history of discrimination that suggest that those who do not fit his concept of those worthy of belonging simply shouldn't be here.

In the 1970s, the Department of Justice Civil Rights division sued the Trump Management Corp. for violating fair housing practices in refusing to rent to black or Puerto Rican residents. The Trumps settled in 1975 and were required to reform their business practices to ensure apartments were rented without bias.

In 2011 and for the next five years, he pushed and perpetuated the false narrative that President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, was not born in the U.S.

In his 2015 presidential campaign launch, he called Mexican immigrants "rapists" who seek to bring crime and drugs to the U.S.

Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait to board a van which will take them to a processing center, May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

During his first term as president, he instituted a ban against people hailing from several majority-Muslim nations coming to the U.S. and reportedly referred to several African nations and Haiti as "s---hole" countries during an immigration discussion and much, much more.

For many minorities who call the U.S. “home” there is often a lot to unpack in the phrase "go back."

Hackshaw’s own black and Caribbean family were the first to move into her Long Island neighborhood roughly 30 decades ago.

When her father stopped by to look at the house before he bought it. Three future neighbors stopped by to ask, “Do you think you can afford it?”

When the moving trucks came, “Neighbors on both side of the house moved in a year and the neighbors across the street built a fence around their house. They didn’t speak to us until I was in my 20’s. We moved in when I was 11 years old.”

Hackshaw reflects on it, “They didn’t have to tell us to go back, but they let us know that they weren’t welcome.”

A neighbor since then once came by to ask her father an Army veteran: “Why don’t you fly the American flag?”

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