In a stunning act of xenophobia and outright racism, President Trump told four Congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from, disregarding the fact that all four are American citizens.
In a series of Sunday night tweets, Trump told the women “go back and fix the totally broken and crime infested places where they came from” and that they “can’t leave fast enough.”
Although the Congresswomen were not called out by name, the president’s messaging targeted four freshman representatives of color — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. At a press conference Monday, the four women admonished the president for “stoking white nationalism” and called for unification against the spread of vitriolic hate.
“Donald Trump would love nothing more than to divide our country based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status because this is the only way he knows he can prevent the solidarity of us working together across all of our differences,” Omar wrote on Twitter following the press conference. “We can either continue to enable this president and simply report on the vile of garbage that comes out of his mouth or we can hold him accountable for his crimes.”
The four women are all American citizens, and all but Omar were born in the United States. Omar, originally from Somalia, fled her country as a refugee and became a citizen in 2000 at the age of 17 — six years prior to Melania Trump’s naturalization, noted CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle were quick to call Trump’s Twitter rampage racist. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been at odds with the four freshmen representatives in recent weeks, came to their defense on Twitter, saying Trump’s plan to “’Make America Great Again’ has always been about “Making America white again.”
This afternoon, the House will vote on a resolution that condemns the president’s remarks as “racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” Many house lawmakers vowed solidarity for the Congresswomen of color; meanwhile Trump continues to rally support for his sentiments while tweeting he doesn’t “have a racist bone in my body.”
In the wake of Trump’s statements, we spoke with several of our colleagues at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on their perspectives as women of color living in a time where discrimination runs rampant and targeted hate speech is common.
“The President’s statements are incredibly offensive,” said Phylicia Hill, associate counsel for the Economic Justice Project. “They are very clearly race motivated and also seem to have the tone of not only xenophobia but also islamophobia. The women he is targeting are specifically women of color who have been very active in speaking out against many of the hateful actions the administration has taken against marginalized people of color, and by attacking these four powerful women of color he is taking the position that women of color have no place in this country and we have no voice in the decisions the administration is taking that affect us on a daily basis.”
Hill continued: “Women of color are constantly being told how to behave in public, how to speak in public, what they should look like, how their hair should be styled, and to have the most powerful man in America and one of the most powerful people in the world tell a group of women of color that their voice is not welcome in the American government is a signal that women of color are not valued, women of color are not respected and the things that we have to say, often times in response to the racist, xenophobic actions of this administration, are first of all not welcome but they have no place in the general discourse and conversation in American politics. That is extremely inappropriate but also lends itself to putting women of color in great danger and at risk, not only in their workplaces but in their general day-to-day lives.”
“I think Trump’s statements fit within his agenda that consistently send the message that people of color, especially women of color and immigrants, are not welcome in this country and that his policies tend to predominantly benefit white people in the United States,” said Maryum Jordan, counsel with the Special Litigation and Advocacy Project. “This is just part of a pattern of very racist and hurtful statements that make it clear that people of color are unwelcome, from his criticism of African countries and countries in Latin America to the way he has handled white supremacy and hate speech. When it comes to various social movements in the United States that touch upon civil rights, I feel as though women of color are largely ignored, even if its on civil rights issues that predominately affect women of color. People don’t think about how women of color are affected and that extends to the women’s rights movement, the feminist movement, and activism on behalf of LGBTQIA communities. To be a woman of color in the United States, there are so many forms of racism that they have to deal with on a daily basis. For example, every day they see some kind of micro-aggression, which might be some sort of statement that’s not intended to be something that’s racist but still has a negative effect on how they are perceived in a professional context, that they are punished for being a black woman or a woman of color. There are so many layers that are part of their identity that really contributes to their marginalization.”
“As someone who attends a predominantly white college institution, I think what the Trump Administration’s recent attack on the four congresswomen exemplifies is the reality that this country still has not reconciled with what a diverse and inclusive society looks like. Being a Black woman, specifically a Black woman of Haitian descent, I often find myself worrying about whether my ethnicity and race will be weaponized against me. What Trump said about those four congresswoman is not a new phenomenon; that xenophobic rhetoric can be traced back to the country’s long lasting legacy with slavery. Trump’s rhetoric is rooted in the idea that anyone who does not fit into a certain archetype of what it means to be American is an outsider. Therefore, when we step into these prestigious roles, what happens to Black women and women of color is that we are forced to assimilate to the ideals of what it means to be a “true” American. Although the structure is arguably diverse — for example, Congress is now more diverse than it has ever historically been — we will always be forced to be less than our full, authentic selves because the structures of these institutions are not changing. But I would argue that these four Congresswoman are the exact definition of what it means to be an American because they are sticking to the American tradition of questioning institutions that are preventing us from moving forward in our journey to achieve an equitable society for all. Yet, as a young Black women who is preparing to enter the workforce, what has been happening to these four congresswoman is discouraging because it reminds me that regardless of how qualified I am, there will be someone willing to discount me because of my identity. And that is a tale as old as America itself.”
The Lawyers’ Committee stands in solidarity with women of color. We will not stop our fight until the most marginalized communities live without fear and full equity is achieved.