Even in the context of all that has happened so far in the Trump presidency, the president’s recent tweets telling four congresswomen of color to “go back where they came from” have brought an increased sense of outrage at our country’s backward movement regarding issues of race.
The racist trope “Go back to where you came from!” is one with a long, sordid history in the United States. Most people of color either have been told this or know some member of their family or social circle who have. The president using this trope in talking about these four women, three of whom were born in the United States, and the fourth of whom has been a naturalized citizen since she was a young teen, was clearly racial. Notice the absence, for example, of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, two senators whose positions on most issues are virtually identical to the four congresswomen, in the president’s comments.
While the trope has been used with some white groups in the past (notably Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants), members of those groups were often referred to as different racial categories. The very nature of the statement reflects the conscious and unconscious connection that many people have between being “American” and being “white.” In 2008, two academic researchers, Thierry Devos and Debbie S. Ma, noted that when shown pictures of the three remaining candidates, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton, participants tested as less likely to associate Obama with being “American” than any other candidate. A second study found that fewer people associated Obama with being American than Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. The unconscious mind often reveals things that we would never say out loud. In this case, it reveals that for many Americans, “American” means “white.”
However, the president did say it out loud, and even doubled down on his comments at a rally of supporters who, after he attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar in his speech, shouted “send her home” as he sat and basked in the glow of his crowd. Sadly, this is not the only example of racism coming from this White House.
As co-founders of The Inclusion Allies Coalition, a group of 420 individuals and organizations that advocate for inclusion, we have tried to avoid taking positions that threatened to isolate or add to the polarization between advocates of inclusion and those who are more conservative and even nationalistic in their views. However, at this point and with the agreement of a strong majority of our members, we believe we have to speak out more forcefully.
This is not a time for the faint of heart. We urge all of those who are champions of inclusion to use your power to speak out against these overt demonstrations of racial bigotry and otherization, and to show your visible support for inclusion. As diversity, equity and inclusion practitioners and change advocates for more than three decades, we are appalled at the state of affairs and know that you are, too. We believe there is an urgency that the voices of inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility and social justice (IDEAS) be heard to drown out the increasingly loud voices that spew hate, negative and false stereotypes, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic rants. We cannot allow this kind of polarizing and divisive rhetoric to be normalized.
Now is the time to come together to support inclusion. Ask yourself…
What United States of America is this? Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave? Is this the country that was founded by immigrants? Is this the country that espouses freedom and equality for all? Is this the country in which our Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? It doesn’t look very much like that country right now.
It is feeling more like the country that enslaved blacks and created Jim Crow. The country that interned the Japanese and the country that took land away from and committed genocide upon Native Americans, and hated Catholics and Jews. We had thought those disturbing chapters in our history were behind us, that we were better than that. Although the systems of inequity continue to loom large, we were hopeful that the majority of us were striving to do better, working to break down those unfair systems, learning how to live and lead inclusively. We thought we had learned from our mistakes and the dire consequences of inhumane and unfair treatment of people. However, if the “leader of the free world” can tweet or say incendiary after incendiary remark that otherizes individuals who identify with groups that have been historically marginalized and oppressed and get away with it, then we are really in a sad state of affairs. If we can allow people to be caged like animals as they seek asylum in the U.S., it is a sad state of affairs. Have we really reverted to this?
We ask that if you genuinely believe in inclusion and equity principles that you show your support and commitment in a very vocal, demonstrative way. Inclusion is an action. Inclusive behaviors include respecting the dignity of every human being; being curious rather than judgmental; exercising civility and kindness; choosing love over hate.
We believe that, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” What can you do to show that you really stand for inclusion?
- Find the courage to encourage the leaders in your organization to make public statements for inclusion. Leverage employee resource groups to enhance your power.
- Contact your elected officials to let them know that you stand for inclusion and will not vote for representatives who will not speak out against hate and racism.
- Use your social media feeds to proliferate messages of inclusion.
- Lean into your discomfort and reach out to those who are different from you to begin to engage in inclusive conversations, especially if you disagree about important issues.
- Focus on what you stand for, as well as what you stand against.
- Perform random acts of kindness every day.
We know that we are all fatigued from having to deal with these almost daily insults to the fundamental values of our country, but this is not a time to check out. We must stay engaged! There is power in our collective voices. We need a movement for inclusion. We can turn the tide, one person at a time.
Please join us!
Margaret Regan and Andrea Cisco-The FutureWork Institute and iMCI
Leslie Traub and Howard Ross, Udarta Consulting Inc
Mary-Frances Winters, The Winters Group
Inclusion Allies Coalition Founders
Note: The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of every member. We welcome you to share your thoughts in the green “Reply” box below.