Culture & Conversation Politics

I Was Born in the United States. I’ve Been Told to Go Back to My Country Too.

Tasmiha Khan

In attacking women of color for their so-called disloyalty to the country, President Donald Trump is perpetuating the notion that “American” is synonymous with “white."

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that “‘progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen”—presumably Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—go back and fix the countries “from which they came.” He intensified his aggression Wednesday night, targeting Rep. Omar at a campaign rally as the audience chanted “send her back.”

In attacking women of color for their so-called disloyalty to the country, Trump is perpetuating the notion that “American” is synonymous with “white”—and that people of color, immigrants, and Muslims do not belong here. It is notable that white male representatives such as Don Beyer, who was born overseas, and Brendan Doyle, who is from an immigrant family, have not been targeted in this way.

Trump’s racist tweets and aggressive language are consistent with the hateful rhetoric he has invoked since the start of his campaign. This language has real consequences. In the last three years, the number of hate crimes have risen around the United States. While it is difficult to point to a single cause, as a Muslim-American Bengali woman, I can attest to the impact of such negativity.

When I am in public observing hijab, I think twice about what I say or do, because I know that I appear “foreign” and there may be heightened consequences. I am a woman of color; that automatically requires a lot of explanation and caution. For example, when I need medical attention, I’ve been asked if I can speak English—my first language—or if I need an interpreter, since my garb is not “mainstream” enough. This means allotting extra time for the trip for an unnecessary explanation. Others have told me that I’m “brave” for walking around in my attire and that I stick out like a sore thumb.

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Traveling presents an additional ordeal. If possible, I avoid the airport at all costs since no matter how early I go, I am bound to be singled out for calculated “random checks” because of how foreign I appear. At one point, a TSA agent felt my hair that was tied in a bun, asking what it was. Puzzled, I could not understand what else would be on the top of one’s head. Among these government officials, negativity abounds. Some have snickered.

Like Reps. Tlaib, Pressley, and Ocasio-Cortez, I was born in the United States. And, yes, I’ve been told to go “back to my country” because of my appearance.

The civil rights group Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR) has reported an “unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president.”

Others of my acquaintance have felt the same way.

Gulrana Syed, who observes hijab and is an active member of her Illinois Muslim community, said that in her view, Trump’s behavior “furthers fear-mongering.”

“The president is saying statements [that are] both inaccurate and incendiary. Things continue to be increasingly awful and he gets more and more outrageous,” Kimberly Muellers, a social justice advocate from New York, told me.

In a statement released Tuesday, CAIR said: “It is inexcusable for the president of the United States to launch such a racist attack on members of Congress. Congress must act now to condemn these racist attacks and to defend the integrity of the office of the president.” That night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution doing so.

Elected officials of both parties should denounce this kind of hatred and develop policies that actively promote tolerance. To allow for both tolerance and peace, we must find opportunities to defend those being targeted because of their background—including religion, skin color, and immigration status.

 

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