Jul 22, 2019
For more than a week, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, indulged himself in a racist and self-serving rant. He stoked the flames of a racist fire when he declared that four freshman congresswomen should “go back” to “where they came from,” clearly sending the message that these women had no right to speak – because they’re women, because they are non-white, because (for two of them) they are Muslim, and because they are critical of his policies. The message for them, and anyone like them, is, “go back where you came from” or shut up and sit down.
That’s why his political hacks circulating in the rally in North Carolina pulled the rest in the crowd into chanting “Send Her Back!”
No doubt, with careful coaching from the right wing think tanks, fueled by the right wing billionaires and their media mouthpieces, he has settled into a strategy he is certain can secure for himself another term in the White House in the face of mounting criticism of his policies and behavior.
Yes, this is an old story. We have heard it all before. But it is not the rhetoric of this one disgusting, inhumane individual that is resonating, a rhetoric that the public has learned to shrug off with an “Oh, that’s Donald Trump, he always says outrageous things.” What we are hearing echoing back at us is an incitement to violence against one section of the population by another – an incitement to the mob mentality and mob violence that preceded the Civil Rights movement and culminated in Jim Crow and lynchings.
Make no mistake – Trump has accomplished what he set out to do. He is not worried about what a majority of the population thinks about him. He is not worried about the Congress or electoral action and he is definitely not worried about legal ramifications. He is focused on bringing one small section of the population forward to support his policies – a population he can mobilize, militant and brazen enough to pick up the most vile things to yell, and to bring with it those who may be less vocal, but who believe that other sections of the population are taking their jobs, threatening their communities, and ruining their futures.
In the wake of his remarks, there has been a spike in reported verbal attacks, specifically with the line, “go back where you came from,” with other racist epithets and threats tossed in as well. A Georgia state representative, Erica Thomas, who is black, said she was berated by a middle-aged white man, for taking too many items through an express line. The man said, “you lazy son of a bitch, you need to go back where you came from!”
The U.S. white working class has a history of being used against other workers, black and immigrant, in a way that divides the working class. Used by the wealthy elite of the South, dirt poor Southern whites participated in the enslavement of millions of black people and were used to reimpose the racial violence of Jim Crow, a new slave system, on the South following Reconstruction. This acceptance of violence was codified in the law of the land, and has marked this society for the 142 years that followed.
This history was interrupted by the determined struggle of millions of black Americans that reached its peak in the 1960s, culminating in demonstrations and rebellions in cities across the country including Watts in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark and others.
Following these major upheavals, this society was forever changed, because those who fomented racism were pushed back in the most decisive way. A message was sent: we will not accept it, anymore.
Politicians and the wealthy had to back up, to relinquish their open attacks. No, racism was not eliminated – it has subsisted, acted out against the black population to today, but free of the public displays and outbursts that marked its earlier history.
We would be foolish indeed to think for a moment that we can’t be pulled back to a period when lynchings were public affairs, viewed and enjoyed by white mobs with mostly, but not all, black victims.
By their struggles, and their willingness to confront racist violence with violence, black workers found a way forward that inspired a majority of white society to at least desist from overt racism and inspired many white workers to join them in strikes that spread through the country in the 1970s.
To resist being drawn backward, back into a vile, injurious place, voices must be raised; every fist should be clenched in determination not to accept any more, to defend against racism in any form, against any section of the population. Not only black voices, not only immigrant voices, but the voices of white workers also. NO! To any and all racism and no to anti-migrant attacks!