Responding to the President's Tweets

This is what racism looks like.

Posted Jul 17, 2019

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash
Source: Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

"Go back to where you came from!" This is the type of comments and racist remarks ethnic minorities can face growing up in the United States. The assumption is that if you're an ethnic minority, then you must be a foreigner. You must be either an immigrant or a refugee. But the underlying message is that you can't be American and you don't belong here.

These are the hurtful and divisive assumptions you might expect from kids on the playground or from an ignorant adult. We would never imagine a president using such language. But while maybe in past administrations, we could never foresee the leader of the nation doing this, that is not so with President Donald Trump.

On Sunday morning, Trump posted a number of tweets directed at U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), in which he told the foursome, in essence, to "go back where they came from":

"So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Trump doesn't care that all four of the Congresswomen are American citizens, or that three of the four were born in the United States. (Omar arrived as a refugee.) As a psychotherapist and diversity trainer specializing in multicultural issues, I can tell you that no one who's racist sees themselves as so, because of denial. In Trump's case, he'll defend his tweets as a political statement rather than one motivated by race.

What's unconscionable is there are those who will defend him. Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said, “I don’t think that the president’s intent any way is racist." But just because someone doesn't intend an action or phrase be racist doesn't nullify the impact of how it's perceived by the aggrieved parties.  

In working with ethnic clients, they will share stories of racism and the impact it's had on them. And even if the perpetrators claim the "intent" wasn't racist, if the the actions would be considered racist by a reasonable member of an ethnic minority, it should be considered as such.

As a first-generation Asian-American, any comment that smacks of "returning home" or making me feel I'm not "American," or American enough, are grounds to be categorized as racism.

But don't just take my word for it; ask your co-workers. See if they would make similar statements to minorities. If they did anything similar to what Trump did, they could quickly find themselves in hot water with HR. And if they persisted, you can guarantee that the company would fire them, no questions asked.  

The president is immune from being impeached for his comments, no matter how racist. But as members of a free society, we should not let him or his supporters off the hook. Instead we should confront these verbal atrocities whenever and wherever they occur, whether on the playground or from the president.