The president of the United States has recently unleashed a barrage of racist and anti-immigrant tweets that are, in my opinion, in perfect alignment with who we have known him to be. While outrage is the appropriate societal response to such childish and harmful behavior, I do not believe that focusing our attention on tweets and xenophobic rhetoric is what will move us forward as a nation. What will move us forward as a nation is for everyone in this country to begin to understand the role that race plays in our white-dominated society, and the many ways in which most of us are complicit with this system of domination.
I am a Latina immigrant, and of African, Indigenous, and European descent. I was 13 years old when my family migrated to the U.S. during a serious and sustained political and economic crisis in our country. On my 22 nd birthday, I was sworn in as a naturalized citizen of the United States. The years between my arrival and my naturalization ceremony were filled with learning how to operate in the American context, and assimilating – sometimes at high personal cost — to the dominant culture.
I am no stranger to people telling me to go back to my country. It’s a very common racial slur. But I consider myself a full-fledged American. The United States is my home and because I love her, I will continue the work to see her promises be realized. Sadly, to a large percentage of white America, I will forever be an outsider — undeserving of the right to criticize my own country and hold elected officials to account.
The congresswomen who were the target of these tweets have been maligned not only by the president and his followers, but also by a large number of Americans, across political ideologies, who have strong opinions about what these women should do. We live in a country where a woman’s leadership is seldom appreciated or valued, especially if you are a woman of color. America’s dominant culture is one where everyone feels entitled to telling adult women how they should do their work, despite them being fully capable. I do not always agree with everything done and said by these congresswomen, but I strongly believe that as representatives of the communities that elected them, these congresswomen’s role is not to appease a political party, but to raise the issues that their constituents have entrusted them with, issues that are often not a priority to the dominant culture.
Although I am not one of the direct constituents of any of the representatives under attack, they speak closely to the issues that affect my communities, more than any other representative in our entire Congress. Issues like inequitable access to health care, education, justice, economic opportunities, and how low income communities are the first to suffer the consequences of climate change are often brought up by the four congresswomen. Too many times, political deals are made to appease all sides, and most often by compromising the needs of communities of color. In U.S. history, this has usually meant politicians telling us that our needs should be put on hold for the greater good. However, a greater good that does not include our citizens of color is no good at all. It is embarrassing that more than 50 years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., his words from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” still ring so true:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
I encourage all Americans to heed these words closely. We are all responsible to do the work that begins with a self-examination of our own complicity, discrimination, and dehumanization of the other. We must begin to define for ourselves what is it that America should stand for, for all of its people. Instead of using the president’s tweets as a scapegoat of all that is wrong with our society, we should all focus on doing the self-work necessary to begin to embrace non-white Americans as valued members of our society, who deserve a government that serves and respects us all.