White extremists are fanning the fires lit by Trumpism

Even US lawmakers who are not white get to hear this “go back to where you came from” insult a lot

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By Chidanand Rajghatta

Published: Wed 29 Jun 2022, 11:52 PM

In a recent exchange at a press conference, US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent right-wing Trump-supporting extremist, asked a foreign journalist to “go back to your country” after the scribe persistently questioned her about America’s permissive gun culture.

The journalist incidentally is not of black or Asian or Hispanic origin; a correspondent for UK’s Channel Four, she is also white, the same racial and ethnic stock as Greene. But such is the fury and fervour in America over issues such as guns, immigration, and abortion that anyone who questions the nativist right-wing about what to them are core issues runs the risk of being told to “go back to your country.”

Forget journalists, even US lawmakers who are not white get to hear this “go back to where you came from” insult a lot. Ask Ilhan Omar, the Somali-American Congresswoman from Minnesota, or Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American Representative from Michigan, or Pramila Jayapal, the Indian-American lawmaker from Washington. They attract this put-down because they are women — and strong, outspoken foreign-origin women at that — in what is still a patriarchal white male- dominated society, notwithstanding a cigarette advertisement slogan from the 1970s that said “You’ve come a long way, baby!” to celebrate the so-called liberation of American women.

That liberation apparently pertained to only social mores, and to white women, although looking back, women smoking (or men smoking for that matter) should have been seen for what it is: a health hazard, not a sign of freedom. At the time that Virginia Slims ad came out, the US Supreme Court was yet to see female justice despite being in existence for nearly 200 years.

The first one, Sandra Day O’Connor, came only in 1981. The US Senate too was at that time the most exclusive white male club in the world; the first female Senator to be elected who was not a spouse or widow or related to a male politician did not come till the late 1970s. And needless to say, the United States is YET to see a female president.

In short, as in much of the world, women were and remain firmly under the male thumb -- or heel.

There’s another problem with this “go back to your own country/to where you came from” trope. America is a land of immigrants; everyone came from somewhere else — legally or illegally. Except that some came early, some came late, some came more recently, and some are still coming -- unless they die in the back of a truck before they get there.

In fact, the people who came the earliest, Native Americans who are wrongly described as “American Indians,” who came possibly 20,000 plus years ago, have no say in this matter. They have been decimated and corralled into settlements or reservations euphemistically called “Nations.”

There are a bunch of memorable posters that surface each time the immigration debate flares up and white nativists make a big to-do about immigrants and foreigners: “So you are against immigration? Splendid! When do you leave?” one poster shows a Native American tribal chief asking. Another shows a Native American at the center of a slogan that reads: Fighting Illegal Immigration since 1492.

Yet another poster reads: Illegal immigration is not a new problem: Native Americans used to call it White People. And the most devastating: No one is illegal on stolen land.

The travesty of right-wing white outrage against immigrants and foreigners played out in all its horror in the Buffalo supermarket shooting last month when a white supremacist teenager massacred ten blacks because he felt “foreigners” and coloured people were replacing whites in America – the great replacement theory that is embraced by many white supremacists.

But here’s the catch: Many blacks in America, particularly those from slave-descendent families, pre-date many whites and white family descendants in America! In fact, the shooter’s last name, Gendron, suggests that he is of French stock that immigrated to North America more recently; entirely possible his black victims are descendants from families that got to America before the Gendrons did.

Much of the European immigration to America took place between 1880 and 1920 by which time there already was a large black slave population. Should descendants of these black slaves be asking white folks to “go back to where you come from?” For that matter, there are Indian/ Punjabi/ Sikh people on the US West Coast whose families came to America before some of the newer European immigrants to the US. Who should be going back to where they came from?

Basically, issues such as immigration, guns, and abortion are being drummed up to galvanize a shrinking white population desperate to cling on to power in a globalised America where they will soon be a minority. It is showing up at the polls in which less than one per cent of respondents felt abortion was a major issue, yet the country is aflame over the topic, the fires fanned by the white right-wing represented by Trump Republicans. While at it, consider this: The last two Republicans to win a majority of the popular vote in a US presidential contest were father and son: George H.W. Bush in 1988 and George W. Bush in 2004.

— The writer is a senior journalist based in Washington

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