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A Racist President and Racial Trauma

When an American person of color hears—“go back to where you came from”—those very words epitomize racism. They are white code for “you do not belong here”. And “you are not white” and therefore “you are not us”; and as such, you are not part of this country, the United States, which should be white.

Yet, when the President of the United States remarks with racist rhetoric, more specifically, when President Donald J. Trump uses the bully pulpit through racist tweets—how as a country are we moving toward “making America great again”? And by the way, “make America great again” (MAGA) is racist code for “make America white again” (MAWA), which was reiterated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

This is the era we live in. How is this an example for our children and their future? What America is this? Why is this tolerable today? Why are Republicans mostly silent about the president’s discriminatory comments?

On July 16th, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution, 240-187, censuring the President’s racist tweets and stated it: “…Strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color…”

Remember Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017? On July 15, 2019, a Virginia judge sentenced, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, James Fields, to life plus 419 years for killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than two-dozen others by ramming his car through a crowd in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017. The night before there was an organized neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rally, where young men carrying torches, held a vigil of hate, and chanted: “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” The following day, President Donald J. Trump, declared: “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee…and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides…”

Excuse me Mr. President, if you are chanting, “Jews will not replace us!’—you are not among the fine people in this country protesting for legitimate issues and for the betterment of humanity. You are shouting racist rants. Also, isn’t it ironic Mr. President that General Robert E. Lee himself never wanted any statues built in his image or to commemorate the Civil War in any way?

Here is what President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Sunday, July 14th: “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…These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

It is remarkable these words come from the President of the United States. Certainly, we have had racist presidents in our history, perhaps, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon, prominently come to mind. Moreover, we have had slave owning presidents, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

Yet, we live in the 21stcentury, and before Trump, we elected our first African-American president in Barack Obama. Even so, President Donald J. Trump began his presidential bid by declaring Obama was not born in the United States, the so-called, “Birther Movement”. Where are Republicans reproaching this overt racism? What about Republicans such as Senator John McCainin the 2008 Presidential election correcting audience members about whether or nor not then Senator Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen: “…No ma’am, no ma’am, he is a decent family man, who I just happen to have disagreements with…”

Trump’s tweets on Sunday, July 14thwere not just about anyone but directed at four freshman U.S. Congresswomen—all women of color. Additionally, all of them are citizens of the United States. So, Trump’s history of racist rhetoric, first denying U.S. citizenship to former President Barack Obama, is presently extended to four U.S. Congresswomen along the same veins of racist ranting. These targeted U.S. Congresswomen in question are: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Representative Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-Minnesota), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). Only Omar was foreign-born in Somalia but she lived most of her life as a refugee in the United States and is a full U.S. citizen.

So, where all of these U.S. Congresswomen come from is the United States of America, not some foreign country. But in the mind of President Trump, their ethnic origins define them, whether these are: African-American, Palestinian-American, Puerto Rican-American, or Somali-American—somehow, they are “not” American because they are “not” white? These women are alleged to come from sh**hole countries, just because they are women of color. When in fact, they all come from the United States. Mr. President your racist ranting and racist tweeting is making the United States a sh**hole country by elevating racism as acceptable discourse. Why should white supremacist and neo-Nazi hateful communications become normalized ways we talk about difference?

The four U.S. Congresswomen held a press conference on July 15th, refuting the president’s racist remarks. These four women directly explained why President Trump’s tweets were and are harmful, not only to them, but for the country as a whole. Then, the House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi (D-California), passed a resolution rebuking President Trump.

Let me be clear and go further.

I have been writing about racism for a decade now as a social and cultural anthropologist. I teach students how and why racism is a destructive social construct. And, let me repeat, “racism discourse”, in all of its multiple forms, is very, very damaging, hurtful, and dangerous.

In 2009, I wrote an article, titled: “Mayan Cognition, Memory, and Trauma”, which was partially about the mental health damages caused by memories of racism, specifically against Mayan-American immigrants.

I believe one of the central arguments of that essay is still pertinent today. It is the idea that racism, and memories of racism, have traumatic effects upon an individual over time. In the article, I theorized such memories may be characterized as “synchronic trauma” and “diachronic trauma”. In other words, memories of racism occur at specific times but also may be carried forward over time and maybe constant over time. An individual may remember when someone said, for example, “go back to where you came from” and remember who said it, when they said it, and where they said it. That racist remark may always be remembered throughout an individual’s lifetime.

Likewise, an individual may experience racism as an everyday occurrence. Racism may be part of one’s experience at school, or at work, or during leisure. When individuals are harmed by racism, then racism itself may be part of what is called “structural violence”. This is to say, for example, when racism prevents individuals from getting good jobs, from attending good schools, or from having fair pay—all become structures of violence which are engrained in society. Racism, in this sense, maybe a barrier, and therefore, transforming into those structures of violence for prevention.

Racism is violent in the real sense too because its discourse may be violent in nature. It may threaten real violence. It is also violent through the real actions which supports it systemically, such as the slavery of African-Americans in the South prior to the Civil War, or the lynching of African-Americans during the Jim Crow South, or the genocide of Native Americans, or more recently, the mass shootings at synagogues, or attacks of mosques.

This president is reckless. Regardless, of the political gains he may wish to have for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020 against his rival democratic opponents, his racist rhetoric may have far lasting consequences for the children of this country. It is the normalization of racism and racist discourse which may cause the most harm. I truly worry about my nieces and nephew and what world they may inherit because of such racism as acceptable and customary.

On July 17th, President Trump held another MAGA political rally and incited the attending crowd by falsely declaring Congresswoman Ilhan Omarsupported Al-Quaeda and deceitfully charged her with being an anti-Semite, as the crowd yelled: “Send her back! Send her back!”

As Americans, we should all remember the immortal words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

And finally, we need to remember the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Peace: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

More articles by:

J. P. Linstroth is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).

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