On Sunday, July 14, 2018 President Trump said on Twitter that "'Progressive' Democratic Congresswomen" should "go back" to their countries. His comments gained a lot of attention and many were quick to call them racist and xenophobic.
Whether it is “Go back to where you came from” - “Go back to Africa” - or “You don’t belong here,” these phrases ought to be regarded as racist and no one should ignore the historical implications of them. "Go back to where you came from" is a racial insult that has been used in the United States of America to target immigrants, or members of minority groups who are falsely regarded as immigrants. The phrase dates back (at least) as far as 1798. Asian Americans are told “go back to where you came from” and African Americans are told to “go back to Africa.” The list goes on, but regardless of who it is being said to, the message is pretty clear. The phrases suggest that a person is "not a real American,” “not supposed to be there,” or that “this is isn't their place.”
We sat down with Rena Aboagye, a Ghanian American who recently “went back” to where she “came from” to discuss what impact "Go back to where you came from" has on her. Read what she has to say below:
Honestly, when I hear that quote, my first reaction is to roll my eyes! I always get the sense that the person saying that is ignorant. It does not matter what their education level may be. To me, It implies that they think 1. Because I don’t fit their definition of who an American is, I must not have been born here 2. I am less American because my ancestry began somewhere else. I wholeheartedly believe that, I am just as much American as I am a Ghanaian. Someone’s racist perspective of what makes me belong here should never dictate where I consider home.
Like three of the four lawmakers Trump was seemingly referring to, I was born in the U.S. and I am an American citizen. I do not feel any less American because I have Ghanaian Ancestry. In fact, I feel more American because I can freely celebrate my identity and make America stronger. It might sound weird to some people, but I feel more cultured this way. Listen, I can sit and cheer on the Steelers, but I can also vehemently defend the Ghana Black Stars during the World Cup. I believe being a Ghanaian American enriched me in ways some of my American friends don’t understand (yet?).
The phrase "Go back to where you came from" is racist. It makes assumptions about a person’s identity and history. It ignores the systems that have perpetuated vicious cycles of forced migration. What you look like, being bilingual, having an accent, and/or being unhappy with the way the country is being run does not make you any less American. What hurts the most is that, when I hear that phrase, I feel like someone is assuming that I am a part of what makes America worse. I pay my taxes. I have voted in every election since I turned 18. How have I wronged America? Have I not loved her the way you have? Haven’t I brought my flavor to this melting pot? Assumptions like that are unfair and based off prejudices. They paint me, an American, as an outsider. But how did I build America up if I’ve always been on the outside to you? Just admit it, this is my America too.
To me, being American means being allowed to be more than one thing and learning to use your identity to be and do good. My duality makes me American. I fit in with people no matter where they’re from.
I can switch languages when I need to.
I can root for Ghana and then the US in international sporting events.
I think that being able to adapt to different circumstances is really what being American is about.
Embodying that “melting pot” ideal. Stop telling me to go back to where I’m from. I bring flavor to this pot too! Oh and technically this is where I’m from anyways
- Rena Aboagye