The Ugly Truth About Trump’s Racist Attacks On “The Squad”
This past weekend, the hashtag #IStandWithErica trended on Twitter. Erica Thomas, the nine-months pregnant African American Georgia state representative, claimed in an emotional Facebook Live video that Eric Sparkes, the man standing behind her in a Publix express checkout line, told her to “go back where you came from.” Later Thomas said she may have misremembered the exact phrasing of what Sparkes said, but she did remember “go back” was clearly used, and she then said in turn “go back” to Sparkes.
Of course, Republicans and Trumpsters pounced on this and accused Thomas of spreading a “hoax.” On Wednesday, a Publix employee claimed it was Thomas who told Sparkes to go back where he came from. As people battle over the truth, which is usually found between different versions of the same story, they fail to notice perhaps the most important part of the controversy. What is grotesque and unfortunately not all that surprising is that most people didn’t pick up on Sparkes’s sexist and racist dog whistle when he admitted to calling Thomas “a lazy bitch,” a subtle and typical racial and misogynist epithet flung toward African American women.
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Hostility toward women of color in public spaces is nothing new. And when they hold power, the misogynoir becomes radioactive. Audre Lorde wrote, “. . . [I]t is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women ‘who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the results.’” And the most famous American women currently paying the price are Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)
Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Presley, and Tlaib, also known as “The Squad,” along with Thomas now sadly belong to an exclusive club that includes a journalist and an expat spy, activist, singer, and dancer. Because of her anti-lynching editorial for a Memphis newspaper she co-owned, early 20th century political and social activist Ida B. Wells faced lynching threats herself. She learned her newspaper office had been destroyed when she attended a Philadelphia conference after her editorial ran, prompting a relocation to Chicago.
Then there is famed dancer and Folies Bergere star Josephine Baker. Now hailed as an iconic trailblazer, Baker received scathing reviews when she returned to the United States, the racist country she left for France. “Negro wench” was the term used by The New York Times.
And how can we forget the term “welfare queen” attributed to being started by President Ronald Reagan when he ran for President in 1976 and 1980. This racist stereotype was used by Regan and fellow conservatives to demonstrate the evils of safety nets like welfare and food stamps (which some white Americans and some Trump voters use as well) and how “welfare queens” still bilk government funds.
But Josh Levin at Slate revealed that the Chicago Tribune and not Reagan first used the term “welfare queen” to describe “a Golddust, Tenn., grifter, possible baby trafficker, possible kidnapper and possible murderer named Linda Taylor” who lived in Chicago at the time of Reagan’s rise. The Gipper knew a story he could exploit and used the example of one African American woman to stand in for all women of color who needed and used public assistance. Like Trump did with Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants, Reagan built his campaign on further stereotyping and marginalizing Black women to validate white economic frustration and fear – key components of the GOP’s Southern Strategy.
Levin expanded his original Slate article into a book The Queen: The Forgotten Myth Behind the American Myth to tell Taylor’s complex life story where she encountered “racism and sexism” throughout her life. Levin’s book brought attention to facts ignored by Reagan, the GOP, and white America: Taylor, who only had a second-grade education, was born in the Jim Crow south to a white mother and Black father during the time where relations between Blacks and whites were illegal. And because she was biracial, Taylor, who grew up in poverty, was isolated from both sides of her family.
To understand the early years of Taylor’s life makes her a tragic figure instead of a comic, lazy, and loathsome caricature that ended up demonizing all Black women. Remember that Sparkes proudly called Thomas “a lazy bitch.”
Performance poet, educator, and writer Doris Davenport in her essay “The Pathology of Racism: A Conversation with Third World Wimmin,” said, ”We challenge the symptoms of the disease while neglecting the causes. I intend to examine the causes.”
While I am attempting in this analysis to examine the causes, I must disclose that I am white, and my unearned racial privilege limits my exposure to epithets, discrimination, civil rights violations, and physical threats because of my race alone, something Thomas, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley, and Omar are receiving from Donald Trump and his rabid and aliterate cult. I also disclose that I am a graduate student in women’s and gender studies at DePaul University. Despite having more friends of color than I do white friends, my formal education allows me to take a deeper dive into an intersectional racial framework.
However, as a white woman, I know it is not only up to me to educate myself. I must also call out racism and specifically misogynoir and other racial and sexist assaults when I hear and read them being spread knowingly or unknowingly by my fellow white citizens, specifically white women. It cannot be ignored that white women have for centuries upheld and spread racism, white supremacy, imperialism, and sexism. Currently upholding these ideas are the white women who voted for and still support Trump.
The indolent news channel CNN, which played a significant part in the election of Trump by filling up their airtime with numerous Trump rallies instead of covering actual news, conducted another group interview with a selection of “Trumpettes” that they had previously interviewed for past interviews. One “Trumpette,” Gina O’Briant, gave her own racist take advocating that Trump couldn’t be racist because he “dated a black woman.”
Trumpette Kathleen Liebermann said Tlaib, Pressley, Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez were “not acting American,” clearly demonstrating she had never been exposed to or taught to read any American authors outside of her own racial demographic. If she had, she would have known that James Baldwin said in Notes of a Native Son “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Also at work in the racist and sexist attacks on Thomas and “The Squad” is “othering.” Nobel-Prize winner Toni Morrison explores in her book The Origin of Others the fear of “the other” and how literature can enable its indoctrination. Race is a human construct, and science has proven why some people’s complexions are dark and others are light (living near or below the equator throughout the centuries played the evolutionary role). Colonialism spread white supremacy and the attacks on Thomas and “The Squad” uphold it. Add misogyny and a poisonous stew is spoon-fed to white Americans.
The Combahee River Collective wrote that “. . . the major systems of oppression are interlocking.” I am a white woman with racial privilege, and I live with a disability. My racial privilege affects my medical care, but ableism combined with sexism have impacted my daily life. My own oppressions are what Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley, and Omar are also fighting to unlock as well. Though another obtuse Trumpette fails to recognize that.
Trumpette Dena Miller whined, “Why are they not racist? How come they haven’t befriended one of their white female congresswomen colleagues and let her join? They don’t like white people. Come on, they’re racist!”
The problem is that the most powerful white female congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has insulted the squad in a published interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. If Pelosi did openly support them and fight along with what they are fighting for instead of ridiculing their Twitter presence, she would not only be welcomed into the squad but play her part in unlocking oppression of not just all Americans but those who desire to become Americans.
Eventually, Pelosi tweeted in response to Trump’s racist and unhinged tweet against the four Congresswomen: “When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ’Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again. Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.”
Later on the House Floor, she declared, “Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.”
Pelosi met with Ocasio-Cortez on Friday:
Today, Congresswoman @RepAOC and I sat down to discuss working together to meet the needs of our districts and our country, fairness in our economy and diversity in our country. pic.twitter.com/eVp1LS0Gpw
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 26, 2019
While Pelosi’s words later upheld and validated “The Squad,” her earlier comments had already divided the Democrats and offered meat to Trump and his base. Americans still need to see if this will affect Democratic unity and Trump’s presidential prospects throughout the next few months. Women of color need effective white allies and support of white women for their policies and the change they want to make in the world before they are attacked.
In Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” she proclaimed, “For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection, which is so feared in the patriarchal world.”
For those of us who are white, and white women especially, it is our responsibility and duty to learn how to recognize the intersections of race and gender, call out attacks based on those, and work alongside with and listen to those women who work to unlock everyone’s oppressions.
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