On Telling People to “Go Back to Their Home Countries”

A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump garnered controversy and rightful accusations of racism when he said over Twitter that four first-term congresswomen of color—Ayanna Presley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar—were told to “go back to their home countries” and fix them. 

The immediate response by all involved was focused on President Trump himself. Some people (mostly Democrats, with a few Republicans) condemned President Trump’s remarks and/or President Trump himself as racist, while others (mostly Republicans) said that the remarks were unfortunate, but those others stopped short of accusing the President of being a racist. 

However, since this conflict happened a few weeks ago at this point, I think that we need to look at President Trump’s remarks within a larger context: the fact that it is sadly quite common for people in the United States to be told to “go back to their home countries,” and that this rhetoric as a whole, as well as the root of this rhetoric (a fear of difference) needs to be confronted.

I have never experienced anyone telling me to go back to my home country, but I know of and know personally people who have. Those who are told to “go back to their home countries” are often told so for one or more of the following reasons: they are speaking in a language other than English, they have an accent that doesn’t sound American, they are critical of the United States in ways that some may not like it, and/or they just don’t “look American” (often, “looking American” is these days implied as looking European[1]). I’m sure that there are other reasons that people are told to “go back to their home countries”, but most of the time, it’s one or more of those four reasons that comes up.

These reasons, of course, do not justify the hateful rhetoric that certain people who are in the United States by legal means do not belong here. Not by a longshot. However, these reasons do give some insights as to the sorts of prejudice we’re up against when people suggest that others should “go back to their home countries”—we’re up against prejudices which believe that a person who doesn’t speak a certain language (English), a person who has a doesn’t have a certain type of accent, a person who doesn’t adhere to a certain political ideology, and/or a person who doesn’t look a certain way (white) is not American and is not deserving of being in the United States of America. In other words, we’re up against prejudices that are the product of a fear of difference, whether it be fear of different languages, fear of different political leanings, and/or fear of different skin colors.


[1] The definition of what it means to “look American” has changed though over the course of American history—it used to include

15 Replies to “On Telling People to “Go Back to Their Home Countries””

  1. Thank you. I’ve had racists question whether I’m an American or not because of my skin color. Sure, I may have a White dad, but it doesn’t change the fact that I clearly have dark enough skin from my maternal (Black) side of the family to look “foreign” in people’s eyes here. There have been times I wanted to tell White people the same thing if they tried to pull that off towards me to give them a taste of their own medicine. It sucks how people are judged by their accents, skin color, names, religion, and other factors that aren’t Eurocentric here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Goodness gracious me. I am dismayed and disappointed that you’ve had such experiences, but I’m also not surprised. As you know, skin color is one of the things through which people’s “belonging” is questioned or even doubted. It sucks, and I hope what Trump did here can at least raise awareness of how common such comments are.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, it’s been very frustrating how people would doubt that just because of what I look like. I hope what he said makes people call him out and call others out for saying that kind of hateful rhetoric.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I certainly hope that what he said makes people call others out for saying that sort of hateful rhetoric. It’s so widespread–what Trump said to the four congresswoman was what others have said as well on numerous occasions.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Brendan. My spouse and I talked about this subject this morning. Neither of us understand it. As you say it comes down to fear. Fear of the other, fear of that which you don’t understand, fear of that you can not control, fear of things changing. We all know a large part of the current racism is fear of the white majority becoming a minority. Sylvia Allen a state senator from Arizona complained publicly about the browning of our country. I wonder if it is a fear of the “brown” people treating the white people as badly as they were treated. I watched a video recently of a cafe where a white woman asked a group speaking in Spanish to speak English because she couldn’t understand them. When they told her she was not part of their conversation so it shouldn’t matter, she said it did because this was America and she should be able to hear any conversation and understand what they were saying. Weird ego there. I loved that people around them started speaking Spanish also. Ron and I do not understand the code word “culture” the racist use as our culture is multi ethnic and multi racial. Despite Tucker Carlson claiming taco’s were invented in the US. We have incorporated so many other cultures into our own version of country it would be hard to separate any one out as not belonging. Anyway it is racist, tRump is racist, the majority of the administration is racist, they are depending on the votes of the minority of the country that is racist to get tRump reelected. Also any Republican who doesn’t stand up and denounce the racism is also a racist. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a lot of fear involved. I’m not sure whether there’s a fear of “brown” people treating white people as badly as they were treated. It’s an interesting theory.

      You’re right that we have incorporated so many other cultures in the US, which should in theory make it hard to separate anyone out as not belonging. However, it seems like certain cultures are viewed with a certain disdain and are therefore viewed as not belonging.

      I agree re: Trump and his administration. It’s quite awful, and I hope that more Republicans wake up to the racism and do so soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your observations that prejudices and biases are often based on fear. We experienced this when we moved to rural Newfoundland, from Ontario. Even though we moved within Canada, the cultures are very different and rural Newfoundlanders have a kind of “fear” of people from “away”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for commenting Sally. There is definitely a fear of the other, a fear of the other that yes includes Trump, but goes well beyond Trump. Does that fear exist in other circles in Canada too?

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      1. Brendan I think it is mainly in Newfoundland. A kind of slavery was practised here for centuries, with fishermen risking their lives at sea to catch fish which were bartered to rich merchants. The fish were salted and dried and shipped around the world. Thus the fishermen and their families were kept in extreme poverty and thus their wariness of anyone new coming onto the island can be explained.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah…okay then. I was curious. Nevertheless, thanks for introducing me (and other readers) to the attitude of “go back to your home land” in a different part of the world.

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  4. What I fear is ignorance. I do fit in with the white European ideal. I come from a family of Irish immigrants who when they came to this country didn’t find welcome either. The only people that can say that this is their original country are the Native Americans and they have to deal with their own hell. I think hatred, racism are based in ignorance and I don’t think we will ever be free of it. We have come a long way, but no where near enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The social circumstances of immigration have changed.

    My mother married my father in her home town in the Rhineland and came here unable to speak English and with no idea of what America was like.

    We visited my Grandparents and my Grandmother came from Germany to visit us, but we didn’t go to a Verein or Bund or such a club as my wife’s Grandparents, also German immigrants did when they first arrived in New York.

    Being German in an American school is a rather harrowing experience. My mother had a very noticeable accent and my Grandparents sent clothes over From Germany which I wore to school, much to the amusement and frequent ridicule of my classmates. And believe me, in the sixties when I was in school, there were plenty of people willing to punch a Nazi.

    But the liberalization of our immigration laws in the mid sixties changed everything.

    We went from a situation in which immigrants like my mother were very few and perhaps a bit strange, to the present where half of our population growth comes from immigration and where legal immigrants are one in seven of us.

    The impact on America is enormous, and looking forward to the mid and late twenties and the 2030s it seems almost inevitable that America’s standard of living will decline and that the competition for housing jobs, and perhaps even food will become more intense.

    Who is watching out for the Americans with small families, no particular skills and no other country to get money from or go back to?

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    1. The thing about my post, however, is that it does not have to do with immigration policy. While I think that it is important to have a vibrant discussion about immigration policy, my post did not focus on immigration policy but on the issue that people are told to go back to their home countries because of how they look, how they speak, what language they speak, and/or what their political or personal beliefs are. Changing policy is different from changing attitudes and mindsets.

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