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] It should be noted that the definition of what it means to “look American” has changed though over the course of American history.