As a person of color in the United States, I have endured many things, including people who would question my right to be in certain places— suggesting that, as a Black woman, I got there unfairly and that I was somehow not deserving of basic rights white folks take for granted.
That’s why President Trump’s racist attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar felt personal to me, but more importantly, dangerous. Omar is a freshman congressperson, U.S. citizen, and Muslim who came to the United States as a child refugee from Somalia. While many are inspired by her story, Trump seems to think that if you are a hijab-wearing Black congresswoman elected in Minnesota, you should go back to Africa.
Through his tweets targeting Omar and the three other members of Congress known as “the squad” – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib – Trump broadcast to all of us that if you a person of color, you don’t belong here. One could simply interpret his comments as “U.S. citizen = white person.”
Watching Trump pause and enjoy people at a campaign rally chanting “send her back” – referring to Omar – made me think about what it must have been like in the 1930s as the fervor of Nazi ideology began to take hold. It was also a reminder that when rhetoric is used to single out whole groups of people as the source of society’s problems, those targeted people cease to be seen as human beings. Instead, they are demonized, even criminalized. We see this in Trump’s ongoing attacks on immigrants, refugees, and the Black and Muslim communities – identities that are all held by Omar.
While some dismiss Trump’s offensive tweets and comments as meaningless or even funny, we must recognize their serious consequences. When the president spews racist, hateful statements, it gives permission to others to do the same — from people at the rally, to strangers we encounter on the street, and to many more on social media. In fact, over the weekend, an Illinois GOP Facebook account released a meme of the four targeted congresswomen in a mock movie poster for the “Jihad Squad.”
This kind of meme demonstrates how Trump’s rhetoric reinforces conspiracy theories and Islamophobic narratives. These not only endangers the safety of Omar – who has received threats of physical violence and even death — but also the lives of other immigrants, refugees, Black, and Muslim people across the U.S.
What’s more, Trump’s dangerous rhetoric makes it possible for him and others in power to justify anti-Muslim and anti-Black policies, from the ongoing U.S. airstrikes in Somalia to the Muslim ban to “counter-terror” policies that target Muslims and so-called “Black identity extremists” in our local communities.
As a Quaker, I believe in living our values, which include equality and integrity. That’s why I am compelled to speak up and do all that I can to disrupt Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, and all forms of racism and discrimination.
I hope you will join me in doing the same. AFSC has many resources to help:
- Check out our bystander intervention resources on what to do when you witness instances of racist or anti-Muslim harassment (while keeping everyone safe).
- Learn how to respond when someone makes an Islamophobic comment on social media or in everyday conversation.
- Download one of our posters, with the powerful message that "We all belong here. We will defend each other." Display and share them in your community and on social media.