From ‘Where are you from’ to ‘Go back where you came from’

White America has always been very good about telling people they don’t belong, since before there was even a United States of America. Let’s face it: This country started with colonists and then expansionists telling the Indigenous People who had been here for millennia forming societies and mastering agriculture and art and more that they weren’t as worthy of the land and its resources as the white people who had just “discovered” that land.

And now we live in a time when people who have been living in this country since they were very young children or even babies are rounded up and kicked out because they aren’t “officially” citizens, even though they’ve been everything and done everything a citizen does and don’t know any other home. When brown people who are citizens and have birth certificates and driver’s licenses to prove it are rounded up and threatened with deportation to countries they don’t come from and sometimes held in concentration camps for weeks. When other brown people who haven’t been here as long but do the jobs we need done that white people won’t do (like pick all those fruits and vegetables and process those chickens we need to live) are also rounded up because they aren’t citizens—never mind that we rely on them and they are every bit the productive American regardless of citizenship.

And if I’m going to keep it real, it’s not just about all those “suspicious” maybe-not-really-citizens-because-they’re-Latinx folks either. It’s about people like me, too—Black people—who have been part of this country since our ancestors were dragged here as enslaved people. Even if we couldn’t rise from “property” to “citizen” until a relatively short number of generations ago. We are part and parcel of this messed-up country. We were forced to help build it and here in 2019 we are still pushed down and held back so that white people can have someone to look down on and abuse.

But somehow we still don’t belong.

This has all been on my mind a bit more heavily than usual since some incidents recently that I tweeted about in venting mode last week. Fortunately, no local media types decided to turn it into an article like they did with that other recent story of mine that I was just venting about on Twitter but wasn’t even sure I’d blog about because it’s so common in my life and other Black people’s lives.

But honestly, in Trump’s America, our increasingly fascist nation, it does need to be addressed, so let me go on about addressing it, shall I?

In the span of just a few days, here’s what I’ve dealt with as a Black woman in America:

  • I go to my favorite local breakfast spot alone. Like I always do when I’m solo, I sit at the counter. Next to me is a white woman, who visibly and dramatically turns up her nose at the sight of me, like she’s a damn character in a melodrama, and very quickly leaves without finishing her food.
  • I’m out having drinks with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, and I notice a white woman giving me dirty looks. My friend, who has the white male jackpot of privilege, even notices it, to the point of commenting that “yeah, she is mad-mugging you” and proceeds to mad-mug right back at her, until the escalation of dirty looks finally makes her back down.
  • I’m at the same watering hole where I got confronted by that Florida racist a few weeks ago, and some Gen-X or earlier white dude asks where I’m from. When I say “here” he insists on asking, “No, where were you born?” to which I respond “The South Side of Chicago” not only to be honest but in the hopes that he knows that song about bad, bad Leroy Brown and backs off before he catches hands from me or someone else.

OK, sure, these things aren’t as dramatic as being one of dozens of little Hispanic children who come home to find your parents have been rounded up and disappeared by ICE like some re-enactment of Nazi Germany, like happened just this past week too. But they are important to note and to bring to your attention if you’re a white person who doesn’t realize how bad things are getting.

I’ve always had to deal with micro-aggressions like this (and they often don’t feel very “micro” when they happen among a lot of white people and you’re the only Black person and you might actually be in danger), but the flavor is different now.

Since moving to Maine, I am accustomed to (NOT immune to or unaffected by it, mind ya) having people treat me like I don’t belong. This is one of the two whitest states in the nation. And especially during tourist season, I notice an increase in people glancing at me funny as though to say, “Why are you here; they told me there would only be white people here during my vacation.”

Even the famously and supposedly polite Canadians who like to visit during the summer do this to me and to other Black people here.

But with these three so-obvious incidents in the span of a couple days—which follow shortly after that incident with the guy from Florida—I can tell things are different. It’s not just that it is happening more frequently. People are more bold about it.

In the atmosphere that Trump has created, white people who weren’t all that fond of people of color (POC) in “their” spaces are feeling emboldened. They are very direct, very confrontational now and very threatening—menacing even. Actually dangerous in more cases now. They don’t feel like they have to hold their racism in anymore—not that they’d tolerate you calling them racist as they do racist things.

Make no mistake: White people overall, even the well-meaning ones, tend to think of all spaces as theirs. They feel entitled to access (over and above the needs/wants of POC). They feel entitled to dictate the rules of engagement (especially to POC). They feel entitled to challenge you (if you are POC and dare to mention any of these things as being problematic).

The very idea of turning up your nose as if I am vermin is awful. The idea of trying to stare me down in a public place while I am minding my own business with a friend is awful. The idea of questioning whether I am from America just because I’m not white when you not only don’t know me but these are your very first words to me—and then insisting even when I say I’m from here that I must originally be from somewhere else—is awful.

These are the things white people do to tell you that if you are Black or Brown, you don’t belong here. Even if you were born here, you really don’t have the same entitlement to rights and freedom here. No matter how successful you are, you are beneath me. You are OTHER.

White nationalist violence against people of color picked up in response to Barack Obama’s presidency because blackness suddenly was seen as a major threat to many Americans. It picked up even more when Donald Trump starting campaigning on a platform of racism and then turned the White House into white supremacy HQ. The hatred that is condoned from on high and that is enforced so violently, evilly and publicly with the ever-expanding powers of ICE and other law enforcement agencies gone wild makes the rank-and-file racist white people feel like they can dictate to me and challenge me. And other Black and Brown people.

It’s not right. And even if you want to say they have a right to express their feelings, however wrong…or if you want to say, “Why should they have to bottle up their feelings if you complain about having to bottle up yours to fit in”…well let me tell you something. People of color spend their whole lives mostly having to deal with white people all around them, at work and teaching them in school and policing their neighborhoods and doing what they want with communities of color. We have to bottle stuff up constantly just to survive and not be persecuted. White people occasionally have to deal with a little color in their white spaces and might feel some kind of way, but it passes quickly and they end up back in safe and controlled spaces often enough.

White people sometimes have to push down their feelings of racism and not let them show. Black people and other POC always have to think about what they are doing and resist saying things they want to say just to keep the peace. Which do you think is harder? Why do you think so many Black people die earlier than white people because of stress-related illness?

No, it’s time for pushing back. It’s time for racist white people to get some dirty looks in return. Some nasty comments. It’s time for some of them to maybe catch some hands and get bruised for their behavior. It’s time for those white people to stuff the racism back down and pretend they don’t have a problem with me because I do belong here. Whether I always love this country and what it does or not, I belong here. This is my place too. And don’t you forget it.


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4 thoughts on “From ‘Where are you from’ to ‘Go back where you came from’”

  1. This was a superb piece. It captured the essence of white supremacy, white entitlement & sheer arrogance that is penetrating every aspect of our society. The hypocrisy is jawdropping. Natives were here before you, blacks before you, latinos were present & dominant in the southwest territory before you. The larger question to white America should be – Who the hell do you think you are? If your so miserable with POC, why don’t you go back to Europe?

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