I was a girl in Daisy Scouts the first time I was told to ‘go back home’
We are your attorneys, cab drivers, doctors and farmers. We are not going anywhere because we are already home
Last Sunday, President Trump tweeted that four women of color in Congress should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” and he accused them of hating “our country.”
On Monday, he followed up by saying he was unconcerned that his words were racist because many people agree with him.
And therein lies the problem.
As a Sikh American-born woman of color, I was raised in a religiously observant household that dealt with racism daily. Our differences were visible: our brown skin, our clothes and articles of faith, including turbans the men in my family wore.
We lived in a Chicago suburb where my family were some of the only people of color.
In kindergarten, I remember the excitement of my first Daisy Scouts meeting, arriving with my turban-wearing grandfather in tow. My excitement quickly dissipated as my fellow 5-year-olds isolated me, questioning why I was there and why I didn’t go back to where I came from because I didn’t belong.
I refused to go back, recognizing that this childhood version of “go back to your country” was synonymous with hate.
As a former Chicago prosecutor and now legal director of a civil rights organization that represents Sikhs in cases of racial and religious discrimination, I can tell you that “go back to your country” continues to be a phrase used to marginalize and intimidate minorities in America.
The ostracizing of minority communities, which this president has weaponized for political purposes, also carries significant real-life consequences.
Inderjit Singh Mukker, a U.S. citizen and observant Sikh from the Chicago suburbs, was viciously attacked in 2015 by a teenager who called him a “terrorist” and told him to “go back to your country.”
In January 2018, another Sikh man was threatened at gunpoint in Silvis, Illinois, by his Uber passenger, who repeatedly asked him where he came from and why he didn’t go back to his country.
Sadly, hate-related crimes are not unique to our state, nor do they happen in a vacuum. For the third year in a row, the FBI has reported a continued rise in hate crimes. The responsibility to combat this racism and bigotry starts by holding our elected officials, leaders and communities accountable for their rhetoric.
Like the four congresswomen, I have spent the majority of my career in public service. My family, like the Sikh American community as a whole, has been a part of the American fabric for generations. We are your attorneys, cab drivers, doctors and farmers. And know this: you can tell us to “go back to your country,” but we are not going anywhere because we are already home.
As minority children continue to be disproportionately bullied in schools and hate crimes continue to rise, we must do better. If we wouldn’t tolerate it on the playground from children, we shouldn’t tolerate it from the White House.
Trump’s words have consequences for Americans like me, but we all have a responsibility to speak out. When our patriotism is challenged and we are accused of not loving our country because we question the adequacy of government policies — or because they refuse to acknowledge the damaging impact of phrases like “go back to your country” — we must remind our leaders and one another that accepting hateful words against minority groups fails to take into account the real, devastating consequences of that bigoted rhetoric.
If we remain silent, we become complicit. We are all Americans, and the America I know and love celebrates that diversity. Our elected officials, especially our president, must do the same.
Amrith Kaur is the legal director for the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. A Cook County assistant state’s attorney for 11 years, she lives in Chicago.
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