“Go back where you came from” is my N-word. It’s not the only one I ever had. Back in the Soviet Union, there was the Ж-word, “жид”, given to anyone with Jewish ancestry. A large part of the reason I am here is to escape it. I did and promptly acquired a new one.
It’s my N-word because I often find it impossible to explain to people why exactly it hurts this much. Why it’s utterly unacceptable. Why it fills me with rage. It’s not a hard idea to articulate: “No matter what you do and how hard you try, you will never be good enough because of the things you never controlled.” See, easy. But it’s often oh so hard to understand unless you’ve lived it.
Everything about this is gross. The tweet itself is a nine-layer dip of garbage for the 40% of this nation population’s to dunk their racist brains into. The commentary in the Trumpist zoo, including this one from an utterly detestable Fox News woman whose name I don’t care to learn. The fact that this is exactly what his voters wanted him to say… And yes, I have just called 40% of America racist. In truth, this is a huge underestimation. Pretty much everyone is racist to some degree. Knowing that it’s bad is the trick. Not letting the beast roam free is the art. And if you can’t master it, you have to own it.
Nobody can pretend anymore. Nobody can say that the left has lost its marbles. Nobody can derisively spit “Oh, right, everything you don’t agree with is racism to you!” in anyone’s face. It’s out in the open. As if you did’t know. As if you didn’t vote for him precisely because of this.
“Go back where you came from” is something I have heard, now and again, for 28 years now. Not always in these exact words, not constantly, not every day, but often enough and clearly enough for it to become my N/Ж-word. When I was 19, I worked the night shift at a 7-11 in Upstate New York, with most of my customers being cops and the people they were after. The latter rarely gave me any trouble, rendering the sawed-off baseball bat under the counter unnecessary. But a few of the cops never missed an opportunity to comment on my accent. How did I come here? Is my family on welfare? Do I appreciate the freedoms I have been generously given?
When I was in my early twenties, I once got into an argument with a respectable-looking man over a parking space. As soon as he heard the accent, he threatened to call the cops. When I was in my mid-twenties, a woman who wasn’t happy with the fact I spoke to my friend in Russian demanded I “leave my country.” When I was in my late twenties, I cheered loudly at a soccer match, prompting another fan to call a cop, who then promptly told me that I am “the problem here” amid cheers to “go back where you came from.” When I lost my job after 9/11 and worked in a warehouse, my co-workers cheerfully referred to me as a “terrorist.”
But this isn’t what cuts the deepest. It’s every time I presumed to speak out about politics, or history, or culture. To advise or complain or voice an opinion. To do anything any other American feels free to do in a nation that prides itself in being free. Do you know how easy it is to learn that you are not like any other American? This easy. Be an immigrant and voice a political opinion. Be an immigrant and suggest you want to improve this country in some small way. Be an immigrant and dare to assert your citizenship.
You will learn quickly enough just how many people like their immigrants only a certain way: quiet, subservient, appreciative and, above all else, few and far between. “It’s just so strange to me that some people come here, take advantage of all the great things America has to offer and yet want to change it into their homeland!”, gasped a middle-class Republican hockey mom when I dared to argue with her about politics. Our sons played on the same team. She knew me well and heard me display cultural and historical knowledge of America that would have surely satisfied anyone. I could name more Civil War battles than she could, I could talk about our political system more competently, I have read all of Mark Twain and most of Jack London. But I wasn’t American enough. And never would be.
“Go back to where you came from.” This is where it always ends up. In the country founded on the rejection of birthrights and aristocracy, 40% of the people still passionately hold one truth to be self-evident: the physical location of their mother’s vagina at the moment they crawled out of it makes them special. Makes them better. Gives them more rights. No matter how many times you wave your naturalization papers in their faces. No matter if you can lecture them on the history of rock music or the intricacies of baseball. You are not a “real American.” You can’t talk about this country. Go back.
Of course, it goes beyond this, beyond the country of your birth. Beyond treating your popping into this world within certain borders as a major achievement and a title of privilege. Trump and his minions have other things in mind when it comes to their definition of who is an American and who should go back. Otherwise, they wouldn’t target Congresswomen born in New York, Detroit and Chicago. Otherwise, they wouldn’t hound a president born in Honolulu.
Trump got elected on one very simple idea. The idea that “American” means something very specific. The way you look. The way you speak. The way your name sounds (that one is ever so important). What your presumed childhood experiences must have been like. You know what, fuck it, let’s just call it by its real name: racism.
Own it. Live it. Don’t you ever dare to deny it. This is why he is in the White House. This is why you will vote for him. Because he reinforces your idea of who is an American and, more importantly, who isn’t. This is all on you.
I will stay here. You can go fuck yourself.
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