Simran Jeet Singh on What It Feels Like to Be Told ‘Go Back Where You Came From’

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Trump after his call for the four congresswomen to go back to their “broken” countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Simran Jeet Singh is a scholar of religion currently based at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media. He is also senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


Over the past few days, the president of the United States has publicly announced his racism through a series of tweets targeting four women of color who are first-term members of Congress: Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Besides being a textbook example of racist rhetoric, President Trump’s suggestion that the four women “go back to where you came from” called on white nationalist talking points. You don’t have to be a scholar of religion and race to know this, though that’s what I am. The more relevant expertise I bring to this moment is that I have been targeted by both white supremacists and white nationalists my whole life.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve been told to go back to where I came from. What I do know is that the frequency of these calls has increased in recent years, in part because of what scholars are calling the Trump Effect: the emboldening of people to act and speak on their racist feelings.

I believe part of the uptick also has to do with a logic that is resonating with this same base, the same logic Trump used in his tweets this week: If you are critical of inequities in the U.S., that must mean you’re unhappy here. And if you’re unhappy here, why not go somewhere else.

In other words, go back to where you came from.

Although I’m not surprised to hear Trump openly spew racism, there is something deeply disconcerting to hear such dehumanizing rhetoric coming from the American president. Given the power and influence of his office, what he says does more than just normalize racism in our society – it also sanctions hate.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Punjab in the 1970s. My three brothers and I were born and raised in San Antonio, and from the reactions we got at the time, my brothers and I were pretty certain we were the only brown-skinned kids with turbans in all of South Texas.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that we looked different from the people around us: our neighbors, the kids in school, people at the grocery store. At the same time, we learned to be proud of our unique Sikh background and tradition.

I realize now that having to answer people’s questions about why we looked the way we did pushed us to learn more deeply about our identity. The more I learned, the more it made sense to me. And the more it made sense, the more I came to appreciate and cherish my Sikh heritage.

We encountered racism fairly often. I was 12 the first time someone told me to go back to where I came from. We were playing one of our rival soccer teams in Austin — the Riverside Rangers. One of the opposing players pushed me after a play and called me a “sand nigger” and told me to “go back to wherever you came from.”

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Source: Religion News Service