Whether we acknowledge it or not, discrimination by colour, religion and race is still rampant in the world today and more so for obvious reasons in countries inhabited by multiple ethnicities. It is also anticipated that xenophobia and racial discrimination will continue to rise in the coming years.
At the same time, millions of people still head to the United States in the hope of realising the American Dream of a decent life, abundant opportunities and equal treatment. But upon their arrival, that American Dream may become an “American pipe dream” for many as racism and discrimination sour their highly anticipated new life.
The idea of the American Dream involves the ideals of democracy, human rights, liberty, opportunity and equality in which freedom includes the opportunity to pursue prosperity and success. But do all Americans get the same opportunities and treatment that allow them to fulfill that dream?
Though immigrants to the US used to suffer the backlash of racism at the hands of some, the majority of US citizens maintained a welcoming attitude towards their fellow Americans and those who had recently set foot on American soil. Today, as harsh speech becomes more prevalent, courtesy and empathy towards others has often gone out of the window. Hence, by virtue of their birth or colour, some are intentionally undermining fellow US citizens through denigrating language and offensive behaviour.
In an episode considered the first of its kind, US President Donald Trump recently called on four women members of the US Congress of non-white origin to “go back and try to fix the crime-infested, corrupt places [they] originally came from before telling the US government how to handle its problems.”
Three of these four Congresswomen were born in the US. Prior to this episode, Trump had also referred to an “invasion” of the US coming from its southern border and condemned Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and Syrian refugees as “snakes.”
The US House of Representatives immediately condemned Trump’s comments, but the damage was done, leaving the door wide open for his white supremacist followers to verbally assault non-white immigrants in an unabashed manner. Today, white supremacy and the notions and behaviour that come with it have even reached the US mainstream.
In an incident that has been described as one of the most racist moments in recent American history, the crowds that had gathered to hear Trump speak at one of his rallies chanted “send her back, send her back, send her back” about Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Congresswoman from Minnesota who wears the Muslim headscarf, or hijab, and who soon afterwards saw an increase in threats to her life. It was as though the crowd had been given free rein or carte blanche to say what it pleased.
A Sudanese writer commented on the phrase “send her back” in the US newspaper USA Today, saying that it had reminded her of what she had gone through when she had arrived in the US as a six-year-old. She said that her family had travelled from Sudan to California “in pursuit of the American Dream,” but still she did not feel welcome.
She also said that “being a black, Muslim woman with roots in East Africa, I quickly learned that the American Dream was a myth, only reserved for a special class of people, one who did not look anything like me.”
Incidents against non-white Americans have now become more pervasive. One piece of footage on the Internet has a white man screaming at a black woman, “if you consider yourself an African-American, go back to Africa.” She screams back at him, “you brought us over!” Another woman shouts back, “you go back to Europe!”
Other footage shows a white man in the US yell at a Jew, “go to Auschwitz,” the Nazi camp where many Jews were imprisoned and exterminated during the Second World War. On social media in the US, photographs of white supremacists vowing to “make America white again” are going viral.
Such verbal examples are numerous and frequent. But when bigotry and intolerance become the threshold for physical carnage, it is undoubtedly a disaster at another level altogether. The attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, that killed 20 innocent shoppers and injured dozens of others and the shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people were both ethnically motivated.
In a statement released soon after these attacks that took place earlier this year, a group of UN experts denounced the incidents and encouraged the United States “to address such violence without delay as a matter of white supremacy and racism,” adding that any refusal to take “immediate and direct action to prevent further similar acts of domestic terrorism renders those individuals complicit in the violence that follows.”
Non-white sentiments towards these events are summed up in the following poignant tweet, which has been abbreviated for brevity: “Was the killer Muslim? Then we ban travel. Was the killer Hispanic? Then we build a wall. Was the killer black? Then we build more prisons and a stronger police force. Was the killer White? Thoughts and prayers and more guns in hope to stop the bad guys with guns.” Though exaggerated, this tweet speaks to the sentiments of many in the US.
The fact that Muslim woman Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Puerto Rican descent succeeded in becoming US Congresswomen is a phenomenal success, and it denotes how it is still possible to achieve the American Dream. But the fact that they are still met with so much animosity is also an affirmation that racism still persists in the US today and that it will possibly get worse in the near future.
The land that promises the American Dream should provide a sociocultural climate that embraces all ethnicities, shuns xenophobia and acts as a safe haven for immigrants that take the security and opportunities of the US as a given.
*The writer is a political analyst.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly