Op ed about racism from Rep. Ilhan Omar

Diane DeVillers
Posted July 26, 2019 from United States
The world is full of many colors
Embrace the unity of humanity

It Is Not Enough to Condemn Trump’s Racism

Throughout history, demagogues have used state power to target minority communities and political enemies, often culminating in state violence. Today, we face that threat in our own country, where the president of the United States is using the influence of our highest office to mount racist attacks on communities across the land. In recent weeks, he has lashed out unprompted against four freshman Democrats in the House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and me, from Minnesota.

Last week, as President Trump watched the crowd at one of his rallies chant “Send her back,” aimed at me and my family, I was reminded of times when such fearmongering was allowed to flourish. I also couldn’t help but remember the horrors of civil war in Somalia that my family and I escaped, the America we expected to find and the one we actually experienced.

The president’s rally will be a defining moment in American history. It reminds us of the grave stakes of the coming presidential election: that this fight is not merely about policy ideas; it is a fight for the soul of our nation. The ideals at the heart of our founding — equal protection under the law, pluralism, religious liberty — are under attack, and it is up to all of us to defend them.

Having survived civil war in my home country as a child, I cherish these values. In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, I saw grade-school children as young as me holding assault rifles in the streets. I spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya, where there was no formal schooling or even running water. But my family and I persevered, fortified by our deep solidarity with one another, the compassion of others and the hope of a better life in the United States.

The America we arrived in was different from the one my grandfather had hoped to find. The land of opportunity he imagined was in fact full of challenges. People identified me in ways that were foreign to me: immigrant, black. I learned that these identities carried stigmas, and I experienced prejudice as a visibly Muslim woman.

But the beauty of this country is not that our democracy is perfect. It’s that embedded in our Constitution and democratic institutions are the tools to make it better. It was in the diverse community of Minneapolis — the very community that welcomed me home with open arms after Mr. Trump’s attacks against me last week — where I learned the true value of democracy. I started attending political caucuses with my grandfather, who cherished democracy as only someone who has experienced its absence could. I soon recognized that the only way to ensure that everyone in my community had a voice was by participating in the democratic process.

Today, that basic promise is under threat. Our democratic institutions have been weaponized. The Trump administration has sought to restrict people from exercising their voting rights. It has sought to undermine the basic checks and balances of our Constitution by not respecting subpoenas from Congress. And the president has used overtly racist rhetoric to strike fear and division in communities of color and religious minorities across the country.

The idea — explicitly expressed by this president and enshrined into law by executive order — that people from certain Muslim-majority countries cannot enter this country is not just bad policy; it is a direct threat to liberal democracy. The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” shouted at a rally in Charlottesville in 2017 by white supremacists, whom this president tacitly accepted, are a direct attack on the values of religious freedom central to the founding of our nation.

The reasons for weaponizing division are not mysterious. Racial fear prevents Americans from building community with one another — and community is the lifeblood of a functioning democratic society. Throughout our history, racist language has been used to turn American against American in order to benefit the wealthy elite. Every time Mr. Trump attacks refugees is a time that could be spent discussing the president’s unwillingness to raise the federal minimum wage for up to 33 million Americans. Every racist attack on four members of Congress is a moment he doesn’t have to address why his choice for labor secretary has spent his career defending Wall Street banks and Walmart at the expense of workers. When he is launching attacks on the free press, he isn’t talking about why his Environmental Protection Agency just refused to ban a pesticide linked to brain damage in children.

His efforts to pit religious minorities against one another stem from the same playbook. If working Americans are too busy fighting with one another, we will never address the very real and deep problems our country faces — from climate change to soaring inequality to lack of quality affordable health care.

The only way to push back is to be unequivocal about our values. It is not enough to condemn Mr. Trump’s racism. We must affirmatively confront racist policies — whether the caging of immigrant children at the border or the banning of Muslim immigrants or the allowing of segregation in public housing. It is not enough to condemn the corruption and self-dealing of this administration. We must support policies that unmistakably improve working people’s lives, including by strengthening collective bargaining, raising the minimum wage and pursuing a universal jobs guarantee.

The consequences of this fight will not just be felt here at home but around the world. Right-wing nationalism in Hungary, Russia, France, Britain and elsewhere is on the march in ways not seen in decades. America has been a beacon of democratic ideals for the world. If we succumb to the fever of right-wing nationalism, it will have consequences far beyond our borders.

The proudest moments in our history — from the Emancipation Proclamation to the civil rights movement to the struggle against fascism — have come when we fight to protect and expand basic democratic rights. Today, democracy is under attack once again. It’s time to respond with the kind of conviction that has made America great before.

Thank you for taking the time to read my piece. Although these are some very difficult times, I am also hopeful. I know that together we can use the powerful tools of our democracy to build an America where all our welcome.

Click here to make a donation to my re-election campaign and PCCC’s work to elect bold progressives across the country who will unapologetically defend our democratic values.

Comments 11

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Jill Langhus
Jul 27, 2019
Jul 27, 2019

Hi Diane,

Thanks for sharing your concerning post about democracy, or lack thereof in the U.S. I hear you, and it's a concern of mine, too. I agree with whoever wrote this piece that "community is the lifeblood of a functioning democratic society." I am hopeful, too, about the next election being more fair and just. Only time will tell. It's definitely an interesting time to be alive and to witness all the upheavals in the world, and to see where and how everything will end up.

Hope you're doing well, and having a good weekend.

Beth Lacey
Jul 29, 2019
Jul 29, 2019

Such a terrible time for our country. It's shameful

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Jul 31, 2019
Jul 31, 2019

Hello, Diane,

How sad to called out from the crowd because of the different skin color. I hope love and respect reign in USA.

Thanks for sharing!

Anita Shrestha
Oct 10, 2019
Oct 10, 2019

Dear Diane
Thank you for sharing, keep it updating other

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi

Hi Diane,
Thank you so much for your post. It's sad that this is still happening in a first world country. It is very absurd.
Thanks you and hope you are well.
Have a lovely day.

Paulina Nayra
Feb 08
Feb 08

Oh my goodness.I thought we have the monopoly of a president who foment hate and division instead of harmony and compassion to all people regardless of sexual orientation and race. How can one be president of a free nation championing human rights when he himself is the instigator of hate?.
I hope you will overcome this challenge.

Huggs from the Philippines

Feb 09
Feb 09

Hi Diane!
Thanks for sharing this writeup abot the happenings in America conerning racism . Then need to fight to protect basic democracy rigths. Pray that more values will oneday be given to people no matter their color. Thanks for sharing

Nene Nkengla
Feb 09
Feb 09

This is just the type of society we live in, very horrible

Feb 12
Feb 12

Hello Dianne thanks for sharing your story and raising your concerns about racism which brings alot of fear, stigmatization amongst people. We long to live in a world where love can be shown to all no matter your skin color, hair or country.
How good it was for you and your family to escape the civil war.
Living in a country faced with civil war I can imagine what you sent through back in your days.
But we are grateful to God we are still alive.
Do have a great day.

Feb 20
Feb 20

Hello Diana ,thanks for sharing whill also check on you
Jane Kalu

Wukwen Destiny
Feb 25
Feb 25

Its really sad knowing that they still practice discrimination and racism still exist among people. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away. We pray that let peace and love to reign. Thanks for sharing.