Fr Bobby Gilmore responds to the rise in racist nativism and President Trump’s recent attack on four congresswomen telling them to “go back to where they came from”.
“Home is a place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” (Robert Frost: The Death of a Hired Man)
Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of human life. (United Nations definition of Racism)
Racism is a specific form of discrimination and exclusion faced by minority groups. It is based on the false belief that some races are inherently superior to others of different skin colour, nationality, ethnic or cultural heritage. Racism robs people of their basic human rights, confidence, dignity and respect.
Racism generates fear of those who are a different minority effectively excluding them from full participation in the human mainstream. Racism underpinned most if not all of the atrocities of history from genocide to ethnic cleansing to segregation, slavery, apartheid, discrimination and everyday prejudice. It became institutionalised.
The recurrence of revolting atrocities culminating in the Holocaust forced the world to reflect on its implications to such an extent that the United Nations was coerced to debate the issue and define what racism is as defined above. While this was welcomed it did not eradicate racism. However, it set in train an awareness of the ugliness of what racism is and the need to deposit it in the dust bin of history.
Over the years tremendous efforts have been made to confine it to garbage but it is obvious that it has not been fully incinerated from the human mindset to be resurrected and used when needed. It seems that the human heritage sponges of each generation are predisposed to unwittingly accept it in its dormant state awakening when needed especially in times of perceived or actual problems, they like to blame a vulnerable, powerless minority.
After the horrors of the Holocaust, the ideology on which it was based, white nationalistic supremacy, became dormant in intellectual circles but not extent. A network of people silently worked to keep it alive in academic and political circles in the hope of an eventuality presenting to bring it mainstream.
Apartheid in South Africa, segregation in America and discrimination in Northern Ireland did not melt away. It took a struggle to eradicate each, evidence of the strength of both and the theory on which they were based. Justice, diversity and multiculturalism were stronger forces of the time all promoting equality of rights.
Anti-immigrant groups began to emerge in Europe giving an opportunity for the ideology of white nationalist supremacy to emerge. These groups found segments of traditionally manufacturing areas where people in traditional employment were abandoned as industry migrated to other climes offering cheap labour and lax environmental regulations.
As these anti-immigrant groups engaged in political representation, at first ignored, then gradually becoming splinter parties needed by mainstream parties to form governments they imposed policies underpinning their ideologies. They presented themselves as the voice of the perceived and actual dispossessed.
Gradually, they exploited racial difference by blaming immigrants as the cause of indigenous dispossession, implying that mainstream parties were promoting immigration as agents of cheaper immigrant labour.
Anti-immigration became an umbrella for covert racist nativism. Mainstream political parties panicked taking on some of the anti-immigrant biases in order to compete. This was exemplified in recent political elections depicting images of hordes of foreigners arriving at borders. Mainstream governments took the bait by creating hostile environments for immigrants and publishing slogans such as – ‘go home’ – ‘go back to where you came from’.
These policies have emerged from sections of the political directorate claiming to represent and protect patriotic nationalism founded on Judeo/Christian values and culture. Proponents of such policies promote themselves as the guardians of a “way of life” their reality, being undermined by foreigners, those who look foreign and by those who do not comply with their notion of who belongs and who should be excluded.
An example of such was aired recently by an advisor to President Trump attacking the victorious American women’s world cup team: “They’ve gone insane, and they want to destroy everything that is wholesome in our country and in our Judeo/Christian civilisation.”
Sadly, President Trump took this Judeo/Christian, American civilisation protectionism to a new public expression of racism at a political rally. He attacked four congresswomen telling them to “go back to where they came from” allowing his supporters to chant – “send them back”, weaponizing racial difference to activate his political support.
Some other white nationalist political leaders covertly agree with him and the silence of those who should be critical of racism, wherever, is demeaningly spineless both personally and institutionally.
Where can we go back to? We are all the product of recent or distant migrations. The salad bowl of humanity has always existed. None of us are pure – none of our parents come from the same yard – we are descendants of impurity, the energy of diversity, the uniqueness and mystery and the desire to belong, decide and participate in compassion with those who are different.
Human beings in the Judeo/Christian civilisation are, we are taught, in the image of a communitarian God. So, it is our nature as social beings to welcome, to belong, intermingle and be responsible for others if we are to be happy. Human beings, Christians, welcome strangers. Dogs bark at strangers. Those who try to alienate us are our enemies not our co-religious friends.
I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to see me. (Mt. 25-35)