For People Of Color In Kansas City, 'Go Back Where You Came From' Is A Familiar Refrain | KCUR

For People Of Color In Kansas City, 'Go Back Where You Came From' Is A Familiar Refrain

Jul 18, 2019

During a week when President Donald Trump continued attacks on four members of Congress after tweeting that they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," people of color in Kansas City are reacting with anger, frustration and sadness.

One emotion that's less common is surprise.

"I remember as a kid, in kindergarten, elementary school, you know, and hearing the same thing," says Kansas Democratic Rep. Susan Ruiz, whose father immigrated from Mexico.

She didn't understand the sentiment at the time, but her father certainly did.

"He said that there are some people that will not accept you because of the color of your skin," remembers Ruiz, who represents parts of Shawnee, Lenexa and Overland Park.

Mahnaz Shabbir has similar memories.

She was out of the country when she first read the tweets, and "it made me terribly sad," she says. Shabbir is a company founder, consultant, activist and public speaker who wears hijab.

"It brought back growing up," she says, "things that were said to me or my children."

It's a lesson immigrants to the United States have been learning for generations, or at least since the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798. That series of laws, signed by President John Adams, made it easier to deport foreigners and harder for new immigrants to vote.

Elvis Eskridge, an Army veteran from Fort Scott, Kansas, says he grieved over the president's words.

"I served so everyone of color, and even President Trump, and all Americans have a seat at the table," he says. "My daughter is (biracial), so I'm very concerned about her when I hear stuff come out of the president's mouth."

"It's like a ripple effect," Shabbir notes. "I'm so glad right now school is not in session because I don't know what that would have done to the children," she says. "Because that's where some of these ugly things come up."

Mahnaz Shabbir is a well-known activist and prolific board member in the Kansas City region. When she sees racist rhetoric like the president's weekend tweets, she wonders 'what seeds are we sowing now, that's going to perk up in the future?'
Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

That it is one of the world's most powerful leaders making the statements is yet another concern. Shabbir says it illustrates a worrying trend she's observed as a Muslim American: this kind of rhetoric is becoming more common, not less.

She says the current rhetoric is similar to what happened after 9/11.

"Every year it gets worse and worse," Shabbir says, "and now we have a leader of this country who's like propagating it."

"It's just aggravating to see the same things happen over and over again," says Michelle Tyrene Johnson, who reports on race, identity and culture for KCUR.

Since the tweets were published, she's observed public discussions unfold about whether they were in fact racist, given that Trump didn't explicitly mention race.

"In part it's racist because it's something that's only thrown to people who look anything other than white," Johnson says. "(Trump) ran an election based on what he did not like about America and the direction it was going in. He did not take the position himself, 'I don't like things, I'm leaving.'"

For her part, Rep. Ruiz says she's is hopeful.

"There is a surge," she says. "I am hearing it every day, that there are people that are going to go out and vote (against Trump)."

Rasmussen Reports' daily Presidential Tracking Poll for July 17 shows 50% of likely voters approve of the president's job performance, and 38% strongly approve.

Rep. Susan Ruiz, Mahnaz Shabbir and Michelle Tyrene Johnson spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR's Up to Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.