Trump’s ‘s**thole’ comments are no surprise to this Irish woman in America

I’ve had my accent mocked, small potatoes compared to what other immigrants face

An alleged description of African and other countries as “shitholes” by Donald Trump prompted outrage on Friday, even as the US president appeared to deny having used the specific term. The UN has condemned the remarks as "racist". Video: Reuters

 

Dr Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them”. On Thursday, we were shown something, and we ought to sit up and pay attention.

In a meeting with lawmakers at the White House to discuss a bipartisan immigration deal, the president of the United States is reported as saying, “Why do we want all these people from ‘sh**hole countries’ coming here?”, referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries. He then went on to say the US should get more people from countries like Norway. You know, because, they have lots of white people.

Aside from the delusion that Norwegians would willingly flock from the fjords to such a troubled country, Trump’s alleged comment - which he has denied - shows us exactly what he thinks of brown and black immigrants. Behind the ugliness of these words lies a bigotry that has gone unchecked in the US for hundreds of years.

America has a racism problem. It always has. Black and brown immigrants in the US are under siege. A country built on the backs of their ancestors wants to turn them away, turf them out. Black Americans, whose descendants were brought as chattel slaves, are losing sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers to systemic oppression, mass incarceration and police brutality.

There has never been a reckoning here. The civil war resulted in an entity called the United States but not once did a black person who was formerly enslaved receive any official reparation for the horrors they endured before its conclusion.

In a period of time after emancipation known as Reconstruction, generally glossed over in history classes here, black people were subjected to continued oppression and violence, led, in large part, by the 17th president, Andrew Johnson.

After 245 years of slavery came 90 years of Jim Crow (a series of racist laws designed to discriminate against African-Americans), the effects of which are still felt today. There was 60 years of a separate but equal policy. Only in 2013, did the state of Mississippi officially ratify the 13th Amendment - the abolition of slavery. There have been no reparations because there has been no real recognition of wrong doing.

The rise of white supremacy and the hateful, hurtful rhetoric coming from the top down is doing untold damage to America’s reputation internationally. Here’s the thing though: a large portion of this country doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Love it or leave it, they say. In other words, don’t point at our shame.

During his presidential campaign, Trump was lauded by supporters for telling it like it is. Well, he’s telling it like it is. And this is what it’s like. It isn’t a shock. It isn’t a surprise. It is exactly who he is and exactly what his voters wanted.

US president Donald Trump signed a proclamation to honor Martin Luther King Jr day in Washington on Friday, after the UN condemned reports of comments the president made about immigrants from ‘sh**thole countries’ as ‘shocking and shameful’. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
US president Donald Trump signed a proclamation to honor Martin Luther King Jr day in Washington on Friday, after the UN condemned reports of comments the president made about immigrants from ‘sh**thole countries’ as ‘shocking and shameful’. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

As an Irish woman in America, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had my accent mocked or heard comments about liking potatoes because I'm from Ireland - the "original  shithole country", as @IrishStand tweeted today - but that kind of thing really is, pardon the expression, small potatoes.

There is a real and urgent problem here that is escalating. It runs so deep it’s inescapable. It’s in schools, at the voting booth, in housing, in police stations, on the streets, in the White House… nowhere is exempt from the insidious racism that keeps millions of Americans from living full and free lives.

This big, beautiful country is bursting with the potential to be a true world leader. The US is full of creative thinkers, innovators, adventurers and pioneers. Sadly, none of them are running the country. To watch this potential get squandered away because of fear of the “other” is gut-wrenching. To read stories about black children being shot by police or watch as families are torn apart by savage immigration policies is heartbreaking. And it is happening here all the time.

At the heart of fear of the “other” lies fear of equality and a fear of loss of power. The threat of equality is what sustains oppression. Discrimination thrives on fear. The circle continues until broken.

The US has the possibility to lead a healing process the likes of which the world has never seen before. If it could find a way to lean in to the shame of slavery, segregation and racial oppression, there is quite literally nothing this country could not achieve.

Hope, as I see it, comes in the form of compassion. American children must be taught to be compassionate. They must be shown what compassion is through their leaders, teachers, friends and families. Maybe then a moment will come and a reckoning will emerge. And maybe then, when people show us who they are, we will not want to bury our heads and cry. We will want to believe it.

Lisa Tierney-Keogh is a playwright and co-founder of Irish Stand @IrishStand,  a grassroots movement standing for justice, truth and equality. She tweets @lisatk 

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