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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Editorial: It's up to all of us to make this right

rallycrowd

Supporters listen to President Donald Trump speak in Minges Coliseum.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

“Send her back!”

The racist refrain, soft at first, crescendoed as the crowd at President Donald Trump’s “Keep America Great” rally on Wednesday in Greenville emphatically picked it up. On live television, sitting stage right of the President at East Carolina University’s Minges Coliseum, a young girl who appeared to be no older than 15 glanced at the adults standing around her. Were that girl in a school classroom, she would have been written up for telling an immigrant classmate to “Go back to where you came from.” But, taking cues from the responsible grown-ups in the audience, she gradually picked up the chant, too.

The president, asked about the crowd’s chant, said Thursday, “I didn’t say that. They did.” He also falsely claimed that he “started speaking very quickly,” when he heard it. From these statements, it appears that Trump is trying to offload the blame for his racist rhetoric onto the crowd of 8,000 people at William’s Arena.

It was the president who tweeted, last Sunday, that four congresswomen of color should go back to the countries “from which they came.” (All four congresswomen are American citizens.) While that statement may have been flowered up rhetorically, the end result is still the same: the incitement of white supremacist ideology. The president is either too naive to recognize the use of “Go back to where you came from” as one of the oldest racist diatribes in the book, or he understood its connotations and chose to follow through anyway.

Though the president’s Twitter feed provided the template for the chant, his supporters at Williams Arena are not off the hook. The 8,000 individuals — Greenville natives, your friends, your neighbors, the people you see at the grocery store and the people you honk at on the roads — readily rejected the legitimacy of an American citizen’s right to dissent Wednesday. Some were out-of-towners, for sure, and perhaps some were groupies of the president, but certainly a sizable number of Pitt County residents took part in the chant.

For what reason? Were you to ask any of the people at the rally, “Are you racist?,” it is unlikely that they would say yes. Perhaps some would. So, how then to square the deeply racist chant with a denial of racism?

Explaining the history of statements like “Go back to where you came from,” and how the KKK, until 1977, had a billboard in Smithfield, N.C, only an hour away from Greenville, that said “This Is Klan Country — Love It Or Leave It,” may sway some. But is it really acceptable that a crowd of 8,000 adults was unaware that saying “Send her back” to a black, immigrant, Muslim congresswoman was racist?

Some have tried to deflect by saying “The president would say the same thing about a white member of Congress,” or “The president only cares about their politics, not their race.” That is patently false. Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed Democratic-Socialist, further to the left than even the right’s favorite boogey-woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has been attacked multiple times in tweets by Trump. But Sanders has never been told to “Go back to where you came from.”

It is worth noting that, in 2016, Pitt County voted 52 percent to 44 percent for Hillary Clinton. But we are still left with the uncomfortable notion that, among us, there are people who would happily send immigrant American citizens “back to where they came from,” or even, from the intensity with which the chant rang out, would be eager to do so.

It is up to every Greenville resident, from Trump supporters to Democratic-Socialists, to ensure that in this city, every person feels welcome.

It is also up to our local elected leaders, who rallied with Trump before and after the racist chant. Are they up to the task?

The Daily Reflector

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.