The president of the United States tweeted racists comments Sunday, attacking four female congresswomen with non-Anglo ethnicities.
While three of the congresswomen were born in the United States, the president echoed a famous racist taunt.
He tweeted, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places which they came from.”
National Public Radio columnist Andrew Limbong researched the taunt and made some fascinating discoveries.
Many historians believe the anti-immigrant sentiment based upon racial bigotry stems from the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.
The law targeted immigrants, making citizenship more challenging to acquire and deportation easier to implement.
Rhetoric scholar Jennifer Wingard, University of Houston, stated, “The legislation is actually constructed for the ability to remove immigrants who are saying things against the U.S. government.”
She went on to reason that the law created an anti-immigrant echo throughout history that can be heard anytime the white patriarchal class feels threatened.
Michael Cornfield, a rhetoric scholar from George Washington University, concluded, “It [the phrase] plays to the fear that somehow America is getting too full or that the mixing of ethnicities and races would somehow aggravate issues.”
He continued, “When you use a phrase like this, you’re just asking people to forget about the context and forget about policy choices, and just get angry at people who don’t look or sound like you do.”
As Jesus-followers, how should we respond when an influential person such as the president uses racist language that draws from the darkest places of our history?
The question seems easy enough to answer, but let’s examine the Gospels for a better understanding of how Jesus endured and responded to bigotry.
From the beginning of his life, Jesus understood the sting of racist attitudes and remarks. Originating from Nazareth in Galilee placed Jesus at the crosshairs of the dominant class.
Nazareth was in the northern part of Israel set apart from the capital city of Jerusalem. It was a farming and fishing community, placing it at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
For these reasons, the area was looked down upon by the wealthy and powerful. However, they were not the only ones to hold such biased attitudes.
Bigotry, xenophobia and racism can infiltrate the whole population as people seek superiority over others. When bigoted beliefs are allowed to fester and grow, they end up affecting the entire community.
Even Jesus was not immune to such hostile attitudes and actions.
When Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Being from Nazareth was detrimental to the way Jesus was thought about and treated.
This way of thinking demonstrates how bigotry, xenophobia and racism work within cultures to create an atmosphere hostile to those outside established structures.
Drawing from a modern example, in the U.S., Northeasterners might treat Southerners with disdain, assuming all are racist and uneducated. How can anything good come from the South?
Likewise, Southerners might treat Northeasterners with disdain, assuming all are rude and crude. How can anything good come from the North?
Both scenarios play into stereotypes that lead to broad and misguided conclusions, and similar dynamics are found in countries across the world.
When such conclusions shape attitudes and actions, they inform and lead to remarks like the president’s: “Why don’t they go back where they came from?”
Wingard calls remarks like this “shorthand” for anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The president’s tweet was dismissive of other humans based upon a belief that political opponents are lesser.
Attempting to bolster his superiority over others, the president enlists racist, xenophobic language that tries to dehumanize opponents and speak into the insecurities of his supporters.
With this in mind, let’s return to see how Jesus responded to such bigotry and carelessness.
We witness Jesus engaging with a Samaritan woman in John 4. The powerful considered Samaritans lesser, but Jesus refused to accept that stereotype. He spoke and interacted with her; behavior shunned by the powerful elite.
In Matthew’s Gospel account, we hear about Jesus healing the Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8). If there were a race and class of people hated by all Jews, it was the Romans.
Rome occupied Israel, leaving all Israelites with a deep disdain for them. However, in the story, Jesus only sees a man seeking healing for a servant.
Time and time again, we discover Jesus combating myopic, hateful attitudes. Through his words and actions, Jesus offers an example of how to conqueror bigotry, xenophobia and racism.
- Jesus condemned hate and endorsed love.
When he spoke about loving our neighbors, he identified them for us. They are neighbors who are different, such as the “Good Samaritan” demonstrated in the parable (Luke 10).
- Jesus allowed his actions to speak as loud as his words.
Not only did he talk about the importance of loving others who were different than him, but he also did it. We too need to condemn racist rhetoric, but more so we need to counter hateful words with loving action.
Defeating racist rhetoric will come not merely through condemning such speech but through building relationships with people who do not look, worship or vote like us.
The only way that the walls of racism will ever fall will be when people start building relationships that bind them together through their shared humanity. Jesus knew this and practiced it.
- Jesus sacrificed his life in his commitment to love others.
What sacrifices are we willing to make in order for love to win? Are we willing to speak out when we hear and see racism? Are we willing to sacrifice financial stability because there are more valuable assets in the world?
Are we ready to show love to someone different than us even if it makes us uncomfortable? Are we willing to support a political candidate that we might not agree with, but who believes every human has value?
What are we willing to give up for love to win?
For me, Jesus will always trump racism, bigotry and xenophobia.