How To Talk About Trump's Offensive Tweets With Someone Who Doesn't See The Problem
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to condemn a series of Trump's tweets as racist after he suggested certain Democratic congresswomen should "go back" to the countries their families immigrated from. Over 180 Republican representatives voted against the resolution, according to CNN, and surely they aren't the only Americans who continue to defend Trump's judgment. If you're discussing current events with someone who doesn't think Trump's "go back" comments were racist, there are several key ways to approach the issue, according to counseling and rhetoric experts.
President Trump initially wrote the aforementioned tweets on Sunday, suggesting that "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen" should " ... go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." As The Guardian reported, while Trump did not name them specifically, the president's comments were directed at Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. All four are women of color, three of whom were born in the United States. Representative Omar is a naturalized U.S. citizen, the outlet added.
The president's comments sparked widespread outrage. Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, explained to CBS This Morning that telling people of color to "go back where they came from" is rooted in racist rhetoric dating all the way back to the 1800s. "In the 19th century, there were many, many reformers, racial reformers who thought the way to solve the race problem, the Negro problem, was to essentially send back all free blacks [to Africa]," Kendi said to the outlet. He explained that Trump's tweets also suggest the United States is only a place for white people. "So where would they go back to?" Kendi asked. "But people of color, it's assumed that this is not their country."
However, not everyone agrees that Trump's tweets were racist and have continued supporting the president. On Sunday, Trump himself tweeted, “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! ..." Moreover, Reuters reported on July 17 that a new Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll revealed that support for Trump among Republicans has actually increased — by five percentage points — since the president shared his tweets.
If you ever find yourself chatting with someone who clings to that perception, these expert tips should help guide your conversation, so that you can express your own opinion:
Understand How Powerful Political Allegiance Can Be
Sometimes when people decide to support a political leader or party, they tend to ignore disparaging remarks made by that person, Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, LPC, LMHC, NCC, who is a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University, explains to Bustle.
"... When people want to align themselves with someone in power ... [they] have a tendency to mentally downplay their negative qualities and focus on what we feel is 'good' or 'amazing' about that person," she explains. "When it comes to a leader of a nation, a corporation, or institution, those people who share any narrow or hurtful beliefs that are supported by the leader will cling to the 'story' that is spun around the hurtful words and insults by that person."
Understanding this from the get-go will help you gain further insight into where the person opposite to you is coming from — and how you might be able to convince them otherwise.
Use History & Examples To Support Your Claims
Both historical context and the experiences of immigrants and people of color living in the United States help explain why the president's remarks had harmful connotations. You can emphasize these points if you're talking with someone who isn't bothered by those remarks.
Jennifer Wingard, an associate professor of Rhetoric, Composition, and Pedagogy at the University of Houston, explained to NPR that the notion of telling people of color and immigrants to return to "where they came from" has been used throughout history as a means of expressing anti-immigrant sentiment.
"[Phrases like these] carry these sentiments that we have seen over centuries, but then they get repurposed for the current moment — and a phrase like that [racist taunt] becomes almost like a shorthand for anti-immigrant sentiment," Wingard told the outlet. "You know, 'go back where you came from' is the same as 'go back to your own country' is the same as 'you are not allowed here' is the same as 'no immigrants allowed.' Yet it carries all of this historical shorthand with it."
Alan Kraut, professor of history at American University, told NPR that immigrant families in the United States are experiencing that sentiment right now.
"When kids had a fight in the street and the kids were from different ethnic groups, one kid would often say to the other: 'You and your parents go back where you came from,' he explained to NPR, reflecting on his childhood in New York City. "You know, it could mean Brooklyn. But it could also mean go back where you came from — you know, Russian Jews who came to the United States, southern Italians who came to the United States, Puerto Ricans newly arrived ... "
But Realize That This May Not Work
While it's important to have an open dialogue with others, it's equally imperative to realize that this dialogue may not lead to changed perceptions.
"Because our political systems are rooted in parties that reflect diverse ideologies, it is unlikely that using facts or rational arguments will be able to easily sway someone to see the other side of his issue," Degges-White says to Bustle.
She also adds that "everyone’s story of the same event is going to be shaded by their expectations and their beliefs, no matter how much one person might try to convince another that their vision is wrong." Degges-White notes that while it's important to " ... open up discussions, invite dialogue, [and] debate your interpretations of the remarks" it's crucial to " ... recognize that party allegiance is sometimes an adhesive between our good sense and outright lies."
In Some Situations, It's Best To Walk Away
Dr. Courtland Lee, Ph.D., a professor in the Counselor Education Program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology - DC, tells Bustle that, in certain situations, it might be best to just hear people out and then remove yourself from the conversation.
"I would discourage getting into a game of one-upmanship with the other person because it will only lead to yelling and bad feelings," Dr. Lee explains to Bustle. "If the person is willing to engage you in dialogue, then it may be the basis for a courageous conversation. If not, walk away."
Recognize Your Truth & Commit To The Bigger Picture
You may find yourself frustrated after a having a discussion about Trump's comments. Nonetheless, it's important to remain true to yourself and also focus on how you can address the larger societal issues that Trump's comments represent.
"When we know what is true, but our truth is denied, it can be a gut wrenching experience," Degges-White tells Bustle. "However, our staunch commitment to the truth must be the force that moves us forward; to try and argue against intentional obfuscation and deflection is not a path that will typically move us any closer to the goal we aspire to reach."
She suggests you should " ... focus on the larger battle that the verbal conflict has begun rather than expending energy in minor skirmishes that likely wouldn’t affect the larger issue no matter how much energy you invest."
In fact, Dr. Ceymone Dyce, Ph.D., a clinical professor and coordinator of clinical placements and partnerships at the University of The District of Columbia, firmly believes that people's focus should be on the bigger picture. And that's particularly true, Dyce says, when it comes to building supportive networks and perpetuating change at the ballot box.
"We were provided a clear example of a racist response from our president. In this current socio-political climate, my advice to anyone thinking about engaging this as debate, would be to not." Dyce tells Bustle. "Focus on strategies to build validating relationships with people who acknowledge this as fact, and remove yourself from dialogue that threatens the stability of your mental health. The most powerful way to respond is to remember to vote."