Go back where you came from

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"Go back where you came from" is a racial insult used in the United States to target immigrants or members of minority groups who are falsely regarded as immigrants. There is also a common variant of this phrase popularized by the Ku Klux Klan "Go back to your country." The phrase has a long history going back at least as far as 1798.[1] It is frequently directed at Asian-Americans.[2] African Americans are often told "go back to Africa", despite the fact that on average, they have a longer family history in the United States than white Americans do.[3] The message conveys a sense that the person is "not supposed to be there, or that it isn't their place". The speaker is presumed to be a "real" American while the target of the remark is not.[4]

"Go back to where you came from" is deemed by the United States federal government and the court system to be discriminatory in the workplace. Its use has been accepted as evidence of workplace discrimination in cases brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—a federal government agency that "enforces federal law to make sure employees are not discriminated against for their gender, sex, national origin or age".[5] EEOC documents specifically cite the use of the comment "Go back to where you came from", as the example of unlawful workplace conduct by co-workers and supervisors—along with the use of "insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person's accent"—deemed to be "harassment based on national origin".[6][5]

Background[edit]

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal government agency that "enforces federal law to make sure employees are not discriminated against for their gender, sex, national origin or age".[5][Notes 1][7]

EEOC documents defining "harassment based on national origin" specifically cite the use of the comment "Go back to where you came from", as the example of "unlawful" workplace conduct by co-workers and supervisors if its use is creates an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, interfere[s] with work performance, or negatively affect[s] job opportunities".[6] Other "illegal" workplace behavior includes the use of "insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person's accent".[6]

According to a July 20, 2019, CNN article, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has used phrases, such as, "Go back to where you came from" as evidence of workplace discrimination.[5]

Examples[edit]

According to a August 31, 2003, Houston Chronicle article, a car salesman of East Indian descent who was Muslim was had been hired at a Texas car dealership in May 2001, began to be subjected to taunts by his co-workers including "go back where you came from" post 9/11.[8] He filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2003 after he was fired from the dealership in 2002. According to CNN, in rendering their decision to side with the EEOC case on behalf of the salesman and against the car dealership accused of creating a "hostile work environment based on ... national origin and religion", the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit "cited the example" several times of the repeated use of the phrase "just go back where [he] came from".[5][6][8] By 2003, allegedly as part of the post-9/11 backlash, over 943 discrimination complaints were filed to the EEOC leading to over 115 lawsuits.[8]

Since at least 2006, according to a list of EEOC litigation cases from 2005 to 2016, published by EEOC, the Delano Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in southern California subjected "Filipino-American hospital workers" to harassing comments, including "humiliating threats of arrest if they did not speak English and were told to go back to the Philippines". The case against DMRC, settled on September 17, 2012, awarded the workers who were mostly nursing staff with $975,000 and injunctive relief.[9]

On February 12, 2008, a case against U-Haul of Nevada was resolved in Los Angeles, in favor of the employees. EEOC had alleged that some Hispanic and Asian/Filipino employees had been "subjected to derogatory comments and slurs based on their race and/or national origin such as "go back to Mexico."[9]

A Texas-based oil company, Blue Ridge Resources, had to pay damages and provide injunctive relief to a five-member crew originally from Mexico, who had been were subjected to national origin harassment by their rig-crew supervisor, including being told to "go back to Mexico". The supervisor also used "unwelcomed ethnic slurs", called them "stupid Mexicans", and said that all Mexicans who came to the U.S. should be hung.[9]

An employee who is Muslim and was originally from Gambia, filed an EEOC complaint against a Wal-Mart store and won the ensuing lawsuit in Philadelphia on June 12, 2015. The "national origin and religious harassment" he was subjected to included "being told to "go back to Africa," "all Muslims do is blow up buildings and people," and mocking his accent".[9]

On July 14, 2019, President Donald Trump used the phrase to refer to four American congresswomen of color in a tweet, stating "Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came...", even though three of the four are native-born Americans.[10] The tweet drew controversy due to Donald Trump's history of racially-charged comments.[11] According to CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, the statement, "although obviously racist to the public," may not be unlawful, because EEOC guidelines only apply to work environments and "the United States Congress and its members do not work for the President."[5] In response to Trump's tweet, The New York Times invited readers to comment. They received accounts from 16,000 readers of their "experiences of being told to 'go back'."[12]

Global usage[edit]

Numerous articles related to racism in Europe cite the use of the phrase and its variations in many European countries. In 2009, a nurse who worked in a Södertälje Hospital in Sweden complained to management about the way the staff treated patients who had immigrant backgrounds, citing examples of verbal harassment such as "go back to Arabia". The nurse lost his job.[13]

Incidents of verbal harassment based on ethnicity in Italy include the 2018 beating of a 19-year-old man from Senegal, who had requested political asylum and was working as a server in Palermo. He was attacked by three Italian men and told to "Go back to your country, dirty nigger". Their actions were denounced by Monsignor Michele Pennisi, the Archbishop of Monreale, who expressed the "strongest condemnation of this act of racism, of xenophobia" that does not reflect the "attitude of Christians and of many men of good will in Sicily".[14]

The phrase was used during the 2015 South African xenophobic riots, in which immigrants—including African expatriates from other African countries—were blamed for the high unemployment rate of South Africans. According to an April 20, 2015, CNN article, local news reported that the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini had said at a gathering that foreigners "should pack their bags and go" because they are taking jobs from citizens. Shortly after this report, violence against immigrants erupted in the port city of Durban. Zwelithini denied that he had said this.[15] The Los Angeles Times said that South Africa's high unemployment rate has been the catalyst for violent attacks in South Africa against migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other African countries who are blamed for "stealing jobs and undercutting small businesses owned by South Africans". There was a wave of xenophobic killings in South Africa in 2008, in which 62 people were killed.[16]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dwyer, Colin; Limbong, Andrew (July 15, 2019). "'Go Back Where You Came From': The Long Rhetorical Roots Of Trump's Racist Tweets". NPR. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  2. ^ Lien, Pei-te; Mary Margaret Conway; Janelle Wong (2004). The politics of Asian Americans: diversity and community. Psychology Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780415934657. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  3. ^ Hines, Bea L. (July 19, 2019). "I was told to 'Go Back to Africa.' Here's why I'm not going anywhere, Mr. Trump". Miami Herald. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Rogers, Katie (July 16, 2019). "The Painful Roots of Trump's 'Go Back' Comment". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Marsh, Rene; Kaufman, Ellie (July 20, 2019). "Federal government found 'go back to your country' phrase to be considered discriminatory in cases". CNN. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Immigrant Rights Brochure Review (PDF), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nd, p. 2, retrieved July 20, 2019
  7. ^ Collins, Gail (October 14, 2009). When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. Little, Brown. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-316-07166-6.
  8. ^ a b c Speakman, Burton (August 31, 2004). "Former car salesman files EEOC complaint alleging discrimination by local dealership". The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d "Selected List of Pending and Resolved EEOC Cases Involving National Origin and/or Immigrant Workers from 2005 to the Present". Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. January 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  10. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (July 15, 2019). "Trump's racist tirades against "the Squad", explained". Vox. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  11. ^ "'Go Back Where You Came From': The Long Rhetorical Roots Of Trump's Racist Tweets". NPR.org. Retrieved August 20, 2019.
  12. ^ Takenaga, Lara; Gardiner, Aidan (July 19, 2019). "16,000 Readers Shared Their Experiences of Being Told to 'Go Back.' Here Are Some of Their Stories". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  13. ^ "Sköterska slog larm - förlorar jobbet" [Nurse speaks out about racism]. Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). September 24, 2009. Archived from the original on June 2, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  14. ^ "Partinico, identificato uno degli aggressori del giovane senegalese" [Partinico, identified one of the aggressors of the young Senegalese]. La Repubblica (in Italian). July 29, 2018. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  15. ^ "Xenophobic killing in South Africa caught by photos". CNN. April 20, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  16. ^ Robyn Dixon (April 17, 2015). "Attacks on foreigners spread in South Africa; weekend violence feared". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 18, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Polakow-Suransky, Sasha (October 17, 2017). Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy. New York: Bold Type Books. ISBN 978-1-56858-592-5.
  • Harding, Kerry; Jones, Julie (March 27, 2019), Jone, Joseph R. (ed.), Go Back to Where You Came from: The Making of a Mindset, pp. 65–84, doi:10.1007/9789463512152_011 also published in Jone, Joseph R., ed. (2017). Feather Boas, Black Hoodies, and John Deere Hats: Discussions of Diversity in K-12 and Higher Education. Sense/Springer. ISBN 9463512152.