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It should go without saying that all of us - particularly those in leadership positions, or with access to public media - have the responsibility to call out racism when we see it. Silence or lack of clarity about the nature of the president's remarks, by people in positions of power, is complicity.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela JayapalIn general, I've tried to avoid commenting on the constant stream of incendiary, outrageous or simply baffling statements made by the president. I focus instead on the policies being suggested or implemented by the administration, and particularly on those that most immediately impact the residents of Multnomah County.

I believe, however, that I must address his tweets telling four congresswomen to go back to where they came from, followed by his statements about Baltimore and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

These statements are racist.

They are racist because the initial tweets were directed at four women of color. They are racist because they fit within a long history of telling black and brown people that we don't belong here. They are racist because they imply that only white people belong here, when in fact "here" is land stolen from Native Americans.

It should go without saying that all of us — particularly those in leadership positions, or with access to public media — have the responsibility to call out racism when we see it. Silence or lack of clarity about the nature of the president's remarks, by people in positions of power, is complicity.

Most black and brown people have heard comments like this before. The last time I was told to go back to where I came from was probably about 10 or so years ago, when I wrote an op-ed piece supporting Oregon's sanctuary law. More recently, and more frequently, I'm asked some variation of "Where are you really from?"

Most of us are either originally ("really") from somewhere else — or are the people this land was stolen from.

"Go back to where you came from" or "where are you really from," directed to black and brown people (as it always is), tells us that no matter how long we have been here; no matter whether we were born here (as three of the congresswomen were); no matter whether we are citizens (as all of the congresswomen are) — we cannot be "from" here. It tells us that we don't deserve to belong, because of the color of our skin.

These aren't "just" words. They reflect and reinforce the structural racism that has caused the deep racial inequities we see across our systems — in housing, health, education, environment, the criminal legal system, and more.

Trump's comments about Baltimore and Rep. Cummings are a case in point.

He reduces an entire, predominantly black city to a single story: poor and crime-ridden. This single story does not, of course, describe the totality of the city — Baltimore also has vibrant and thriving communities — but these don't fit within Trump's racist narrative.

And yes, there is deep poverty, crime and crumbling infrastructure in parts of Baltimore, as there are throughout the country. These conditions were caused by explicitly racist policies such as redlining, segregation, and disinvestment in black neighborhoods. And they will be exacerbated by the administration's concerted attack on federal policies designed to alleviate poverty.

Proposals such as raising the income threshold that qualifies people for federal health, housing, and food assistance, denying free school meals to 500,000 children, and denying housing vouchers to families that include undocumented immigrants are just a few examples of Trump's determined assault on anti-poverty programs — programs that address precisely the conditions he decries.

The impacts of Trump's vicious, race-baiting rhetoric and his administration's policies are felt, profoundly, in Multnomah County. By some estimates, the county is now approximately 30% people of color.

When we hear the president of the United States telling four congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from, we hear that message directed at us. When we see his administration seeking to deport naturalized American citizens (which I am), as is currently happening around the country, we know that none of us is truly safe.

When his administration cuts anti-poverty benefits, our residents are forced to choose between food and housing, and Multnomah County must step in as their safety net provider. If his administration throws all families with any undocumented immigrant member out of housing, more than a thousand county residents, including almost 600 children, will be forced out of housing.

This president says racist things, and he does things that disproportionately harm black and brown people (and low-income white people as well).

None of this is merely a distraction. It is an existential threat to too many of us. We have to call it out. And then we have to go right back to work and do all we can to create and implement the policies that will achieve our vision for our community, one in which each of us truly has what we need in order to thrive.

Susheela Jayapal is the first Indian-American elected to the Multnomah County Board, serving District 2 in North and Northeast Portland. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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