Opinion

‘Send her back’: A dark reminder of who we are

Crowd chants ‘Send her back’ at Rep. Omar during Trump speech

President Donald Trump made his first 2020 campaign stop in North Carolina on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, lashing out at four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color who he has accused of hating the country and said they should leave it.
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President Donald Trump made his first 2020 campaign stop in North Carolina on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, lashing out at four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color who he has accused of hating the country and said they should leave it.

It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina, crowd. Did we know what would come next?

“Send her back.”

The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.

“Send her back.”

It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darker moments.

“Send her back.”

Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.

For a state that likes to boast membership in the new South, we have difficulties shedding the old stench of discrimination. We were the last U.S. state to ban gay marriage just seven years ago. We were the first state to pass a transgender bathroom bill with HB2 four years after that.

And yes, we had a bit of a progressive wave here last year. We sent more people to Raleigh who think bills like HB2 are a blight on our state. But we still struggle with segregation in our cities. We still are burdened by economic disparity. We also still have overt moments like Wednesday, and we can’t blame it all on Donald Trump.

“Send her back.”

There will be a temptation for some today to point to Wednesday’s rally and say that’s not who we are in this state. We hear that kind of thing a lot these days when our president, but not only our president, acts contrary to the values we think this country shares.

But there was some backlash this week when people pointed to the president’s Sunday tweet and declared that it wasn’t who we are. Because it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. It’s who we were when Dorothy Counts made that first walk to Harding High. It’s who we were when we redlined black residents out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.

“Send her back,” Donald Trump’s supporters chanted, without seeing the irony that it was they who were moving backward. “Send her back,” they cried, and it was both a reminder and a warning that here in North Carolina, in America, going back is not that far of a journey.

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