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Jeneé Osterheldt | Commentary

The ‘Squad’ is doing its job: Telling Trump how the US should work

(From left) Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley during a press conferences at the Capitol on Monday.
(From left) Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley during a press conferences at the Capitol on Monday.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press/Associated Press

Citizenship, in America, was never indivisible.

This country was built on the backs of black and brown people. Their roots stolen, their blood feeding the soil. Their bodies not their own, they were bound to the land to sustain the American dreams of white men.

Men who would fight to keep them from claiming humanity, let alone citizenship.

Men like President Trump. He knows just as sure as his mother and grandfather are immigrants, that his whiteness reigns supreme in the hierarchy of American citizenship.

When Trump attacked “ ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” on Sunday on Twitter, telling them to go back to their “corrupt” countries, he used racism and xenophobia to deepen the American divide and otherize nonwhite people.


The “Radical Left Congresswomen” he thinks owe America an apology for pushing for equality and justice are just as American as Trump.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York. Rashida Tlaib was born in Michigan. Ayanna Pressley was born in Ohio. Ilhan Omar is a Somali-born naturalized American. Just as the president’s wife, Melania Trump, is a naturalized American.

But black people and people of color have always had to fight for citizenship. Dred Scott, born into slavery, sought emancipation after living in a free state. Did that not entitle him to freedom?

In 1857, according to the US Supreme Court, Scott’s blackness divorced him from humanity. The court decided no black person, free or slave, could claim US citizenship.

American citizenship, from its earliest stages, was used as a badge of divisiveness and elitism sewn with supremacy. As he did in 2016, Trump is running his 2020 campaign on those white nationalist dreams.

It is the job of Congress to make laws, to seek justice, to be the voice of the American people.

Trump says the congresswomen are “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”


Sir, that is what we elected them to do.

The real problem is they are black and brown women. The “Squad,” as they’ve been labeled, walks in love and righteous rage that demands equality, justice, and a system of checks and balances.

They understand that nearly a decade after Scott was denied human rights, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868, granting citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”

They also know that even in 2019, despite being born in this country, even if you are naturalized as an American, this is a country hungry for marginalized people to devour and disenfranchise.

Generation after generation, arbitrary lines are drawn around what it means to be American.

Birth cannot be the great equalizer in a country where the benefits of whiteness rely on the oppression of blackness and people of color. Naturalization cannot be the great equalizer in a country where the luxury of whiteness protects one’s American identity from being questioned.

Meanwhile, Trump uses Twitter as a manic megaphone for his misguided answers. Monday, when asked about his thumb-thugging tirade, he went even harder at the congresswomen.

“As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here you can leave,” he told reporters. “That’s what I say all the time. That’s what I said in a tweet that I guess some people think is controversial. A lot of people love it, by the way. A lot of people love it. But if you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply you can leave. You can leave right now....”


These women do not hate our country. These women are fighting for pay equity, women’s rights, immigration rights, health care, public safety, environmental justice, education, the list goes on. They are fighting for our lives. They know, unlike Trump, that no one is free until we all are free.

On Monday, when Pressley, Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez responded to Trump’s attacks, they were firm in their dedication to advocate for a better America and reminded us the man living in the White House is the true danger.

“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or happening in national TV. And now it’s reached the White House garden,” Omar said of the racist attack.

Trump is always talking about making America great again, but when was it great for people of color? When Americans enslaved black folk and then told them to go back to Africa? When Americans stole the land from Natives? When Americans put Japanese people in internment camps?

Nancy Pelosi is right: Trump wants to make America white again.

He may have dropped an effort for a citizenship question on the Census itself, but on Thursday, Trump issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to turn over all the information they have on people’s citizenship and immigration status to the Commerce Department.


“There used to be a time when you could proudly declare, ‘I am a citizen of the United States,’ ” he said Thursday from the Rose Garden. “Now they’re trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing: citizenship. They’re even coming after the Pledge of Allegiance in Minnesota. I’m proud to be a citizen. You’re proud to be a citizen. The only people who are not proud to be citizens are the ones who are fighting us all the way about the word, ‘citizen.’ ”

This is not about keeping America safe. This is not about being proud citizens. This is about policing citizenship.

Trump’s latest attacks against Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar make clear he defines American citizenship in terms of its proximity to whiteness.

He doesn’t just want to build walls and restrict immigration, he wants to destroy democracy. He does not want a collective voice or a free country. The fragility of his ego is far more important to him than oppression. To him, the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag are more important than equality and justice. Trump is actively working to declare nonwhite people, Muslim people, immigrants, the media, and any woman who dares to speak out against him, an enemy of the state.


I stand with the “Squad.” The true danger to the future of America is Trump.

One of the definitions of citizen, according to Merriam-Webster, is a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.

Our allegiance does not mean blind loyalty. Our allegiance means the type of commitment that requires us to criticize our country and transform it into the kind of greatness that gives us freedom and justice.

Our allegiance means our pledge is to our people not our flags. Our allegiance means the type of love that rights wrongs and practices liberty in action instead of a catchphrase.

But with Trump in office, we don’t need allegiance. We need protection — from our president.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee