Kamala Harris, Central Park Bird Watching and the “You Don’t Belong Here” Message of Birtherism
It seems crazy that Trump would launch into birtherism again, against Senator Kamala Harris, a natural born US citizen, right?
On May 25th, 2020 a white women, Amy Cooper, called the police on a black man Christian Cooper (no relation) because he asked her to leash her dog in New York City’s Central Park.
In recent days, Trump and his political machine have questioned Kamala Harris’ citizenship, and by extension her right to be a candidate for Vice President. For many of us, After years of attacks on Obama, it was a eye rolling moment. Really? Again?
For Christian Cooper, a Black member of the New York Audubon Society, and Kamala Harris, a Black candidate for the Vice President of the United States, the underlying message is the same. “You don’t belong here.”
Amy Cooper’s call to the NYPD declaring Christian Cooper was a threat to her, took place on the same day as the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department officers. Any call to the police by a white person in this context should be seen as weaponizing officers against BIPOC.
George Zimmerman’s reason for first deciding to follow Trayvon Martin was that supposedly, a Black child was in a neighborhood in which the didn’t belong. Zimmerman then murdered Martin in cold blood.
Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was murdered in broad daylight for jogging “where he shouldn’t be.” Thousands of Black men and women are pulled over monthly by police in America for being “somewhere they shouldn’t be.”
Which brings me back to Senator Kamala Harris. It took little time for Trump to call into question the citizenship of the Democratic nominee for Vice President. This birther attack is, like Trump’s attacks on Obama, utterly unsubstantiated. So, it seems crazy that Trump would launch into birtherism again, against Senator Kamala Harris, a natural born US citizen right? He must be desperate, right? Poor crazy Trump, right?
Trump’s birther attack on Harris makes perfect sense in the context of the white supremacist “you don’t belong here” narrative that underpins both conscious and unconscious racist bigotry in America.
I can’t say if Amy Cooper is a white supremacist. I do believe that Amy Cooper called NYPD on Christian Cooper because she carries deep seated unconscious bias about where black people have the right to be. For millions of white people the simple answer is, “not where I am.”
Millions of us white people, like Amy Cooper, have been brainwashed into *automatically* parsing our fellow Black Americans right to be present, based on what neighborhood, store, office, or state of the union we are in. The most horrifying part of Amy Cooper’s “you don’t belong here” bias, is how quickly it resulted in her quite conscious decision to disallow Christian Cooper’s right to be in Central Park, simply because he ask her to leash her dog, per park regulations, in a bird sanctuary.
For those of us white people operating on this deep seated, gated community, “you don’t belong here” unconscious bigotry about BIPOC, it takes little more than waking up to this conditioning to challenge its ugly influence in our daily interactions. But that alone will not be enough.
When Trump refers to (Black) “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen in his tweets, saying they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” he is actively driving the “you don’t belong here” narrative. In this moment, a direct line is drawn between Trump’s white nationalist agenda and the death of thousands of innocents like Trayvon Martin. Boys and girls, men and women subjected to beatings, economic violence, imprisonment, and murder for “being where they should not be.”
Trump and the GOP level their birtherism attacks at Kamala Harris because it dog whistles white nationalist calls for a white only America. This “you don’t belong here” message is leveled at a sitting United States Senator, but it’s meant to be heard by every BIPOC. In stoking birtherism against Harris, Trump’s white supremacist message to BIPOC is simple: “If she doesn’t ‘belong here” you most certainly don’t. Turn down the wrong street. Jog in the wrong sub division. Be at the wrong protest march and you may not live to see tomorrow.”
Which means that we, as white people, can no longer sit on the unconscious bias sidelines. If we continue to allow a system of power that parses BIPOC though the lens of “you don’t belong here,” our hands are soaked in the same blood as Trump’s white supremacist base.
Simply take a moment to try and imagine the pain inflicted by “you don’t belong here.” If your family came to America yesterday, an immigrant family like every non-indigenous family once was, or if your BIPOC family’s history goes back more generations than most white families, imagine being told “you don’t belong here.”
Imagine being a Black man or women and being told that the ground under your feet is not for you. That all the work and struggle and joy and pain of being human, of working to build a life, of finding meaning and hope and purpose, does not matter because of where you are standing.
This is the message to BIPOC that Trump, the Republican Party and all the right wing media would have us endorse as white people in America, when they push birtherism, be it against Barack Obama or Kamala Harris. “You don’t belong here” is Trump’s ugly white supremacist movement telling Black Congresswomen to go back where they came from. It’s telling immigrants, *in a nation of immigrants* they are not welcome, locking children in cages. It’s telling Harris she is not a real American
The visceral cruelty of Trump othering BIPOC’s entire lives, to the degree that there is nowhere they should exist at all, is a deadly and dangerous act of violence. As white people, we can no longer hide on the sidelines, no longer avoid confronting this evil being done daily in our names.
We must crush white supremacy once and for all, saying “We all belong here.”