Sometime Thursday, Donald J. Trump waddled into the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., and not only blustered that immigrants from the countries of Haiti, El Salvador and the entire continent of Africa are “people from shithole countries” but also encouraged more immigration from countries such as Norway and the continent of Asia because of some perceived economic benefit to the U.S.
None of this sentiment should come as a surprise to anyone. This is the same Trump who campaigned on building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, and who implemented an Islamophobic visa ban and repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a regulation that protected undocumented residents who arrived in the U.S. as minors, a position that I myself was in many years ago. This latest outburst is just an extension of the long-standing record of racism and xenophobia that Trump has exhibited going back to the Central Park Five.
Nevertheless, the backlash was swift—anchors across cable news reveled in the opportunity to say the word “shithole” ad infinitum with the socially appropriate level of disgust that should be assigned to such a fiasco. Anderson Cooper gave a moving monologue speaking about his time and experience in Haiti and why their lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. Don Lemon openly called Trump a racist and disengaged with the conservative guests on his program that demurred from the label.
Then the inevitable happened: Story after story arose of how amazing Haitians and Africans are, of how African immigrants have a high rate of postsecondary education in the United States, of the beautiful beaches and infrastructure and urban hubs that are widespread across the Diaspora, as if it is our pedigree and wares that make us worthy immigrants.
Let’s get one thing straight. Africa could indeed be composed of 54 individual, sentient piles of shit, and it would not make Trump’s immigration policy and rhetoric less abhorrent. The social contract that we abide by comes with an expectation of respect for our basic humanity, an expectation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not a degree audit. These “exceptional immigrant” narratives being peddled are unnecessary and irrelevant and feed into the idea that people born into poor circumstances do not deserve the same opportunities as others.
My family is from the Comoros Islands, the 11th-poorest country in the world. The median age is 20. The gross domestic product per capita is around $1,500 in U.S. dollars. My immediate family is largely comfortable, but many are not, and those people deserve to seek better circumstances for themselves and their families, especially since these conditions are no fault of their own. Colonialism devastated our nations and tasked us with putting the rubble back together in less than a century’s time—in Comoros’ case, less than 50 years (we obtained independence in 1975).
Countries like mine—which went from being one of the largest producers of vanilla and ylang-ylang in the world to having the French government steal an island from us and hire mercenaries to orchestrate coup after coup to destabilize us—are constantly being maligned for struggling to crawl out of the hole that our former Western overlords placed us in, which is akin to having someone cut off your leg and then complain that you are walking too slow.
There are professors and engineers and diplomats in my family, but frankly, there’s no need to showcase their pedigree to prove our humanity, especially considering that there are also impoverished Comorians in my family. Both realities exist, and the need to erase the realities of many of our fellow Diaspora members—that some people ARE severely struggling and DO live in shacks/huts and have limited access to resources—is a performative exercise we need to stop.
Buying into that line of counterargument is buying into the validity of our value being dependent on what we have to offer the West. We are more than a brain and resource drain. Fuck that Western colonialist mentality and fuck Trump. He can think my cousins shit on banana leaves all he wants, but they still deserve fair treatment.
In general, when it comes to rebutting the never-ending stream of incoherence that Trump insists on hammering us with in 2018, we need to stop accepting his parameters for debate. Stop letting Trump determine the rules of engagement. Proving to Trump that we can be perfect Americans—migrants who assimilate and accept the incumbent institutions of white supremacy without question—is degrading bullshit that we need to leave in 2017.
Further, don’t forget that this racist and xenophobic mentality is not limited to Trump, conservatives or even Americans. French President Emmanuel Macron—a self-defined centrist—has been doing a grand tour of the continent degrading the African Francophonie repeatedly, stating that African nations have a “civilizational problem,” encouraging African women to engage in family planning for population control and mocking the plight of Comorians who have died trying to cross the Indian Ocean to arrive at our fourth island of Mayotte, which France annexed from us.
The toxicity of white supremacy and imperialism is not bound by party affiliation, and in a lot of ways Trump’s proclamation is merely a reflection of our increasingly xenophobic approach to immigration as U.S. foreign policy standard. That is a reality we have to contend with whether or not the person sitting in the Oval Office is about as qualified as a radioactive Cheeto.
I’ll always love my homeland of Comoros—Udzima wa ya Masiwa, the union of the great islands—from the nicest beaches to the roughest roads. I don’t need to prove the worthiness, beauty and richness in our lives to anyone, especially not Trump, and I behoove other people in the Diaspora to do the same. We are rich; we are poor; we are educated; we are not; but most importantly, we are human, and we are loved.