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Stefanik defends Trump

Elise Stefanik has publicly stated that she does not believe Donald Trump is a racist. After voting not to condemn his comments telling four women-of-color members of Congress to “go back where you came from,” she has come out in support of a presidential administration that is routinely misogynistic and xenophobic. She had originally deemed the comments inappropriate but apparently now is complacent with them. She has now actively defended the president by stating, “I don’t believe he’s a racist. He works very effectively with elected officials from all backgrounds (1).” Here is why she is wrong to do so: She is not a person of color and has never stared in the face of racism.

She has never been discriminated against the way members of Congress like Ilhan Omar or Elijah Cummings have. For example, Ilhan Omar, a representative from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, is a Somalian refugee. She spent four years in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya before coming the U.S., where she became a legal citizen (2). Since she began her political career, she has faced discrimination because she is black and Muslim, so much so that she has received death threats and had an attempt on her life by a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant in February of 2019. During a 2014 precinct caucus meeting in Minneapolis, she was physically assaulted by five people while advocating for Somali immigrant rights. She was admitted to the hospital with a concussion afterward (3).

Elijah Cummings, a representative of Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, is a black man who survived living in the segregated South. He was born in 1951 in Baltimore and was one of seven children. He was one of the first black children to swim in a formerly swimming pool in 1962 in Riverside Park (4). He recalls being called racial slurs and having rocks thrown at him, all for swimming. His father was a sharecropper from South Carolina who saved everything he could to make a good life for his children, away from the hate of the Deep South. Recently, the president has attacked Elijah Cummings and his district, calling them “corrupt” and “rat-infested” with no apparent basis for his claims (4).

Conversely, Elise Stefanik grew up in Albany, New York. She went to a private school, the Albany Academy for Girls. She went to Harvard University (6, 7). She never lived in a refugee camp. She never lived in the segregated South. She is a white woman representing a predominantly white congressional district. Somehow, she “believes” Donald Trump is not racist because he plays wells with elected officials from all backgrounds. To this I ask her: In what way does he work well with them? How do you, a white woman from Albany, New York, know what is racist?

As a white woman myself, I can assure you, I have no idea what it must feel like to be racially attacked; therefore I do not make judgments of what is not racist. It is both of our responsibilities as white women to listen to how comments and actions made by the president are considered racist in the eyes of people of color. It is our responsibility to recognize that we will never understand what it is like to be discriminated against because of the color of our skin. As white women, it also our responsibility to stand with our female colleagues of color after such actions, believe their hurt and support them in any way they need. It is our responsibility not to be complacent with or defend comments which non-white people consider racist. It is the responsibility of both of us to condemn such actions as constituents of a district that includes the home and grave of abolitionist John Brown, who gave his life as well as the life of his son for equal treatment of freed slaves. Anything less than accepting these responsibilities is morally wrong and has no place in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

Madeline Clark lives in Saranac Lake.

Footnotes:

1. Mann, Brian, “Stefanik says President Trump ‘not a racist,'” North Country Public Radio, July 31, 2019, www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/39239/20190731/stefanik-says-president-trump-not-a-racist

2. “Ilhan Omar’s American story: It’s complicated,” The Washington Post, WP Company, July 6, 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/06/ilhan-omar-is-unlike-anyone-who-has-served-congress-this-is-her-complicated-american-story/

3. Bierschbach, Briana, and James Nord, “Allegations of threats, bullying follow Cedar-Riverside caucus brawl,” MinnPost, Feb. 18, 2014, www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2014/02/allegations-threats-bullying-follow-cedar-riverside-caucus-brawl/

4. Cassie, Ron, “Up Hill Climb,” Baltimore Magazine, October 2014, www.baltimoremagazine.com/2014/10/13/up-hill-climb

5. Cobb, Jelani, “Donald Trump, Elijah Cummings, and the definition of a rodent,” The New Yorker, July 29, 2019, www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/donald-trump-elijah-cummings-and-the-definition-of-a-rodent

6. Weinstein, Jamie, “Elise Stefanik wants to go to Congress,” The Daily Caller, Aug. 7, 2013, dailycaller.com/2013/08/07/elise-stefanik-wants-to-go-to-congress

7. LoTemplio, Joe, “Congressional challengers line up,” Press-Republican, Aug. 18, 2013, www.pressrepublican.com/news/local_news/congressional-challengers-line-up/article_52b027f2-7a69-5e59-9101-11478427f88c.html

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