‘Go Back Home’: A Familiar Taunt for Some Australians

From left, Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar responding to President Donald Trump.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times


CreditCreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau.Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the Australia bureau.


The premise of “Go Back to Where You Came From,” an Australian reality show that debuted in 2011, is instantly intriguing: Six Australians with strong opinions on immigration retrace the journeys of recent refugees. The purpose, the show’s creators said, was to tackle the heated issue of refugee policy and show a more human side to the issue. Last year’s season even sent an anti-immigration senator to Syria.

I thought of the show this week after President Trump invoked the racist trope that gave it its name, telling four nonwhite American congresswomen on Twitter to “go back” to where they had come from.

His insult ignited a conversation about racism and American identity. More than 4,800 people wrote to The New York Times about their own experiences with the phrase. But it also touched a nerve for many in Australia.

“Barely a day goes by where I am not asked on social media to justify my presence in Australia,” said Mehreen Faruqi, a senator for the Greens party who immigrated from Pakistan. “I will never be Australian enough for some people, simply because of the color of my skin.”

One of every two Australians is an immigrant or the child of one, and as the culture has become more diverse, immigration has continued to be a central political issue.

Interestingly, Australians’ attitudes toward immigration are, on the whole, positive, said Andrew Markus, a professor at Monash University who surveys public opinion on cultural diversity. Most recognize the economic benefits of immigration, even as they dislike perceived drawbacks like overcrowding, he said.

The “fundamental change” in public discourse about immigration has been in “the power of social media,” Professor Markus said. Prejudiced and bigoted statements, he said, are now “amplified.”

The “go back” insult is offensive because it is not about citizenship, said Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s about your skin color,” she said. “You are seen to be more loyal or disloyal depending on whether you look like the norm.”

Although far-right lawmakers have stoked the fires of ethnic division here, commentators said this week that it would be hard to imagine an Australian leader emulating Mr. Trump’s comment.

But the phrase does appear. One expert said he had seen it on bumper stickers. I saw variations of it on a few hat tags at a rural festival last year.

Some Australian pundits wonder if the remark from Mr. Trump — who has since insisted that he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body — will embolden Australians who oppose immigrants to speak out more loudly.

Have you ever been told to go back to where you came from? If you have a personal story about it, or a comment, please do write to me at nytaustralia@nytimes.com or join the discussion in the NYT Australia Facebook group — we love hearing from you.

Now, on to some of our favorite stories.


Author: Warsame Digital Media WDM

About the blogger: This blog is associated with the former Chief of Staff in Puntland State Presidency, 1998-2005. He also worked with the UN and World Bank Joint Secretariat for Somalia’s Re-construction and Development Program (RDP), 2005-2006, as a Zonal Technical Coordinator for Puntland and later as National Aid Technical Coordinator with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and European Union. He is now an independent political analyst and commentator on current issues and occasionally gives historical perspective on modern Somalia’s politics. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at: ismailwarsame@gmail.com

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