Uncivil. Dishonorable. Divisive. These are just some of the criticisms that have been lobbed at Rashida Tlaib, who invoked President Trump when she said “impeach the motherfucker” at a party thrown by MoveOn.org in Washington, D.C., on January 3. Tlaib was describing a conversation she’d had after winning her seat as the representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district, telling the crowd: “And when your son looks at you and says, ‘Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win.’ And I said, ‘Baby, they don’t, because we’re going to go in there, we’re going to impeach the motherfucker!’”
In the aftermath of Tlaib’s remarks, she’s come under attack from politicians and pundits on the right and the left. And Donald Trump — the man responsible for putting children in cages, calling for a ban on Muslims from entering America, and holding our government hostage to build a wall on our border — said that Tlaib was “highly disrespectful to the United States of America.” I can think of a few ways that America has been disrespected over the last two years, and this ain’t it.
The outrage over Tlaib’s comments is nothing new: It belongs to a long-standing American tradition of punishing people of color for their anger against their own oppression. In the eyes of her critics, Tlaib is an outsider. She should treat her new political power as an honor for which she should be grateful, rather than as a right that she earned to represent her people. History teaches us that there has never been an acceptable way for people of color to express dissent, no matter how peacefully or cuss-free. Even taking a knee can cost an athlete his career.
In the Muslim Ban era, Tlaib’s election — along with Ilhan Omar’s of Minnesota — was hardly a guarantee. The Pew Research Center has found that more Muslims were attacked in 2016 than immediately following 9/11. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2017, three-quarters of Muslim American adults (75 percent) say there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., a view shared by nearly seven-in-ten adults in the general public (69 percent). Like the millions of us that have been negatively impacted by Trump’s presidency, Rashida Tlaib is angry.
And just as much as she is a Palestinian-American woman, Tlaib is from Detroit. But what’s interesting to observe is who is and isn’t allowed to sound like it. What happens when a brown-skinned female politician delivers a defiant message using the very same rhetoric used by members of the ruling class? She’s criticized and derided. She’s reminded that using language to defy “political correctness” is not an option for members of marginalized groups.
The fact that using a curse word is enough to have some consider whether this will define Rashida’s tenure, rather than her progressive track record or the policies she will support on a national scale, reveals the unfair rubric by which we measure women of color in the political realm; in any public realm, really. This isn’t about Rashida Tlaib and how effective she will be as a representative of the American people or how much respect she has for the United States. This is a bipartisan wagging of the finger at a woman of color who stepped out of line.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder and editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl.com, the largest platform for Muslim women’s voices in America.