The Transylvania Times -

A Way Of Understanding The 'Go Back Home' Chant

The Journey Inward


August 8, 2019

Sitting around the potbelly stove at Hemby Bridge Country Store a group of men, some chewing tobacco, others leaning in their cane back chairs, would offer homespun opinions, often humorous, about the news of the day. Solve the problems of the world, as it were.

As a boy I enjoyed listening to them spin their tales, including their political views.

No humor though when they talked about African Americans who were trying to gain civil rights. A common retort was: “If they don’t like this country, they can go back to Africa.”

How many times throughout history have we heard this invective? I heard it as a boy. Now an adult man, I hear it again from the halls of power.

In reference to four nonwhite, progressive women, President Trump suggested they “go back” to “their totally broken and crime infested” home countries. “If you are not happy here you can leave,” he said.

The irony is that three of the four were born in this country and the fourth became a citizen at an early age.

The reaction has been mixed. After President Trump’s trip to our state, the staff of the non-partisan magazine The Week, summarized a few editorials, some favorable, some not, regarding Trump’s comments.

On the one hand, from the San Francisco Chronicle we read a critical comment: “The insult ‘go back where you came from’ has been used throughout American history to belittle immigrants and minorities. It’s always unacceptable, whether it’s being spewed by a ‘drunken racist uncle’ or the president of the United States.” New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie said that “To Trump, America is a white man’s country where everyone else is a guest and better be grateful.”

On the other hand, a columnist in the “Arizona Republic” said the Squad (the name given to the four congresswomen) aren’t blameless either. “These congresswomen use race as a weapon when it suits them.” Similarly, Andrew McCarthy in the National Review said, “Spare me.” “Like many Americans, I am tired of being lectured about racism.” He says Trump “was ‘attacking their radicalism, which they wear like a badge of honor.”

Points of view depend on whether you are a Republican or Democrat, or somewhere to the left or right. Trump’s comments have certainly aroused passion.

As a result, boundaries between Americans becomes entrenched.

If we can stand back for a moment, we may ask what is the underlying dynamic that cements boundaries between the so-called left or right. What is going on here?

At this time in our history, we may call on the understandings of psychological and spiritual perspectives. At least, there might be something to gain. Not the total story by any means but a glimpse into why we are now split into combative factions, almost like two countries at war with each other.

Philosopher Ken Wilbur in his book “No Boundary” suggests that anytime we draw a boundary between ourselves and others we are the worse off.

He says, “Each time a new boundary is drawn, the person’s sense of self diminishes, shrinks, becomes less roomy, more narrowed and restricted.”

He implies that when we dig in and form a rigid outlook either individually or as a group, we have thus blocked out sides of ourselves.

In other words, our unacceptable impulses must go somewhere. For example, anger and hate are present and active, “but since he (Man) denies that it is his, he can find it in the only other way possible: in other people.”

A process then begins with a split between the “good” self, with which we identify, and which is celebrated in our culture, from the “bad” self, which remains unconscious so long as it may be projected onto an enemy.

By this sleight of hand, says Sam Keen in “Faces of the Enemy,” “the unacceptable parts of the self —it’s greed, sadism, hostility, what Jung called ‘the shadow’ are made to disappear and are recognized only as qualities of the enemy.”

Thus, our anxiety and guilt are reduced by transferring to the other all the characteristics one does not want to recognize in oneself.

How does this process relate to the inflammatory situation in our country? From time immemorial, the stranger, the unknown, the darker, is seen as dangerous and intends harm. So, four nonwhite women become the repository of split off sides of ourselves. We don’t know this because that would break our need to project, to rid ourselves of the dark and “infested.”

Taking this a step farther, a basic antagonism between insiders and outsiders, the tribal mind, in other words, forms boundaries of exclusion. The basic distinction between the insiders and outsiders almost takes on an ethic of morality. We are the good, the privileged, the outsider wants to take away what we have. They are, therefore, bad.

This is one of the reasons that the status of immigrants is so hotly debated. Might the outsiders crowd us in and become a voting block later?

Projective tendencies are not confined to the far right. Left of center folks can deny their “bad” side such as aggression by casting that onto the other whether that is Trump or whoever is an outsider.

Whether we have a “co-exist” or a “Christians for Trump” bumper sticker, haven’t we carved a boundary in hopes the world will conform to our expectations? The other side (outsider) is infuriatingly wrong. Why can’t they see through the peril of their position?

Let’s face it. We suffer from tribal mentality, some more so than others.

This mentality seems to be getting worse, more virulent and entrenched. The best we can do is take our journey inward and discover how we project aspects of ourselves onto others. How we divide and create boundaries.

Otherwise, I believe the gravest threat to democracy in the United States is not terrorism or cyberwarfare but tribalism and the use of projection.

Did not Jesus welcome the stranger (“I was a stranger and you invited me in” Matthew 22:35). Are we able to invite the stranger inside ourselves and thus the stranger outside ourselves?

If so, we will thus be less likely to add to the antagonistic spirit pervading our country today. I know this will be difficult for me. I get worked up over the direction of our country. My tribal instincts are alive and well. Perhaps the best I can do is go within before I act.

(Dr. John Campbell is a psychotherapist and ordained clergyperson living in Brevard.)


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