Growing up, if you asked me who my heroes were, I would probably rattle off a few Disney princesses, my mom and my fifth-grade teacher who taught me the importance of storytelling.
As I grew older, I would say, Aaliyah, Brandy, Missy Elliott and Lil Kim, followed by a list of prolific Black women writers like Alice Walker and Gwendelyn Brooks. We grow up fixated, not just on who is influential to the communities of which we belong, but also on those we feel are accessible enough to admire in the first place.
For nearly half of the world’s population, who were either born as or identify as women, representation often dictates our own scope of what is possible. Today, thanks to social media and a worldwide awakening of women’s issues, girls are exposed to a much more dynamic view of what women can do. Considering the current U.S. administration, that view has ushered in a drastically important shift in power.
If I were 11 years old today and someone asked me who my heroes are, I would without a doubt name four of the newly appointed congressional representatives; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, a.k.a. “The Squad.” The four of them standing side by side at podiums, on panels or in interviews are a sight to behold.
These women are not just brown and Black, not just progressively liberal -- but they are also all young. Ranging from the ages of 29 to 45, and representing the Bronx, NY, Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago, these staunchly outspoken women have been shaking things up in Washington to the chagrin of the dusty, standard-issue politicians they now brush shoulders with in Congress. Not to mention President Trump.
This week, Trump, in true form, expressed his distaste for the four women, who affectionately self-identify as “The Squad.” In a racist Twitter tirade, he suggested that each woman return to the “totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came” so they can attempt to solve the issues there and let the U.S. Government know how they did it.
Of course, the irony of his comments can’t be ignored -- since the “crime infested” places from which these women originate are, in fact, U.S. cities. The exception being Representative Omar, who was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. with her family to seek asylum in 1992; later becoming a U.S. citizen in 2000 at the age of 17.
Let’s not forget, however, that Omar’s story is the most American of the group -- at least the America I grew up believing I was a part of. She is here because her family fought to be here, fought to stay here and fought to thrive here -- that journey is supposed to be the very crux of our nation’s mission statement.
It would be far too easy, and a little boring, to harp on the ignorance of Trump’s statements. We have all had the unfortunate privilege of being exposed to his misguided, error-infested grandstanding, so this latest episode is hardly worth dissecting.
But what seems to get lost in the talking-head discussions about House votes on decorum and more attempts to impeach the President, is the fact that “The Squad” is part of a movement changing the face of government and American communities. 2019 marked a record-breaking number of women elected to Congress; 127 women in total now take up 23% of the seats, doubling the number of women in Congress from just 20 years ago.
Putting women in positions of power isn’t just about optics and cute slogans, but the actual survival of women and children's right to thrive in this country. A quick look around reminds us that in the last four years, so many of the truths we hold as Americans have been attacked: our right to choose what happens to our own bodies, our personal safety and the safety of everyone existing outside the margins. Nothing about this moment in history is trivial to us.
While arguments break out, die down and break out again in Washington about who should be able to say what about whom, there are citizens and community members being targeted simply for being Black, or queer, or otherwise existing in their own skin.
The invigoration of hatred and white supremacy in this country is to blame for the loss of Nia Wilson, Elijah Al-Amin and Larnell Bruce, to name a few, not to mention the countless hate crimes on the rise according to an annual FBI report.
Not included in any government hate crime report, of course, is the terror being committed against immigrant families across our nation. The horrific abuse taking place at our nation’s southern border creates uncalculated generational trauma and is violence against people who have every right to safety.
There is unquantifiable data that can’t be captured by numbers; like the emotional impact a president who tweets messages of terror and hatred before playing a round of golf has on our collective mental health and personal security. As a nation, we are perpetually unsettled.
Trump, at a press conference in front of a white building, built by slaves, doubled down on his racist Tweets targeting “The Squad.” In defense of his statements, he said, “A lot of people love it. But if you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now. Come back if you want. Don’t come back. That’s OK, too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave.”
To reassure myself things are not surely headed for disaster, I focus my attention on the positive changes that are hard to ignore. We feel a notable shift towards diversity and a push for industries to hire gatekeepers of color. In response to constant bad news and tragedy, there is a new standard rising to respect human rights. We are moving forward in the face of ignorant MAGA rally chants to “send her back” and set us back to an America that was only “great” for a privileged few.
“The Squad” is just one example of the impact women are threatening to make as we unapologetically pound our fists against the glass ceiling. Unfortunately, it takes pressure and loss to force change where many would have otherwise remained complacent.
Even though on some days it feels like a losing battle, strides have been made at a historical level, mainly because we have been pushed to action.
If we should thank the current administration for anything, it is for the urgency they provided us with. Marginalized people are becoming less marginalized -- even if that progression ebbs and flows.
So when the shifty, old-world thinkers of this vastly colorful nation look up and see Black and brown where they used to see white, and women where they used to see men, and complain, I definitely agree. They should feel free to leave, because this generation of women leaders will only continue to grow, and we are not going anywhere.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)