Abrams was born in Wisconsin, spent her childhood in Mississippi, and went to high school in Georgia—it’s not like she arrived in the state a year before she started running for office—but of course that’s not how “Let her go back where she came from” lands as part of an attack on a candidate of color. There are two contexts for that language, one being the implication that only white people are really American, an attack more commonly directed at people from groups that have immigrated in recent decades, telling them to “go back” to countries their parents or grandparents came from. Of course we know how and why the ancestors of most Black Americans got to this country, and the history of slavery emphasizes how deeply offensive Perdue’s comment is. But his comment had another context: The history of white southerners claiming that civil rights activists were outsiders stirring up trouble among supposedly contented Black southerners. That was always a false narrative, as the rich history of civil rights leaders and rank-and-file movement participants from the South shows, and it was used as an excuse for further violence and oppression.
But Perdue wasn’t done.
“The only thing she wants is to be president of the United States; she doesn’t care about the people of Georgia. That’s clear,” Perdue said, going with a classic insinuation that Abrams is too ambitious, maybe … you know … uppity. “You know, when we saw in ‘18 what she did and what she said, that we’re going to have a blue wave and we’re going to do it with documented and undocumented workers. You know, I don’t think a lot of people in Georgia understood that when she told Black farmers, ‘You don’t need to be on the farm,’ and she told Black workers in hospitality and all this, ‘You don’t need to be,’ she is demeaning her own race when it comes to that.”
The New York Times linked this to a 2018 statement by Abrams that said, “People shouldn’t have to go into agriculture or hospitality to make a living in Georgia. Why not create renewable energy jobs?” What she didn’t say there: Black people. Just people. If that’s the quote he’s thinking of, Perdue was jumping from “people in agriculture or hospitality” to “Black people.” Again, telling on himself.
But whatever she said, Perdue’s claim that Abrams is “demeaning her own race” to suggest that Black people should not be restricted to jobs that have historically had low wages and poor working conditions is also extremely special. Hey Black people, stick to the jobs white people have kept you in for the purposes of exploitation for generations. Wanting more is demeaning your race.
Did Perdue make the calculated decision that a racist attack on Abrams was his best chance for a come-from-behind victory in his primary? Did he want to signal to Georgia Republicans that he was one of them in his thinking about Abrams, or show them that he, not Kemp, was best suited to take her on? Or is he just a loser flailing as he loses who accidentally showed the world the smug, contemptuous, dismissive way he thinks about even the most impressive and formidable Black woman he’s likely to encounter, along with several ways racism is deeply embedded in his understanding of who belongs in Georgia and what jobs Black people can appropriately have? Calculated appeal to Republican primary voters or desperate loser letting slip what he really thinks, it was gross either way.
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