Saira Rao Speaks Out About Whiteness Tweet, Death Threats: ‘I Want White People To Listen’

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Photo: DeGetter-Rao Primary 1 | Saira Rao - SBrasch
Saira Rao with her family. From left to right, Rao's daughter Lila Govindan, her husband Shiv Govindan and her son Dar Govindan.

Published 11:34 a.m. | Updated 2:32 p.m.

Former District 1 congressional candidate Saira Rao is temporarily leaving Colorado with her children because she said it's no longer safe for them here.

Rao lost her bid last month to unseat Denver's longtime congresswoman Diana DeGette. After tweeting out a New York Times op-ed last week, Rao said she is receiving threats. The headline was "Should I Give Up On White People?" Rao answered "Short and long answer: YES."

Short and long answer: YES.
Should I Give Up on White People?

Most of the threats against Rao have come across her social media profiles. It was when she saw those comments on photos of her children that she knew she had to distance herself from her home.

"Seeing those comments put on top of my daughter’s head is really, really concerning," she said.

When she shared the Times op-ed piece and her response, Rao said she was trying to remind white people about their role in combating racism.

"It is incumbent upon white people to dismantle white supremacy, black and brown people cannot do that. We have been toiling and toiling and toiling, and it’s still there," she said.

"When you call out institutional oppression, when you call out white supremacism, when you call out racism, that’s not racist," she added.

Similarly, her tweet had nothing to do with the result of her primary race.

"I’ve been talking about race and supremacy for years," Rao said. "This was nothing new."

She spoke to the FBI about the threats, who recommended she file a police report, which she did.

Rao's tweet was picked up by publications including The Root and Breitbart. Democratic state representative Paul Rosenthal, tweeted in opposition.

I disagree w/ @sairasameerarao. If we aren't united across all races to work against racism & celebrate diversity, we can't succeed. As bold progressives, if we splinter & snipe at each other, racists will not get the message they need to change. #coleg @colo_politics #copolitics

Meanwhile, former Democratic candidate for attorney general Joe Salazar spoke out in support of Rao.

@sairasameerarao is saying that being “united” is a one way street for some who consider themselves allies. Being “united” means pulling yourself out of your comfort zone and understanding why Black and Brown people are fed up with false allies.

This party split wouldn't surprise Rao: Rao said during her run for Congress, most of the racism she experienced came from fellow Democrats at party meetings.

"To have a white man publicly shoot down a brown woman talking about racism is the dictionary definition of racism," she said in response to Rosenthal's comments.

Rao doesn't plan on running for office again right now, but said anything's possible.

"I’m certainly not going to stop talking about race and white supremacy and oppression," she said.

The New York Times opinion piece was penned by George Yancy, an African-American philosopher at Emory University. He wrote the op-ed after receiving threats himself for an earlier article he wrote called "Dear White America," which asked white readers to examine the comfort that comes with being white, and how that same comfort causes pain for people of color.

Rao, similarly, just wants white people to listen and reflect as a first step toward change.

"I want white people to listen. To just listen to what we’re saying, and not be fragile, and not take it personally, and not get defensive," Rao said. "Change happens when you listen."