If Congress were the lunch room of “Mean Girls,” then “the Squad” would be the Unfriendly Black Hotties: unapologetic and annoyed that you’re all up in their business. In the movie, though, the members of that clique were just side characters. In real life, they’re taking over the script.
“The Squad” is a group of four progressive congresswomen who are all people of color: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
There’s a reason they stick together. The members of the self-proclaimed Squad (aside from New Jersey Democrat and newly inducted member Rep. Bill Pascrell) are young, brown and fiercely progressive. That automatically makes them targets for racism and hate. On top of that, they are trying to do their work in a predominantly white space that constantly criticizes them for being “too radical” and “too vocal.”
Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar didn’t join forces in a “squad” to gain attention or exclude others, but because people of color know there is safety in numbers and power in solidarity.
They even made it into President Donald Trump’s burn book. He’s spent the past week vilifying them as anti-American and saying they should “go back” to other countries (never mind that three were born in the U.S. and all four are American citizens). He called out each of the women by name at a rally on Wednesday. When he mentioned Omar, the crowd echoed Trump’s initial comments by chanting “Send her back.” (Trump claimed Thursday that he “felt a little bit badly about it.”)
The lawmakers have been #squadgoals from the start. Ocasio-Cortez posted a photo of the group sitting together after they were elected in November 2018.
Since then, they have stood by each other. All of the other Squad members came to Omar’s defense when she received death threats in April, and they criticized fellow Democrats who failed to speak out.
Omar has said the women of the Squad uplift one another.
“We understand that my sadness is the sadness of my sisters here in Congress. And their success is my success,” Omar told Interview magazine in April. “We’re not fighting for the limelight. We’re not fighting for acknowledgment. What we’re fighting for is for our people.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has questioned their influence, telling The New York Times they are just “four people” without “any following.” Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Post Pelosi’s comments were “outright disrespectful,” and Pressley told the Post they were “demoralizing.” (Not to mention inaccurate: Ocasio-Cortez, at least, probably wields more influence on social media than any other member of the House.)
Only after Trump turned his #MAGA rage toward the Squad did Pelosi and other Democrats pause the infighting to stand behind them. Pelosi publicly denounced Trump’s tweets on Sunday, and several foreign-born lawmakers drafted a resolution condemning the president’s statements.
“Sadly, this is not the first nor will it be the last time we hear disgusting, bigoted language from the president,” Tlaib said Tuesday at a press conference featuring the full Squad. “We know this is who he is.”
She’s right: This won’t be the last time they hear from Trump, or people who share his views.
That’s why it helps to have people around who can relate.
When a person of color walks into a room, there’s a good chance the first thing they’ll do is count the other brown faces ― to know where they stand in a space, to know how comfortable they can be. When the members of the Squad looked around at their incoming class of freshman representatives, they saw each other.
“It’s not uncommon for people of color to group together in predominantly white spaces,” said Shawn McGuffey, director of African diaspora studies at Boston College. McGuffey said that white people also group together, but it’s more obvious when people of color do it because they’re the minority.
“They’re not just representing themselves when they’re in these spaces, they’re representing people of color as a whole,” he said. “White people don’t have to do that.”
McGuffey finds the Squad refreshing because they’re not trying to color within the traditional lines of respectability politics.
“I think a lot of people don’t know quite what to do with these four congresswomen because they’re not playing by those rules,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘No. In fact, I should be angry.’”
Critics from all sides said they were doing too much, too soon. So, the Squad decided to make their own lunch table. No matter what comes their way, they at least have each other to weather the onslaught of hate and bigotry. The idea of this group may seem “unfriendly” from the outside, but the survival tactics of black and brown people are often misunderstood.
They are being demeaned by the president and told to shrink themselves by the leader of their own party, so standing their ground becomes an act of defiance ― one that becomes a little easier when done together. It says, “We won’t be relegated to the background, and we will make ourselves heard.” They demand to be more than a camera pan in a story about white people.
But for all the talk of cliques, the Squad isn’t actually very exclusionary. In fact, unlike the Plastics of “Mean Girls,” you can almost certainly sit with them.
“Our squad is big,” Pressley said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world, and that is the work that we want to get back to.”