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Editorial: Yes, Cody Durden’s ‘send him back to China’ remark was racist

Cody Durden used an old racist trope against his UFC Vegas 43 opponent.

Cody Durden said of his UFC Vegas 43 opponent, Aoriqileng, he had to “send him back to China.”
Cody Durden said he had to send UFC Vegas 43 opponent Aoriqileng back to China
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

UFC fighter Cody Durden would like us to believe he wasn’t being racist when he said he had to send his UFC Vegas 43 opponent, Aoriqileng, “back to China where he came from.”

At the post-fight press conference, Durden was asked if he wanted to take back his statement because of the uproar it caused online among fighters, media and fans, Durden dug in his heels at that moment and said, “If they don’t like it, do something.”

Not long after, Durden offered a non-apology to those who were offended by his racist remark.

And yes, it was racist. Here’s why.

“Go back to where you came from,” is a long-standing racist trope in America. As Michael Cornfield, who is an associate professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, told NPR in 2019, “There have been different phrases that have been used, but the idea that we don’t have any more room for people, or those people don’t look like us, this is a long, ugly strain in American history.”

Former president Donald Trump infamously used the phrase regarding an unnamed group of “Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen,” who were believed to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Trump tweeted the Congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Trump’s tweet inspired a reported 16,000 readers to share stories about times they were told to “go back…”

Durden’s statement, which drew an audible groan from the crowd inside the UFC Apex and resulted in UFC commentator Daniel Cormier bringing his post-fight interview with the fighter to a close, is a taunt that has been thrown around in America for hundreds of years.

“Every wave of immigration that gets in sees the next wave as the threat. That is the wave that is now going to take the jobs, that is now going to take things away,” Jennifer Wingard, a University of Houston professor said. “The latest flow in is always the one that seems the most threatening.”

Durden didn’t use the phrase in an overtly political manner and that, in my mind, actually makes his use of the “send him back” phrase worse. Politicians like Trump use the phrase as a political cudgel, a way to get their base fired up in an “us vs. them” kind of way.

Durden’s use of the phrase, when broken down to its simplest structure, was to point out that Aoriqileng, who is from China, doesn’t look or sound like Durden and because of that he is less than Durden and worthy of scorn and derision.

As Cornfield said, “When you use a phrase like this, you’re just asking people to forget about context and forget about policy choices,” he adds, “and just get angry at people who don’t look or sound like you do.”

Screenshots of Durden’s old tweets have also resurfaced showing him repeatedly using racial slurs.

Thankfully, some fighters, fans and media have been unafraid to call Durden out on his remark. As for the UFC, ESPN and the in-cage sponsors at UFC Vegas 43, they have remained silent.

Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC and ESPN, as well the promotion’s in-cage sponsors for comment in regards to Durden’s statement. We have yet to receive a reply at the time of publishing.