what does citizenship mean?
(Photo by Flickr user bnittoli used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.)
This is part of DREAMActivist's post that caught my interest:
To become an U.S. Citizen, immigrants have to sit a 'citizenship test,' a test that I have seen many fellow American students fail in class. Should their birthright citizenship be taken away from them?
What about DREAMers that do not necessarily identify as American and do not believe in 'loyalty' to the nation? In an ever globalizing world of McDonalds, international holidays, languages, Facebook/Myspace, the bond of nationality is eroding. And I do not see that as a tragedy.
Today, we self-identify in so many ways-I am a homosexual, a woman, a student, an Indian, a tech-geek, a daughter, an atheist, a civil rights activist, an aspiring lawyer, and so much more than an undocumented immigrant or 'illegal alien.' If society can accept so many identities without placing teleological components to citizenship, why are the undocumented and documented migrants put to the test? After all, we do not need to be alike in order to co-exist.
What do you think about the concept of earned citizenship?
These are important questions, and they are linked to Dave Neiwert's and Kyle's recent posts on creating a new paradigm for how we think about immmigration (or informing ourselves about existing alternatives to the current paradigm). I don't think you can have a meaningful new frame without looking closely at conceptions of citizenship. This goes for migrants and citizens here and abroad.
The citizenship test inquires about basic knowledge about
U.S. history and government--it's like going back to the 3rd grade and it's kind
of silly (e.g., how many stripes are on the flag, who wrote the Star-spangled
Banner, etc.). More significant, I
think, is the
Oath of Allegiance that each new citizen must take. U.S.-born citizens don't have to swear
allegiance to the country in order to be a citizen, but they do grow up
chanting a similar oath each morning at school--the pledge of allegiance. Most criticisms of the pledge have to do with
its inclusion of religious language, not with the more problematic dogmatic,
unquestioning loyalty to nation it engenders.
The pledge is effectively a form of brainwashing that ensures that, from
a young age, Americans are conditioned to attack anyone who questions loyalty
to the state. This leads to political
situations like Obama's rejection of the "disloyal" views of his old
pastor, and the political damage it is doing to his campaign ensures that
future politicians won't delve into these issues. Instead of trying to preempt accusations of
disloyalty by swearing fealty to the state, progressives should be asking what
is the purpose of these implicit and explicit loyalty tests, and do they help
or hurt our efforts to promote a more free and just world? This is what Ed Murrow did back during the
height of McCarthyist nationalist paranoia--instead of trying to out-Tancredo the
Tancredo of his day, he asked people to take a look at what was really going
on. He stepped outside the groupthink mentality and helped move the country out of a cycle of fear and self-destruction that self-serving politicians had been capitalizing on.
The "loyalty" discourse as it exists today should have no place in a truly democratic society, but instead it is one of the great unchallenged assumptions of the American political conversation. This is the principal reason progressive objections to senseless war abroad and incursion on civil liberties at home have been waged on such unfavorable ground and consequently with such little success: most ostensible progressives cede at the start one of the main points of contention--What does citizenship mean and is blind loyalty to the state necessarily a good thing?
Even talking about these issues poses political risks, but it's a conversation that is desperately needed. And this is true for most societies: Argentines need to chill out about Chileans already and vice-versa, Zimbabweans should ask what has nationalism done for Zimbabwe lately except solidify Mugabe's hold on power, and I'm not even going to touch the seriously problematic issue of Chinese nationalism . . .