what does citizenship mean?

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stock exchange flag.jpgI was having trouble posting a comment to DREAMActivist's tough questions in a recent post at A Dream Deferred, so I thought I'd just put it up here.  It's kind of long for a comment, anyway.  I hope to have more to contribute to kyle and Dave Neiwert's conversation on putting forward an alternative paradigm for discussing issues of immigration and nationality, a conversation that really started before any of us were born and has been going on mostly unheeded for a long time.  I've been meaning to put my thoughts on this issue together in a more comprehensive fashion, but in the interest of continuing the conversation, here is an initial volley.

(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 . . .

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Publius said:

Apparently nothing. We'll all be one happy family and ignore that there are cultures in the Middle East that would have all our heads on a platter unless we convert to Islam. Such idealist sop is the dreams of communists and Marxists who spend all their time cloistered in the ivory towers of acadamia and feel no allegience to any nation. Have any of you bloggers every sacrificed anything for this country? I know you haven't Yave, because I've seen your posting in Latina Lista, where you called our troops in Iraq murderers.

yave begnet said:

Our old friend Publius. One part Sam Huntington, one part Glenn Beck, one part old man cursing incoherently at the world on the streetcorner. Thinks in mashed together snippets of right wing emails and Limbaugh rants. Don't expect to be as hospitably treated here as you are at LL. I'm not as nice as Marisa.

kyledeb said:
I pledge allegiance to the flag Of the United States of America And to the republic for which it stands, One nation, under God, indivisible, And with liberty and justice for all.

I didn't look that up, and I don't even know if I got it right, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. You want to learn an interesting story? I had to learn that, after school IN GUATEMALA in order to earn a badge for a U.S. embassy inspired boy scouts program before I even really knew what it meant. I also had to learn how to fold a U.S. flag, both of which I still remember.

But as you ask these questions, yave, I'm thinking. Is the above pledge so bad? It might be except for one phrase, "with liberty and justice for all." Right now you and I both know that for ALL migrants there is no real liberty or justice.

The oath of citizenship is of course a little more troubling, but does patriotism in the U.S. have to be bad? See I think the beauty of the U.S. is that it has created a "nationalism" if you will that transcends traditional allegiances.

And if not U.S. power than what is the alternative, European power, or East Asian power? Are these arguments wrong-headed?

See I think the jingoism you speak of above, that emerges in times of war, has to be separated from pride for the U.S. You and I have very similar trains of thought yave, but I think where we differ is that you believe these conceptions of nationalism have to be erased, whereas I believe they have to be embraced, and brought into the conversation. Is that a bad characterization?

Beyond that, though, I think Dave, you, and I, have to be careful that we don't just have a conversation about this as white males (or whatever it is you identify as yave since I only know you through your pseudonym, and I don't know if you apply a racial or gender identity to that). We have to make sure migrants themselves contribute to this conversation as well as the latino blogosphere that this conversation was born from. It was good that you brought in the DREAMer into this conversation and that powerful conversation about identity, but I think in order to come up with this full answer we probably need to bring these conversation into different forums. You get what I'm saying though.

kyledeb said:


You know it's funny. Lately people that have come onto this blog to disagree with us have been extremely rude. I've asked several times for you and other people like yourself to identify themselves, help us work towards a solution, and tell us why it is that they care about this subject, but I haven't gotten an answer.

I've interacted with plenty of people that disagree with me online that I've respected, but unless you're able to at least level with us here I can't respect you.

yave begnet said:

kyle, to respond to a few of your points (I'm not attempting to fisk your comment, it's just more efficient this way):

does patriotism in the U.S. have to be bad?

No. People use a few terms to talk about citizenship and nationality--nativism (bad), nationalism (depends on the context, often has negative connotations), and patriotism (usually thought of as good)--and sometimes the distinctions between them are unclear. I'm inclined to think these are different ways of describing the same thing, but people use the word "nativism" when talking about the bad effects and "patriotism" when talking about the good ones. I think that nationalism predicated on an anarchic international system of states, taken to its logical conclusion leads to nativism. I like to note that the countries with the most serious problems with nativism of yesteryear--Germany and Japan--now have two of the least patriotic societies in the world. I think we should wonder why that is the case, and not assume that something similar couldn't happen to us simply because "we're the good guys." We're not the good guys to all the limbless Iraqi children, the Palestinian orphans, the Vietnamese still suffering horrible birth defects from agent orange, the families of the desaparecidos in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, etc.

I think the beauty of the U.S. is that it has created a "nationalism" if you will that transcends traditional allegiances.

Likewise, the beauty of the Catholic, Mormon, or Islamic faiths is that they can create a sense of community that transcends other divisions--race, gender, nationality, age, political opinion. But in doing so, they can create a more lasting, significant division than most of those other divisions: an ideological distinction of identity. Nationalism is probably the most similar to religion in this sense. That's fine as far as it goes--for many of my family and friends, participation in the Mormon faith enriches their lives in powerful ways. But when the borders represent not just the ability (or inability) to come and go as we please, but stark differences in power and resources, then nationalism as a way to sort individuals and as a unifying ideology becomes a problem.

if not U.S. power than what is the alternative, European power, or East Asian power?

The alternative I and others have proposed is meaningful global democracy. Strengthen the UN General Assembly. Reform the Security Council to make it more representative. Give peacekeeping operations real funding and political support, as Truman and Churchill envisioned. Respect international trade agreements--meaning don't try to weasel out of them when you face domestic difficulties--and realize they can be the path to unity among countries as they have been in Europe. (First though, ensure that the agreements have meaningful labor and environmental protections.) Work for consensus and diplomatic solutions that don't involve bullets and bombs. Support the ICC, the ICJ, and the InterAmerican Court and Commission rather than undermining them. Push conceptions of global citizenship forward, so that nationals of one country fully understand what happens when their soldiers use violent force against nationals of another country, so that people understand distinctions of nationality are not so meaningful on a moral level.

I'm not saying we should erase ideas of national identity--that would be impossible and undesirable. I am proposing we look at the way New Yorkers and Mississippians, or Mississippians and Utahns may not always agree with each other or have much in common, the way they have such distinct cultural differences but still manage to work together toward common goals--why limit the scope of that cooperation by arbitrary national boundaries? Why not at least try to extend that same sense of cooperation, trust, and common purpose to include others as well? Functionally, we do this already with countries that we have close economic, cultural, and historic ties to--often previous sending countries for migration like Germany, England, Italy, and Ireland. But both formally, through the structure of the international political system, and informally, through our collective mental picture of the world, we draw the line at collaboration and cooperation with certain "belligerent" countries even when the thread we pose to them is several orders of magnitude greater than the threat they pose to us.

Also, as a structural matter (see Hobbes) I'd argue you need global rule of law, including global law enforcement and a global justice system in order to avoid a system of might makes right, which is essentially what we have now. Where's the justice in that? We wouldn't accept that system in our cities, states, or on a federal level ... the only reason we accept it now is because we're currently on top. As Roberto Lovato said recently, we Americans are the Romans of our day, and we--all of us--enjoy the benefits of imperial citizenship. It may be good while it lasts, but it won't last forever (see, e.g., Rome circa 400, France circa 1800, Britain circa 1945, USSR circa 1991, etc.).

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

It's interesting to have an exercise like this, and it is purely mental in a sense because we don't have the power or the intellectual reach to inspire change like this yet, although we can dream and try.

I think we agree on the ends, but we disagree on the means. I too agree that national boundaries force more inequity on the planet than anything else, but I do not see empowering the international structures that you speak of as an ideal or practical way to go about that. And if they are, then we shouldn't be dedicating ourselves to migrant justice.

You see when you start enforcing things like a global government, and global law, it actually ends up becoming more oppressive, in my opinion, towards diverse societies. Some of the strongest critics of international institutions are indigenous peoples all over the world.

What I believe is the most important step towards a more equitable globe is getting each nation to commit to granting all people rights, equally, under their jurisdiction regardless of where they come from. This is is the primary goal of a migrant advocate.

From there I think it is a short step towards guaranteeing the rights of people beyond national boundaries.

We're also going to see a lot of consolidation moving forward. In Africa there's talk of uniting everyone into one common country, and Central America is moving towards unifying.

In other words, it's these short steps combined with migrant advocacy within these nations that I believe is the right track towards global equity. Empowering existing flawed international institutions is not.

Publius said:

Kyle, I find your criticisms of a country that's given you one of the best educations on the planet and a wonderful life, free from want, outrageously rude.

You don't even know your buddy Yeve's name or much else about him, yet you tolerate his anonymity because he's so sycophantic in his defference to you. You two comprise a sophomoric mutual admiration society, with manic needs for affirmation.

I fail to see the relevence of my real name or anything else about me in what amounts to a black box forum where we can claim to be whomever we wish. You deceive yourself by believing that such things really matter. I've noted your bad temper and intolerance of others with whom you disagree, so why should I expose myself to your abuse? Just cut me off, as that is the inclination of those for whom free speech is only for themselves. Rude? I find your probing rude.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Hey Publius,

We have yet to develop a coherent comments policy here on Citizen Orange, and I'm overstepping my bounds by approving your comment on yave's post, but I'm hoping yave will be okay with it since this message was in response to my own comment.

Yave himself pointed out that it doesn't make sense for me to criticize anonymity when he himself is anonymous. But I didn't mean it in that way. I've gotten to know what yave stands for with this writing. When you just come and disagree with something, it's hard to know exactly what it is you stand for, and it's hard for me to know how we can both benefit from on online conversation.

I'm not asking for your real name Publius, I'm asking for you to give me an idea of what you think is a solution to the issues associated with migration, and to see if we can come towards any common ground. Perhaps even an understanding of why this issue matters so much to you that you're commenting in the forums of people that disagree with you.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best at tolerating those that I disagree with, but it's something that I aspire too, and I try to be reasonable. Still, if you can't even attempt to meet me on some sort of mutual ground in any of the ways I've outline above, then it is probably not worth both of our times to continue to converse.

I hope this message finds you well Publius, and I thank you for stopping by at Citizen Orange.

angie said:

i need to do an essay and i don't know what citizenship mean can you help me

give me a hint!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on March 15, 2008 2:53 PM.

Geraldo Rivera's "HisPanic": Pro-migrant Round-up was the previous entry in this blog.

the "worst of the worst" ... or just an easy conviction? is the next entry in this blog.

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