Patriotism, Privilege, and the Importance of Sticking Around in Difficult Times
I actually feel quite guilty that I’m not going to be in the States on January 20. I feel like I really should be there in Washington with the millions of other women who are going to give the giant finger to the orange man. But I’ll do what I can from over here. — performer Amanda Palmer, who revealed in a recent interview that she’s procured a 5-year visa to Australia
Which Canadian city should you move to? — The Oregonian
Dear [White, Hetero, Cisgender, Middle Class, Agnostic, Educated People of Privilege Who Are Leaving Because Of The Election],
I understand why the Republican [political, economic, social] agenda is disgusting to you. They horrify me, as well. However, I was surprised at hearing so many people like you make the decision to jump ship completely — especially because a Trump administration is so unlikely to actually affect you or your quality of life. If you ride out of this country on your high horse, I hope you understand that you can never return.
Part of being an American is recognizing this country’s origins in the republic—the city-state. The selected few, representing the higher will of the many. The system we have represents centuries of hard work, patience, and struggle. Each generation labors to improve the prospects of the next — that’s how it works. To me, American citizenship means dedication to this country and its ideals in all conditions, good and bad. Object if you want, protest if you want, make your feelings known. But don’t run away just to save your own white skin, and come carpetbagging back in four years “just to see if things are better yet.” The minute you abandon us, you give up your right to call yourself an American.
Let me explain why you, the one who jokes about moving to Canada, will be the last person affected. Let me think. What kind of person makes these jokes? You are probably white, with a savings account. If you have children, your child attends a public school in a neighborhood with the right amount of cultural diversity. She is watched, at all times, by good, safe people. You can afford to protect her. You likely have a job that is not dependent on natural resources, cyber security, international trade, or the financial markets. You are the one who quips that “Trump will make punk great again.” You show off your education by pointing to previous golden ages of art, literature, and film that managed to thrive under fascist regimes. You say you’ll “work for change” from your yoga mat in [Berlin, Melbourne, Toronto]. You have no skin in the game.
The issue, in my observation, is your blindness to your privilege: the privilege to be last.
In comparison, I draw your attention to the actions of my [not-white, queer, transgender, working class, Jewish and Muslim, informally or incompletely educated, non-privileged person] friends. These are the ones who will be first, if Trump makes good on his threats to build a wall, outlaw traditional Muslim clothing, crack down on dissenters, and register and imprison non-whites. Not you. You’ll be safe in your condo while your child learns how to count in Mandarin. Is that your style of patriotism? Teddy Roosevelt said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country.” Yet, the Canadian immigration website crashed on Election Night. Is this patriotism?
None of the rest of us is going anywhere. The day after the election, many of us protested, donated to the ACLU, gathered in action meetings, and started planning what the fuck to do. We knew that leaving, and leaving America in the hands of this administration, is simply not an option.
FYI, the people who don’t have your privilege are not running. The people who stand to lose the most are not running. We are here to fulfill what John Adams called our patriotic duty: “Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” Some of us are closer to the firing line than others, but we all have a responsibility to stay. To work, march, make art, and fight for a better tomorrow.
What are you doing?
You can run off to [Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Peru], but what will that accomplish? You leaving does nothing to improve life for the rest of us, just as your adopted homeland is unlikely to give you the welcome you think you deserve. Your fantasy is that your white American privilege will go with you, when in reality as soon as you emigrate, you become just that—an immigrant. You’ll need a visa, and you’ll need to be accountable to a foreign government. You may be mistreated, searched, or put under surveillance, just like immigrants around the world. You may have to deal with the fact that these other countries do not want you, because you don’t actually contribute to their society.
Which leads me to the conclusion that, really, you don’t care about anyone except yourself. You don’t have to. You’re insulated by your privilege: a privilege that you use for nobody’s benefit but your own. This intrinsic difference between us makes it impossible for me to continue our friendship.
Here’s the thing: I’m white, too. But unlike so many, I don’t have the privilege to play make-believe about the results of this election. I am a single mother—a member of the educated working class. I’m an addict in recovery, who benefits from the Affordable Care Act. I rely on Planned Parenthood. I’m not straight, and I am non-binary. I am a working artist, and I know that an authoritarian regime means I will likely write less, be allowed to say less, and be forced to earn my living in other ways. My writing will shrink because my already-slim resources will dissolve as well.
I am also a rape survivor—I know what it’s like to be “grabbed by the pussy,” to experience the total stripping away of my personhood, my agency, and my freedom of choice. I know that fear. I know what it means to have a proudly anti-woman sex offender in the White House.
Did I mention that I live walking distance from a mosque? I woke up on November 9 to the sounds of my neighbors, Muslim immigrants, packing their belongings. They’re gone. Aside from your social media feed, did you even notice the election results? Did it affect you in any tangible way? Or are you merely — selfishly, arbitrarily— afraid?
The real Americans—the diverse tide of people who live, work, vote, and advocate here—will keep pushing through the next four years. We’ll be hard at work. That’s what real democracy is: staying and working for the greater good, even when it means sifting through a shitty heap of disappointing garbage. Not shirking because you are afraid. Not hiding from a monster that doesn’t actually want to eat you.
And what about me? Voltaire says, “To hold a pen is to be at war.” I will not stop writing until I am compelled to: it’s my duty. I know that patriotism means loving my country in its worst days. It means putting myself on the line to protect my neighbors and friends. It means putting my desires second and giving myself to something that is more important than just whether or not I feel safe.
News flash: nobody feels safe. And other people, who are not a [white, hetero, cisgender, middle class, agnostic, educated person of privilege], have much more reason to be afraid than you. Yet, we stay. Even those of us with the means to leave are staying.
For better or worse, I love my country. I’m staying.
I hope you consider checking your privilege and doing the same.
Claire R. Foster