This week, Donald Trump, who unfortunately is President of the United States, instituted a Muslim ban via executive order. He also went forward with another atrocious campaign promise by ordering a wall be built beween the US-Mexico border. Week 1.
Since the election and more recently the subsequent inauguration of Donald Trump which officially began his reign of terror, I have wondered, what my role in resistance to his policies and values is. I’ve also been critically reflecting on how I both benefit from and am oppressed by the institution that is America.
I’m a Black, straight, educated, cis-gendered woman. My social position is not a walk in the park, but it’s not exactly the bottom of the barrel either – if I’m being honest. There are a myriad of ways that my race, gender, and sometimes class serve to disadvantage and marginalize me. But there are also ways in which those same identifiers privilege me. Being straight? Damn sure privileges me. Having an elite education? Absolutely a privilege. Being a cis-gendered woman? A privilege.
But you know what might be the biggest privilege of them all? Being an American (whatever that means + this land was stolen, but bear with me here). No matter what else, I am an American citizen and for all of America’s both good and bad, that means something both in America and on the larger world stage.
The events of the first week of Trump’s administration have made me realize the myth and power of American exceptionalism in deeper ways. I can buy a flight to anywhere in the world and know that I’ll be let back into the country no problem. I do not have to worry about being deported. Visiting most countries doesn’t require a getting a visa before arrival. And being an American abroad? That always speaks before being Black, or a woman. Always lends itself to protection. Always commands a certain level of both intrigue, maybe disgust, but ultimately, “respect.”
American exceptionalism: the idea that America is the greatest country on Earth. That it is America’s duty to intervene in international affairs wherever we see fit and as our best interests are served. That America can do and has done no wrong on the world stage. It’s a myth.
But it’s damn sure a myth I and every other American has ultimately benefitted from in some way, shape, or form. And it’s time that we, Americans, acknowledge not only the myth of American exceptionalism, but that we do away with all the other myths that result from it, particularly as they pertain to our engagement with the rest of the world as Americans.
The topic of the 21st century seems to be globalization and global citizenship. Before the recent waves of nationalism and populism washed over the “Western” world, borders were becoming non-existent, trade was free (not necessarily fair), and technology was making it easier than ever to reach the other side of the world – whether by plane or internet connection. So I can see why people may have thought that they were or could become a global citizen. But honestly, truly? I’m here to call bullshit on all of that.
Americans, whether at home or abroad, cannot be and are not global citizens. We cannot shed both the good and especially the bad that our country has done on the world stage. We cannot deny the privileges that being an American affords us at home and abroad. To do so is to act as if ones experience in the world is the same no matter where one comes from. To do so is to be ahistorical. To do so is to live and perpetuate a lie.
Global citizenship doesn’t exist because everyone doesn’t have access to it. It’s a Western, if not an American concept. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to understand and engage across difference. But, I am saying that, empathizing or even sympathizing with the plight of someone else doesn’t mean that you occupy their shoes all of a sudden. It doesn’t mean that you cease to be who you are – that the privileges and disprivileges associated with your body no longer exist tangibly or metaphysically. That’s not how it works and it’s damn sure not something Americans get to claim access to.
Care deeply about the problems of our time. Figure out what resistance looks like for you and then fight back. But don’t let practicing a politics of solidarity morph into a politics of erasure or cooptation. You can advocate for policies that don’t marginalize other groups without attempting to take them on as your own. Until we can all have a conversation about the myths, powers, and privileges that come with being an American, then well, no one, here or abroad will truly be a global citizen. No one will be free. And no matter who is President, the rights and freedoms of all, except maybe white men of course, will be up for grabs.
Photo: Scott Lynch