American Citizenship Matters

humanRestless. One of those unanswerable questions circulates my system like so much caffeine.

I am a being.  I have a body and limbs and a mind.  However, even animals have these and yet are obviously not human, lacking in legal rights and often viewed without empathy.  So what, exactly, makes a human being?  Should I find myself limbless, I would no doubt still belong to the human race.  However, if left brain dead, attached to one of those machines – air forcing lungs to expand and collapse, expand and collapse, with a heart too ignorant to just quit already – would I still be a human being, or something less? Is humanity limited to intelligence, emotional or logical?

This question alone has many political implications (any pro-life or anti-capital punishment supporters?).  It is also an attempt to trim down the fat of humanity in order to get the sweet core of theoretical understanding.  It is an episiotomy of body, mind, and soul.  Judith Shklar, Alexis de Tocqueville, James Morone, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others, are great political thinkers who use this splicing approach in order to better define the world around them.  The concept that these thinkers pay particular attention to is American citizenship.

Shklar believes that citizenship was a matter of social standing, that if an individual has the vote and earns a working wage then he or she is in.  If, however, an individual lacks either one, their standing is irrelevant.  Tocqueville, while not directly addressing citizenship, notices the importance of race and morals in terms of social standing.  Those who fall out of the dominant norm are treated differently, revoked of even legal privileges.  More ideologically, Morone understands that citizenship is important in terms of the civic republican community: a kind of “one for all and all for one” deal.  Individualistic Emerson, on the other hand, instead confides that citizenship is only important if you think it to be so.  He is far more interested in cultivating the self and one’s own path regardless of popular thought.

This brief summary does not do these authors’ arguments justice, but, even so, some readers might be left wondering what on earth the big deal is about American citizenship.  I believe that what some of these authors lack are concrete considerations of what being an outsider really translates to.  Just as someone who has been stripped of their humanity might be found locked inside a concentration camp, there are also dire consequences for those who are not considered one of us.

For one, the effects of not having the honored status of citizen is felt by the 154 remaining inmates in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  According to a story in the New York Times, a man who was held without trail for 12 years was recently sent back to his home country.  If these men had U.S. citizenship, their Constitutional rights would have protected them from such an injustice.  However, because these men are not one of us, and in fact are potential threats, their cries largely go unheard.

However, for those who are legal citizens, racism is a plague that divides the worthy from the undeserving in terms of standing.  As artfully noted by Shklar and Tocqueville, slavery is the root of racial prejudice.  Again, for those who are in, racism is at best an abstract idea.  However, for those who are faced with limited opportunities and are even persecuted, citizenship as standing is a very important attainment.

The below video features Jane Elliot, the teacher who in 1968 developed the famous “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise to teach students what it feels like to be a person of color. This video, however, was made sometime within the past 15 years.  It is somewhat long, but is interesting to watch the reactions of the adult students and is a testament to racial prejudice and misunderstandings.

In short, recognized citizenship ensures the protection of the state and also allows people to be accepted by their peers.  Citizenship matters as these are two very necessary needs for any healthy citizen-state relationship.

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About Wunderkynd

"What is to give light must endure burning." - Vikto E. Frankl
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4 Responses to American Citizenship Matters

  1. ffleming72 says:

    Having an United States citizenship is really a big deal or should be a big deal to everyone in the United States. Like what was mentioned before about how the guy was stuck in prison would of been completely avoided if he had got his citizenship. Yes, I understand getting a citizenship is hard, takes a long time, and costs a lot of money. However, it should be all worth it because after you can call your self an American Citizen. I made a new friend yesterday and she was from Canada. I can tell she was nervous about telling me where she is from because she did not want that to affect how I treat her as a person. That just shows that people are still afraid of being outsiders. Great blog post.

  2. mernasyawish says:

    Very well written post. I can speak about this from a personal standpoint. I became a US citizen in 2008. That year literally changed my life. Before I was a citizen, I used to travel a lot to different countries with a travel document, of course. Going through the airport securities was anything but easy and simple. I was only 15 years old the first time I traveled overseas alone, and it didn’t really help that I was born in Iraq, the country we were in war with at that time. I remember being treated like a criminal just because of where I was from and the fact that I wasn’t a US citizen. I think all American citizens should appreciate that they are in fact entitled to certain things just because they are American. Upon receiving citizenship, my families whole perception on living in the US changed, for the better. We are aware of our rights and we appreciate those rights. It’s unfortunate that people get treated so differently just based upon their citizenship status. The video ties in so well with what this is all about. Again, awesome post! 🙂

  3. lgallar1 says:

    I love this a lot. On a personal stand point, I was born in the United States. My mother is from Mexico and my father is from El Salvador. Growing up I have always been look down on because of where my family comes from and my small accent whenever I speak English. Now with the Cartels and immigrant reform, I feel like I have to be careful when I say what my heritage is. If I say I am half Mexican/Salvadorian, some people tend to look down at mean and even ignore me when I am speaking. When I am with my family out in the mall or to dinner, people whisper and pull their children to their side. Am I still considered a citizen? I question myself all the time because in other peoples eyes I am seen as something else that is not “an American citizen.” So my point is, even if your a citizen, you still are treated different due to possibly your skin color, gender or ethnicity in my case and not seen as a “citizen”.

  4. jenny9213 says:

    I truly agree with you 100%. It is easy to ignore or to be ambivalent when you are in the “in” group. It may not always be this black and white but it is true that those “outside” are deprived and must fight for what others take for granted. It is also true that the importance of being an American Citizen varies by which group you fit in with. However, we as citizens, have to fight alongside those that are “outsiders” to come to a consensus on what is the right thing to do. By this, I mean, why does our status signify a means to racism or discrimination towards a group of people, in this case, those that aren’t citizens. It isn’t under any means right to be racist or to discriminate. Great blog post!

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