I don’t like to get political on this blog because the internet is now used so heavily by potential employers to learn more about people they are considering hiring. I’d rather not have any of my political beliefs have any blow back on a future job because my employer doesn’t agree with me. However, this issue is non-partisan. It’s about manners, general respect from one person to another, and understanding that we are all different, come from different places, and have different backgrounds.
“Go back to where you came from”
So I get told this a lot. As does my family. It has variations… “Well if you don’t like it then leave“, “Get the fuck out of here foreigner“, “You aren’t welcome in my country“, etc… Usually with a lot of expletives following and rude hand gestures.
I guess a bit of background is necessary. My parents are not originally from the U.S. My mother is South African and my father is British/Polish. They both have accents. They are both clearly not originally from the U.S. We all have white skin, and mostly sound British, so it’s not even like we are one of the more disliked nationalities… I can’t even imagine the kind of hate that people that are obviously foreign get, or even those who are American and have been for generations, but look or sound in any way “different”. I was born in North Carolina, but was homeschooled through middle school and have a subtle accent that is more prominent on some words than others. It also comes on stronger when I’m excited or upset, or feeling any strong emotion.
So my family is foreign. And that gives some Americans the superiority complex to tell us that we are not welcome in this country. It’s a curious misnomer. “Land of the free, home of the brave”, the “Melting pot”, the “American Dream”, the “Land of opportunity”, etc… It’s supposedly a country where people can come and make a new life for themselves. A place where people are free to live their lives as they want provided they don’t cause harm to others. And yet there’s a core group of what I call “militant nationalists” that seem to think that if you have any critisizms of the way things are done, you don’t have a right to voice an opinion, especially if you were not born here. It’s not patriotism or love for one’s country and heritage. It’s pure and simple nationalism, which is by definition “an extreme form of patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries“. The militant part’s definition is “favoring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause“. And that’s a problem.
I was born here. And yet when I voice a complaint about certain prejudices and policies that I don’t like that thrive in this country, I am often told to leave. Am I not allowed to voice an opinion? Am I not allowed to question policies that harm others simply because I am a first generation American (by birth)? Do I need to prove my ancestors sailed here on the Mayflower to be afforded an opinion on human rights?
Also, who thinks that leaving is that easy? Oh yeah, I’ll just hop on a plane and move somewhere else right away. No papers, no visa, nothing. It takes a long time to gain acceptance to another country, and often they want some evidence of how you will bring valuable skills to their country. The same people that tell me to “leave” are the same people that shout the loudest about how illegal immigrants should be jailed or deported. So they’re okay with people illegally emigrating to other countries, just not their own?
Culturally, I was raised South-African. That’s how my mother was raised, so that was her frame of reference. I have an incredible attachment to my South African culture. From the artwork and furnishings in my house, to the way I view the world, I am more South African that I am American. I enjoy living in the U.S. far more than I would enjoy living in South Africa for numerous reasons, however there are many things in America I find troubling. From rampant homophobia to extreme racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny. All these things can be found everywhere in the world, but are also present in the U.S. Something that I really dislike about the U.S. is the pushy religious extremists and roaming converters. I dislike the moral black and whites, the way that there is a political polarity in this country and the election system. I dislike a lot of things about America, and I’m not shy about bringing them up. I believe that societies will constantly change, but not unless there is some drive and discussion to be better than they were before. I believe in learning from past mistakes, critically judging our behaviours and the way we treat people, learning from that, and striving to improve our societies to include people and diversity.
Refusing to even hear any critisizms of society or the way we treat others either personally or as a societal whole does not move us forward as people and communities. Telling people to “go back to where you came from” when they have valid arguments for how we need to evaluate parts of our society that exclude people or cause harm in some way isn’t progress. And telling people to “go back to where you came from” because they grew up with a different culture than yourself or celebrate different holidays than you is just rude.
I had that exact situation happen to me lately. I think the conversation started with a discussion of meats that I eat. I mentioned I’ve only eaten turkey once at a friend’s Thanksgiving party in college, and I think the question was something along the lines of “you’ve only celebrated Thanksgiving once?“. And I replied with something along the lines of “yeah, my family isn’t American“, or “yeah, I’m not American“. And for some reason the immediate response was along the lines of “Move somewhere else then“… And I was stunned. Usually I give a nice long lecture trying to put them in my shoes with “Well, if your parents had moved to England before you were born and you grew up there most of your life, you would probably celebrate Thanksgiving and 4th of July with your family, but might not celebrate Guy Fawkes day or similar British national holidays. You would have grown up culturally American, even though you were technically English by birth. You might have a faint American accent, and have an American flag somewhere in your house. You might have American artwork or ornaments in your house that would remind of the country your family came from. In many ways, you might feel like an outsider in the country you grew up in because you had been so influenced by your family’s culture and traditions.”
That’s my spiel. And yet I didn’t use it. Partially because of the company in the conversation. Partially because I was a little shocked that someone who seemed otherwise quite chill and relaxed would be so rude to my face. I didn’t expect it and didn’t know what to say until later, and by then it was too late to bring it up without seeming as though I had been “stewing” about it for a while. But here I am weeks later writing about it. I’m still upset that someone would say that right to my face and not think that it’s a rude comment to make. And so it prompted this very long post about the many reasons why it is rude to try and shut someone down by countering any criticism of Americanism or culture or political workings or food or even non-celebration of a holiday by telling them to “go back where you came from” or in any way insinuating that they are not welcome if they do not feel immeasurably grateful for life to live in the country of the United States.
We are all people. We all have different life experiences. We are all different in some way, and those differences make life interesting. I wish that instead of rejecting some aspect of people that we may not understand or believe in, we could ask questions and try to learn from each other. Of course this attitude has it’s limits, but curiosity and empathy instead of refusal to consider someone else’s position can only lead to better understanding of humans and each other. Isn’t that something to strive for?