“Have you ever been told to “go home”?”
Somewhere in the swirling dust clouds of reaction storms to publicity pining populist power plays, this question appeared. It was recently posted on Instagram with a seemingly empathetic request to “respond with your own personal story in the comments section”.
This isn’t just any question. It’s a provocative question to anyone who has ever questioned or feared losing their sense of home and identity, which is either too many people or not nearly enough people, depending on who you ask these days.
For me, this question incites strong emotions, but not in the way that is immediately assigned to immigrants or liberals: I have been triggered and I feel sorry for myself, so now I’m going to tell my sob story to the world so everyone can take pity on me and other supposedly needy but hardworking immigrants. When actually, my strongest emotion is frustration at this very narrative, something I find as pervasive as it is one-dimensional and condescending.
This is what I wrote:
Having been told [to go home] in deeply painful moments, I’ve spent most of my life pondering the perspectives that prompt someone to tell someone else where they do or don’t belong. It seems incredibly monocular and egotistical to believe you have that power over someone else.
What I would love to say to the person telling me to “go home” is this:
It’s not up to you.
You don’t have the power to force me to go anywhere.
It’s not up to you.
Being a citizen or identifying with a particular race or nationality doesn’t give you that kind of authority over someone else.
It’s not up to you.
Unfortunately, my comment was immediately detected by an algorithm, I like to think it was a well-intentioned one designed to reduce hate-speech, but who knows these days, because I was subsequently blocked from making any further comments for the day. (Instagram ignored my request to have my comment reviewed.) I also received a message cautioning against the use of “bullying and inflammatory language.”
This worrying perhaps ominous aspect of modern technology aside, there is so much more I want to say on this topic than can be contained in a single comment. And I’m willing to risk being misinterpreted further (by computer and human alike) to attempt to fully express it here.
Legally speaking, no one has the power to cast someone out of the country unless they have been vested such authority by government (in a law abiding place). However, it is certainly a promise—unspoken, implied, teased, dangled to voters by leaders and politicians. It is also intrinsic in language itself, in the possessive forms of place (“our homeland”), culture, or ethnicity, in the exclusivity of these meanings. This explains why immigrants as well as their descendants still get told “to go home” long after their paperwork has been filed.
And as much as I would love to say, to emphatically say, “It’s not up to you.” I also know my statement is wistful and incomplete. It’s only fair (and preventative of tyranny) that if any one person or group feels entitled to this kind of power, then certainly everyone is entitled to it too, including the object of the castigation: the immigrant or minority being “othered” by it.
“It’s not up to you as an individual. But it is up to all of us. Collectively, we all decide who belongs.”
What is a country, a city, a community if not a group of people with a common identity? Our social interactions, the myriad of emotional bonds we make constitute the core of the place we call home. This core is alive, in constant motion, must continuously be nurtured and reinforced to keep it healthy and stable.
Certainly, masses that are arrogant, self-serving, violent, uneducated, apathetic, closed-minded, racist, fundamentalist do not make much in the way of a core, not an appealing or resilient one. Nor, for that matter, does any crowd that is largely uninvolved and indifferent. Yet, who are these people? Are we to believe the claims of the pompous that these attributes are fixed? That they know exactly who “their people” are and who the “others” are? When they themselves require the most advanced, complex data analytics to find, speak to and energize their own base?
There may always be a part of us that yearns for a simpler world, one based on fixed nationalities, snap judgements, easy hierarchies and classifications. That may be an unalterable part of being human. The tragedy is there is more, much more to being a human than that.
And there is more, much more to being a nation than a hoard of wealth to be guarded.
And there is more, much more to the world than barbaric hordes to be kept at bay outside rigid border walls.
Ironically, it is our smart phones and computers themselves that constantly prove that, prone they may be to amoral or nefarious intents, they continue to hold incredible promise: What inspires you? What makes you curious? What do you like? What do you want? What is your idea of home?
Trying to find the answers to these questions excites us. We can search for them, find them, subscribe to, add, or remove them, we can change them at will, at any moment; all this independent of our appearance, nationality, race, religion, politics, or gender. Unprecedented freedoms that make living within the confines of an old, rigid identity just barely tolerable.
Text and pictures by M.P. Baecker 2019.
Thank you for reading. I took a small break from book writing to publish this post, which I felt couldn’t be delayed any longer in light of recent events.