Whose country is it anyway?

I’ve been thinking about a couple of comments that Marcus Ranum made on my last post (thanks for the food for thought, by the way!). Here’s the exchange:

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Now, obviously (especially since he actually said it in as many words) the suggestion wasn’t a serious one. It’s just an expression of frustration, and a legitimate one at that. I threaten to move to the far side of the Moon on a regular basis, right? It got me thinking, though.

Yes, women and people with uteri are second-class citizens in Ireland. We have a constitution that tells us that we have a special place within the home, shouldn’t be bothering our pretty little heads with economic labour, and are legally equivalent to a fertilised egg. I mean, technically you could even say that a male foetus has a higher status than a grown woman, since at least the foetus is expected to go get a job at some point in the future.

It’s grim.

Of course, women and the uterus-enabled aren’t the only ones living with second-class citizenship in this lovely country of ours. Trans people still can’t have their genders recognised, queer people are barred from equal marriage and can be legally discriminated against if we work in education, and let’s not even start on direct provision and arbitrary deportations of asylum seekers, or the abysmal way that the Travelling community are routinely dehumanised, or people on years-long waiting lists for public healthcare, or non-Catholic families being shoved down school waiting lists or.. oh, I could go on. You know I could go on. We have no shortage of second-class citizenship (or residency, or humanity) in this country.

Does being second-class citizens mean this space is less our home, though?

I guess it depends on what you mean by home. This is the place where I’m from and where I’ve lived most of my life. It’s where most of my friends and family are. It’s where I go to work, rent an apartment, play roller derby. It’s the space where I do my activism and community building work. More than that, it’s the context that created and developed most of the way that I think. I’m an Irish person who’s lived in a bunch of other places but kept coming back here (so far, at least) and that slightly-diluted Irishness is who I am. Being from a country that treats me as second or third class and finding home in the spaces of resistance we create within that is who I am.

The majority of people in this country are second-class citizens.

Let’s imagine for a second, though, that we should all up sticks and leave. We’re in a space that doesn’t see us as fully human and that shoves us, to one extent or another, to the margins. Let’s blow this joint and get the hell out of here, right?

Where would we go?

Because there isn’t one country in the world where women, queers, POC, immigrants, religious minorities, poor people, PWD, and all the rest of us aren’t marginalised. There are places which are better than others. There’s places where it is easier to create pockets of community for ourselves where we can live full and rich lives. But there’s nowhere where we are fully included and equal. Nowhere.

I think that it’s easier to look at other countries and wonder why the hell people don’t just leave (ignoring the fact that people often do, or that leaving is by no means simple). We forget that it’s not a choice between living somewhere that marginalises you and somewhere that doesn’t. Or that sometimes the price of less-marginalisation in one regard is more exclusion in another, and separation from the culture and community that has created and nurtured you. Or that telling people to leave is another tool in the arsenal of those within our society that would prefer to shove us under the carpet.

Let’s remember: we have a habit of granting ownership of a particular thing to the most privileged people within it. There’s an argument that I’ve had a ton of times with a close friend of mine about atheism. She sees atheism- particularly organised atheism- as a movement made up of privileged white men who use their trumped-up oppression to excuse virulent racism and misogyny.

And she’s got a point. There’s a lot of that. Of course, look at just about any social movement and the people with the loudest most amplified voices are those who had most privilege to start off with. Take some time to look beyond the people who’ve already been given pedestals, though, and you see something far richer and more interesting.

Yes, I’m a second-class citizen. So are most people.

We are made second-class by people who have no more claim to this country than I do, who have been given pedestals they never earned. If we concede that our second-class status makes this less our home than theirs, we give the keys to that home to the people who would rather have us either shut up or leave. We will be made second class citizens wherever we go.

So, I do refuse to say that this is not my home as much as it is someone else’s. I reject their right to decide for me where my home is, or to speak for this place as if it were theirs. It’s not. It’s mine too.
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Whose country is it anyway?

5 thoughts on “Whose country is it anyway?

  1. Pen

    Have you read Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas? It’s old, but she’s a brilliant essayist and thinker, and the principles she raises are still relevant. Also, it’s out of copyright so free to read, and, of course, she isn’t a white man ; )

  2. 2

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply to my comments, and for taking them as intended. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, or even provocative – it just slipped out because I’d been debating a completely unrelated topic with someone in an email, and we were hashing around the exact question you asked, “whose country is it, anyway?” Those of us who want democracy are doomed to disappointment when that question comes up, because the state of most of the governments on earth puts paid to the idea of a social contract in which the state is an emergent property of the will of the people residing within it.

    In a situation like you have to deal with in Ireland, or worse in an apartheid state, I think it’s not stretching an argument to say that some citizens are at least partially disempowered by the state and therefore are more like the states captives than full participants in the state. Which, to me, says the state’s legitimacy is – by definition – reduced: a captive of such a state does not owe loyalty to it or its laws. Lysistrata’s attempt (acting as though it happened and wasn’t fiction) tried to re-negotiate some of the terms of the women’s interactions with the state and, if it had been successful, would have resulted in a change to the social contract.

    The great crime of nationalism is that it presents a sort of a monopolistic hobson’s choice: you’re either part of a state (by virtue of being born within its borders) and to some degree its property, or you have no rights at all. Where it gets ugly is when the state has multiple classes of rights, and some are disempowered, and – as you say – there’s no alternative. At that point, the legitimacy of the state itself is doubtful. In a dream-world in which we actually lived in decent global democracies, the idea that a state could assert your membership by virtue of your being born there would no longer apply – people would be able to choose where they wanted to live and there would be no controls on immigration and emigration. (I have always been aghast at the nationalist’s idea that it’s acceptable for the government of North Korea to treat “its” people in a certain way, simply because they had the bad fortune to be born there, and all the other governments of the world accept this as a ground truth)

    Your point that if someone leaves, they will always be driven away is well-taken. Again, leaving is not really an option. And, if I had been being serious, I’d have expected to be accused of heaping blame on the victim not the wrongdoer.

    1. 2.1

      Thanks to both of you for teasing out the implications of your short comments in longer form, it was well worth reading. The dispossession of rights, or the inability of members of a supposedly civil society to reach the full flourishing of their talents, is a mark against that society – but internationally, we are supposed to be ‘diplomatic’ and not tell hard truths about the state of affairs in other countries (many state actors simply refuse outside criticism), while domestically at home we are supposed to be ‘patriotic’ and only repeat jingoism and sweep self-criticism under the carpet.

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