by Angelina Eimannsberger
The heartening protests over the last days might seem to thrust us into a simpler time of Empire vs. resistance fighters. Princess Leia is on our side and Darth Vader on theirs, and we can’t go wrong. We seem to be targeted in similar ways by this violence at various scales. Executive Orders, firings, hate crimes–we all protest them together because we all think they are wrong, un-American, un-constitutional, unfair. Protesters defend the true, better, original America.
But it’s worth remembering that national myths leave groups out. For example, when we fight against the #muslimban we sometimes say “we’re all immigrants here”. We want to say that many Americans and their ancestors have come from other places in search of hope, freedom, and opportunity. We’re hoping to emphasize shared energy, a hopeful project of building a new, free, and equal community. More or less recently immigrated Americans are no better then the people Trump has tried to ban.
However, glorification of the immigrant nation erases Native Americans, who are directly targeted by the current administration’s policy on Dakota Pipeline. It erases differences among immigrants and their unequal access to the American project. It ignores the millions brought to these shores against their will as slaves. It isolates people who are brown, muslim, trans, or otherwise don’t fit into the narrative that mainstream America tells of itself. The myth of the American pilgrims, immigrants, and settlers was built on murdering and dispossessing the people already living on that land. It was founded on creating a new community of white anglo-saxon protestants that live in patriarchal societies that have only slowly grown more inclusive–from Irish and Jewish being considered white ethnicities to a black man being president of the country.
This NYT article (admirably!) inquires into motives for supporting the immigration ban. It presents a gay New Yorker who supports both the ban and President Trump. This seems surprising. Shouldn’t a member of the lgbtq community who lives in a liberal city be a Democrat, anti-Trump, appalled? It’s not that simple. This is Sal Oliva, the interviewee, and the Times’ explanation of his standpoint:
His fear of terrorism outweighs Trump’s targeting of the same community the gunman in Orlando targeted. Being a man, living in the working class neighborhood of Staten Island, and being white positions Oliva in a specific place. (I assume he is white because the article does not identify him as non-white, suggesting an unmarked belonging to the normative majority.) His fear is relatable to many inside the lgbtq community and beyond. People who share the fear of terrorism and specifically violence against gay people might yet feel compelled to protest the ban. Likewise, white women voted for Trump. We all belong to groups that are determined by many factors, and saying “we are all immigrants here” does not come close enough to capture the lived reality of Americans.
Picking the example of the gay man in favor of banning Muslims from entering the US shows the power of white supremacy and sexism. Being gay does not determine your entire lived experience: other factors such as race, class, and gender interact with it.
Blending into America depends on all of these factors. Thus, the immigration narrative of America is more accessible to some than others.
A white cis woman with flowing hair from Europe will find easy acceptance, she will be welcomed as a foreigner who can easily be accepted into the image of America.
A Black woman, however, might find herself faced with the legacy of slavery, racism, inequality, and limited possibility rather then the American myth of freedom and happiness.
A Muslim women, as we have seen through the ban, can still be discarded as a threat and go into detention rather then American society.
There’s no doubt that the Trump presidency is an assault on everyone. However, the inequality that already existed is exacerbated, not evened out, by the current administration. The point isn’t to emphasize those differences between and among communities but to understand the structures we’re up against. White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, cis-privilege, and imperialism are all gears of nation states that are ultimately based on exclusion. Trump is the expression of violent structural inequality, the heightened danger he stands for is a way of highlighting problems we have needed to address all along.