Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Discussion of Nationality and Stigma: part 3 (Fire Lyte)

The following is a brief response to Scarlet's original post on this blog concerning the idea of nationality.

The original post came from a misunderstanding about the definition of the word 'nationality.' Now, Scarlet is absolutely correct that the definition of the term nationality, at its base, is 'someone belonging to a particular political nation.' Basically, the country of one's residence and where one legally has citizenship.

Thus, one can say, "I am an American," if they have that citizenship, or German, Ethiopian, etc.

So, definitively, Scarlet is absolutely correct. It's not a point I particularly contend, except in a legal sense. In colloquial and, often, legal terminology, the term is interchangeable with 'nation of origin.' Or, in other words, "the nation or country that most of your ancestors came from." This is where you get people saying they are 'Scotch-Irish' or (in my case) a mix of "French, Native American, and the standard white boy mix of European countries. Mostly the first two." Honestly, though, being French, Native American, or any amount of European affects me not.

I speak from a legal perspective, because that is my employment and educational background. Also, in a list of the types of hate crimes, those based on nationality are considered to be crimes against those who are culturally identified with a particular nation. Sometimes one does not have to personally identify with being of a particular nationality, but perhaps their parents do. In this instance, nationality has less to do with one's personal identification than that which others perceive to be your nation of origin. In this colloquial understanding of nationality, it seems to be where the folks in your family that came to this country, came to this country from.

Because, when one gets hung up on ideas of origins and semantics it can invariably lead to the idea that, "Well, we're really all Mesopotamian," as that is - supposedly - where we all came from. It's a label, like pretty much everything else we call ourselves and each other. So, I get that sometimes we want to play semantics and twist language so that we can question, or accuse, the 'nativeness' of Native Americans or why some of the Irish folks in certain parts of Chicago still call themselves Irish, despite the fact that it's been at least 100 years since one of their relatives saw the Emerald Isle. But, that takes the conversation to an extreme.

We just crossed a threshold in the last few decades. People used to want, to need, to cling to labels. They wanted to say, "I'm a ______, and you're a ______." It's sort of how language and society function. That's how we get silly things like nouns. But, we're beginning to get into a time when more and more people get upset, sometimes militant, with the idea of 'You can't label me! I'm so beyond labels! I'm special and a snowflake and different and more unique than anyone that has ever walked the earth. Thus, I am label-less.' Funny, though, that those same people still use labels to identify other groups and cultures and things.

Not to say that Scarlet is one of those people. Seriously. However, I am noticing more and more this Snowflake Culture of people bubbling up in the west who so vehemently want to argue that they don't fit into any category. But, what, then, is to become of our nouns? Just because the fork has no voice to argue he is not of the silverware nation, does that make the label any more or less correct? Why are people so different? Bears don't get to say they just don't feel like they're part of the Grizzly tribe, because they hang out more with Black bears and identify with that culture. When did we get so special?

I'm not saying that people's labels cannot change and cannot be fluid, and labels themselves can be dangerous things, but they're kind of useful things.

But, in summation to the topic of nationality. Scarlet is absolutely correct, unless you're talking legalese. Look forward to the real riot, which is the discussion on the American stereotype.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

3 comments:

  1. I don't think it's about not fitting into a category. I think it's about re-defining the categories. Coming from an anthropological background and talking about race, for instance, I've been taught that race is not a biological absolute and therefore is, like nationality, a matter of identification, whether that be self-identification or, as you point out, assigned by our surrounding culture (which is something I missed on in my post, but you make a solid point).
    The point for me is, if someone else wants to assign me with a particular race, that's their business. If they want to call me "white" or "Polish-American" that's their own assumption by which they understand me, but I'm not going to give them that rope to hang me with all on my own... If they must make an assumption that limits me to a small category, they can do it all by themselves. (end part one of two)
    -Scarlet

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  2. (part two)
    When asked to identify myself, I can only prove to myself that I am human by race and American by nationality, so that is exactly what I put down on the census form. If someone else was filling the census form out, they would put something different, no doubt and I couldnt' stop them.
    When it comes to race, I don't find such categorizations especially useful... it's not about being unique at all... quite the opposite... it's about being the same as everyone else in the larger group rather then being a part of some smaller group. And if it were about not being categorized, then people like me would reject all labels, such as "pagan" or "bisexual" or even "female" but no, I firmy identify with those groups. Do you have any idea how many pagan bisexual women I encounter? No... I'm not a snowflake for identifying this way.

    I understand the labels can be useful. If I see a crime and I'm trying to describe the criminal to a police officer, will I hem and haw about what race I think they might have been or will I assign a race based on my assumption about their appearance? Probably the latter, but that doesn't mean I think it defines them or that I couldn't be wrong about what I think they are or don't identify them as "like me." Like you say, Labels can be useful AND dangerous. Once we start to categorize people as outside our own group, we allow dehumanization to start creeping in... it's been proven time and again that seperate is not equal, no matter how wonderful our intentions. I don't like treading too close to that cliff's edge. Call it a personal preference based on my own understand of my own darker nature.
    -Scarlet

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  3. This discussion makes me laugh. It reminds me of a American/Canadian, ethnically Swedish, blond, blue eyed 5'10" athletic, female, bisexual fashion designer I once knew who refused to believe she wasn't welcome in the women of color feminist lesbian support group she was crashing.

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