Saturday, January 11, 2020

To Feel Loved

I have changed my appearance and lowered my voice, even tried to believe that one of the worst days of my life never happened, all in service of loving this country. One day I hope this country will try as hard to love me back.
Farnoush Amiri "The Day That Never Happened"
I have encountered this sentiment, the idea of one's love of country being unrequited, here and there over the past several years. Non-white Americans, immigrants and native citizens alike, have expressed it, painfully and wistfully. On the one hand, the idea that one's country doesn't love one back is only to be expected. The United States of America is, after all, a nation-state, rather than a person. It can't love anyone any more than a car or a table can. But there are a lot of people who make up the United States, and they, as individuals can love. And in that sense, it is accurate to feel that their willingness to show apparent love for another person simply on the basis of being a fellow citizen is, as with most love, conditional.

The "United States" loves what, and whom, it sees itself in. Likewise, it sees itself in what it wishes to love (even when, sometimes, it isn't actually there). It loves to be loved, and, as such, sees love in the flattery if imitation. And because it sees everyone as having the capacity to be like it, to mirror its ideals back to it, it does not see the conditionality of its love. And the narrower the United States' vision of itself, the stingier it appears to be with its love.

But also, the narrower our vision of the United States, the less love that we feel from it. At one point, Ms. Amiri recounts her father telling her: "Because you are foreigners, they hate you." But who are "they?" If "they," as in the United States, are simply the White, relatively affluent citizens whose main understanding of those not like them is the threat that they perceive to their standing and material comfort, it is going to be difficult to feel that they have any love to share. The fearful and insecure, consumed by their own sense of current or impending poverty, rarely do. If they are the only people who represent the "United States" in the paragraph above, hoping that they will try hard to love one back seems a fool's errand.

We all have to be the United States. We cannot cede a fundamental sense of American-ness to a select group if we want to feel loved by our nation. Or that it loves others who attempt to make a life here. When we allow the nation to be defined by a particular group of people, when we judge ourselves legitimate citizens or not based on their whims, we allow ourselves to be set adrift, and cast as strangers (or worse, interlopers) in our own communities. For our country to love us as much as we love it, we cannot give up our place here, or allow others to tell us that we don't have one.

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