Where Do You Come From?

The (Trump) tweet was intended to be racist because racist statements are inherently provocative.

I’ve been away from my desk for a better part of this month and so it’s been hard to sit down and bash out a reasonable blog entry. However, thanks to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s latest tweet, I’ve got something to write about.

The background is well known. The Occupant decided to do what he does best and bashed out a “Tweet” telling four Congresswomen who are “women of color” to “go back to where they came from.” As expected, this has caused something of a “shit-storm.” On one hand, you have people denouncing the occupant as a “racist xenophobe,” and on the other, his supporters are lapping it up as an example of how their hero tells the world the “ugly truth.”

As always, comedians have had plenty to work with and social media discussions have been passionate. The Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has continued to add fuel to the fire by doubling down on his tweet. While a good number of decent people are getting upset, I believe that the Occupant has done us a very important service by getting us to ask ourselves what makes a citizen.

Let’s start with the obvious. The tweet was intended to be racist because racist statements are inherently provocative. The women in question were all US Citizens, with three of the four being born in the USA. The other common factor was the fact that they were not white. The message was clear – these four non-white women were not “real” Americans, even if they had US passports. The Occupant’s supporters then turned their focus on the one woman who wasn’t born in the US, Ilhan Omar, the Congresswoman from Michigan. Apparently, Ms. Omar, who came to the US at the age of 10 from Somalia is “anti-American” because she doesn’t follow a known Zionist narrative that Israelis of European decent, have a “God-given” right to take land from brown people. As far as the Occupant’s supporters are concerned, Ms. Omar has now replaced Osama Bin Ladin as the spokesperson of every terrorist organization out there. Any rational person would see that this only makes Ms. Omar different from her fellow citizens, not “anti-American.”

As one looks at the events surrounding this debacle, the key question that we need to ask is “what exactly is it that makes one an American,” or that matter of fact, a citizen of any society. Is it ethnicity or religion? If you take Israel as an example, the answer would be religion. Israel officially claims to be the “homeland” of the Jewish people. When you think of Israel, one automatically assumes that its citizens are automatically Jewish. Yet, at the same time, Israel has “Arab” citizens, who are for the most part Muslims and contrary to what the average American may believe – Christian. The Arab citizens of Israel have the same rights of the average Jew and they do things like serve in the Israeli military (something which Orthodox Jews do not do). Are Israel’s Arab citizens any less Israeli than the Jewish ones?

In Singapore, where I live, we have a similar question. Is being a Singaporean about race? Our founding fathers were booted out of the Malaysian Federation because we claimed that we didn’t want being Malaysian to be about a particular race or religion and so, we, the citizens of Singapore now have a ground level culture where we’re a patch work of many things. I’m an ethnic Chinese working with a Malay speaking colleague on a project where I much Dossai (South Indian food) on a daily basis. I look to the fact that I have various shared experiences like National Service and a love for various cuisines as the things that bind me to Singapore and Singaporeans. Does that make me more Singaporean than someone like my restaurant owner, who is ethnically Caucasian and has never served a day in uniform but speaks “Singlish” and swears in Hokkien (with a French accent) and chats about the creaminess of durian. While I struggle to pay my bills, he runs a relatively successful business that employs otherwise unemployable Singaporeans – would that for example, give him more claim to being Singaporean than me?I’ve tried to escape belonging to a particular country and focus my belonging to a people. My parents, are very sure that they are “Singaporean of Chinese descent.” I like to think of myself as being “Chinese” but not from China. For me, Singapore is home in as much as this is where I am physically based. However, I see the Chinese diaspora in the China towns of the Western world as being home too.Although I speak Cantonese like shit, it was the language that for many years that gave me a feeling of belonging into a pretty cool network (speaking to your Chinese take away guy in something other than English ensures the food is better). Having said that, a client of mine once asked, “Are you sure Tang is Chinese, he seems more Indian.” He has a point, I’ve picked up bits of Hindi, which gives people the impression I speak the language. I still can’t pick up a word of Hokkien, the majority dialect of Singapore’s Chinese (I get away with it in Singapore because everyone then assumes, I’m Peranakan – which is partially true too).I’m still trying to figure out what makes me, me. I’m obviously Chinese with a Singapore passport but culturally British in so many ways but at the same time emotionally Indian, as this particular client pointed out (apparently, I’m the talk of his office – the Chinese boy who eats dossai with his hands).If I’m constantly trying to work out who I am as an individual, I’ve got to assume that nations are also doing the same with their national identities. To, which I need to state, that while I have no conclusive answer to what makes a nationality, I’d urge people to ask themselves the question every day. It’s only by asking that question on a daily basis that one reaches something that they’d like the answer to be.

(Al-Bilad Daily English)