I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be joining the political science department at @mcgillu. I’ve got some complicated feelings about returning to Canada after a decade in the US.
So I wrote this essay. https://t.co/uioRDrHWfP
— Debra Thompson (@debthompsonphd) June 5, 2020
The article referenced in the above tweet is written by a professor of political science who is Canadian born, has lived in the United States for the last ten years, currently has a Green card and is returning to Canada to teach at McGill. The article is a fascinating exposition of her perception of racism in North America. We are living in very troubled times and I believe her article has an important message for all. This sentiment was captured in the following comment to the article:
This is a disturbing, uncomfortable, thoughtful and very well written article. It made me think a great deal about what the author wrote, and starting to make changes about how I deal with others. Thank you.
Professor Thompson’s article is fascinating and thought provoking on many levels.
How is the article relevant to Brock, Accidental Americans and Americans abroad?
While many US citizens living outside the United States are considering renouncing US citizenship, she states that she is naturalizing as a US citizen (presumably before returning to Canada).
Her article includes (although peripheral to the main point and purpose) some interesting thoughts on what it means to live as a non-citizen in the United States and her reasons for naturalizing as a US citizen.
On living in the United States on a Green Card and not being a US citizen:
I have had my green card long enough to meet the temporal requirements to apply for American citizenship, which I was on track to get before the COVID-19 pandemic made bureaucratic processing timelines screech to a halt. The application asked me questions, such as whether I’d ever been a member of the Communist Party, or if I was a habitual drunkard. It cost about US$725 to file. Since the pandemic added an additional eight months to my application’s processing time, I also had to apply for a travel document that will allow me to leave the country without surrendering my green card. That cost an additional US$660, and the fate of my green card will be up to the discretion of border agents, travel document or not.
I will have an interview and have to pass a test. One would think I’d be exceptionally prepared to take what is essentially a basic-level American politics exam, but I’m not. The answers they want aren’t ones I am okay with giving. One of the questions asks about the causes of the Civil War. There are three acceptable responses, including states’ rights and economic reasons, even as the long-standing academic consensus is about the centrality of slavery.
I debated for a long time about whether to get American citizenship. At the end of the day, my reasons for seeking it are personal and political.
In personal terms, my partner and children are American. As a green card holder, I can be detained, indefinitely and without cause, for any reason. Citizenship offers protection. More important, if the unimaginable happens, I need to be put in the same pen as my children. I need to be able to go where they go, whether voluntary or forced. This might sound dramatic, but remember the legacy of slavery. It was cruel and inhumane in many ways, but especially because it ripped children away from parents, who were helpless to prevent it. Slavery isn’t just this country’s original sin, but is an abomination on the very meaning of humanity precisely because it was economically invested in and fundamentally predicated on our powerlessness to protect our children from harm. Citizenship gives me the ability to keep my children safe – at least, in some ways. For many Black parents, citizenship cannot even guarantee safe passage to the corner store. As a parent to white-presenting children, the onus is on my partner and I to ensure they understand the moral obligations that come with their racial privilege: To use their privilege to fight toward its destruction.
On what US citizenship means in terms of history and identity:
In political terms, this is my ancestors’ legacy. My kin were owed a debt for their centuries of forced labour. But as an immigrant, I have no legal claim to citizenship on these terms. The principles of family reunification in immigration policy – what Republicans sometimes call “chain migration” – do not have a clause that accounts for the blood debt of the nation. But Black folk know of debts and forced repayments. When Haitians revolted and won their freedom, France responded by demanding 150-million francs for “lost property” – the property being the formerly enslaved. It plummeted the first Black Republic into debt, the echoes of which reveal themselves in Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. We know of debts, bad checks and promissory notes defaulted. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to the formerly enslaved, and I have come to collect.
Of course, on a more pragmatic level …
By becoming a US citizen, and living outside the United States, Professor Thompson will be a member of the world’s most exclusive “Tax, Form and Penalty Club”. I suspect that she has no idea that she is about to subjected to a new “form” (pun intended) of unjust treatment and discrimination.