— Citizenship Lawyer (@ExpatriationLaw) December 28, 2014
Recent discussions with a friend have me wondering whether Americans abroad are indeed the “property” of the US government. At first I considered this a bit exaggerated but am coming to appreciate that there is a great deal of truth in it. Perhaps reflecting a bit on the past might provide valuable insight on how we might approach this ongoing, changing situation. The idea that a human being could be considered “property” is initially strange to me. The only obvious parallel would be that of being a slave. In spite of growing up in a somewhat racially-tense city, I was largely unaware that the very foundation of the U.S. included slavery. I was 10 years old in 1965 when the riots in Watts occurred. Two years later, there were 159 riots during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967. The next year, following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, more riots. By then I was 13 and able to understand some of the reasons: poor schools, lack of employment, overcrowding in filthy ghettos, pollution, discrimination by police, etc. MLK described it as “humiliation for decades, for centuries.” Along with the other assassinations, Vietnam, etc, it did not yet occur to me that the problem was rooted in a very underlying hypocrisy. In spite of the U.S. being the “Land of the Free and the “American Dream” supposedly available to all, the fact was the U.S. was a place where gross abuse of human “rights” was visible in daily life as long as I had been alive.
There are some interesting CBC Radio “Massey Lectures” given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that John Richardson wrote about recently on the ADCS wordpress site. As I listened, I was struck by the fact that intellectually, it was obvious enough that “rights” had been violated in a perverse way for so long. But I was more horrified by the immorality of it. I was much too young to really appreciate what he was and am overwhelmed by his intelligence, clarity and devotion to non-violence. The issue of race in America is clearly an ethical issue, no doubt about it. One could go on and on about social, economic and other mitigating factors but at its root, the problem truly is that one group of human beings is denied the basic respect, dignity and consideration others receive due to discrimination of what they are from birth. The recent incidents in Ferguson, Cleveland and other cities show not much has changed in the last 50 years.
I was taught that America was born due to the brave actions of those who left England because of persecution due to religious beliefs; later attempts to tax the colonists who had no representation in the parliament etc. In recent years, having learned my ancestral roots, I have been proud of the fact that my family has played an integral role in that beginning. Yet at the same time, for the last three years, experience of the treatment at the hands of the US government definitely casts a different light on it. Americans abroad (and even people who are not truly “American”) are not given the same respect as those who live in the Homeland. What’s at the root of this? Does the U.S. view us as if they “own” us? Are we their property and are we not free to leave the country? We may be able to buy our way out but fundamentally, what difference is there between that and a slave from the past doing the same? In the modern world there is a tendency to minimalize emotional or mental suffering as if it is not valid since it is not as severe as say, physical torture. That may be true to a certain degree yet I fail to see how that removes the immoral forces that can be responsible for both. In fact, the only way to see it may be to draw parallels between them.