I usually don’t start with quotes, but this time I will:
‘Does an American belong more in America than elsewhere when most of us came from elsewhere? How to account for the violence of founding a country on someone else’s land? How can any model of American belonging function unproblematically on top of such a heritage? But then wasn’t every country in the world formed out of conflict over who owned the land? All of human history is a story of migrations and conquests. All of us are exiles, but some of us are more aware of it than others.’
This is from Lauren Elkin’s book-length essay, Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London.
Given the current prominence of replacement theory and its proponents among the extreme right in Western countries, especially America, I do wonder about the role of belonging, or this false sense of belonging, in this twisted ideology.
The New York Times recently published their study of 1,150 episodes of Tucker Carlson Tonight. Among the many disturbing findings was Carlson’s version of replacement theory, where ‘they‘ want to replace ‘you’ with ‘third world immigrants,’ who are more ‘obedient voters.’ The ‘they’ is the powerful ‘ruling class’ of left-wing so-called liberals, and the ‘you’ is supposed to be his audience, who are perhaps best defined when Carlson points out ‘They call you a racist.’ The reference to ‘immigrant’ suggests that they do not belong in America. Belonging also slinks into Carlson’s diatribes with comments such as ‘They care more about foreigners than their own people.’ Carlson’s idealised American belongs to a grouping of people. Which group of people is never specified. If Carlson tried to specify and delineate this group, he would run into the problem that Elkin writes about.
All of this reminds me that race is a sociocultural concept. But this idea is nothing new, I remember reading an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic Monthly some nine years ago – which shows the powerful impression it left on me, as opposed to any superb memory on my part. The article was entitled ‘What We Mean When We Say “Race Is a Social Construct.”’ After quoting the historian Nell Irvin Painter who said, ‘Race is an idea, not a fact,’ Coates concludes ‘Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires some… guys with big guns looking for a reason.’ Nine years on, this could still help explain the latest hate-related mass shooting in America in a literal sense and figuratively the likes of Tucker Carlson.
The moral of all of this brings me back to where I started, with a quote from Lauren Elkin: ‘Beware roots. Beware purity. Beware fixity. Beware the creeping feeling that you belong. Embrace flow, impurity, fusion.’