Foreigners at Home
As early reports are showing that the nation is beginning to see a flattening of the curve, proving the effectiveness of staying home, calls to prematurely reopen the economy are ramping up again. Not because it’s best for public health, but because people are restless. The question posed to us today is the same one posed at many critical junctures — how much are we willing to sacrifice for a lie that promises to make us feel safe? Yesterday, New York Magazine published an article about crowds gathering across the country to protest social distancing:
On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters in Raleigh, North Carolina, came together to oppose Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order. Some shouted and honked from the relative safety of their cars.
The protest was organized through a private Facebook group called ReopenNC, which “wants people to make their own stay-at-home decisions to avoid exposure to COVID-19,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Attendees told the paper that they’re concerned about the effect of Cooper’s orders on small businesses. Others questioned the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many are having a hard time existing in this moment because they’ve been put in the position of the foreigner — the dangerous, the suspicious, the monitored. What America is facing is a profound discomfort with itself. American national identity is predicated on not only being anti-foreigner, but non-foreigner. The allure of manifest destiny is that everywhere is subject to acquisition and anywhere can become home. This is how empires think. This is how colonizers feel.
The legitimacy, let alone goodness, of people’s presence is no longer assumed. Neither is the notion that their very presence will heal the land. In fact, the prevailing assumption is that they are likely carriers of disease. The things that pass for intelligence under normal circumstances — abilities to charmingly deceive and manipulate and outwit — are openly recognized as counter-productive. Obsessions with individualism, profit motive, and destruction of public services and spaces make less sense. The only things that will ensure mass strength are those typically associated with weakness — radical honesty about our individual and collective symptoms. When there’s a plague in the land, immaturity and wishful thinking do us no good. The proof is in the bodies.
Last decade, “Castle Doctrine” was made famous as part of the “Stand Your Ground” law that prohibited police officers from arresting George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin. In addition to the broader self-defense argument embedded in the conservative doctrine, it argues that a person has a right to use deadly force to defend their home. Supporters rallied around the notion of home as a sacred space, worthy of vigorous protection above and against the human life of those foreign to it. Now, the same citizens who defend home as their castle when championing low property taxes and high family values resent home when made synonymous with communal values. Now that private property is being made subservient to the public good, people will gladly give it up. They crowd the streets in protest of being confined to their castles, calling their desire to wield the power of life and death freedom. I call it what I’ve always called it — violence.