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LECTURE

III
Belonging

How did we come to equate blood with the transmission not only of skill and talent but the right to lead and inspire others? How is it that we, as humans, have bought into the idea so fully that for the longest time we believed that bluebloods had a sort of physical right to rule over others?

Perhaps some part of the contemporary voter’s soul longs to be ruled by dynasties. Even in anti-monarchist countries such as the United States, dynasties (think of Presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, and George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush) represent a sort of security, and harken back to ancient kingdoms in which a family could be counted upon to rule for generations.

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Bloodlines formally ensure and dictate the continuation of royal families. You cannot aspire to be the queen or king of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth countries unless you are born or marry into the right family.
By assuming that the traits of leadership or artistry are in the blood, we assume that the people so venerated have a right to lead (or sing), that we should pay attention to them, that they “come by it honestly,” that their extraordinary and individual hard work counts for less than their placement inside a family, and that they deserve to be elevated to a godlike status.
One is no more special because of the blood in the family than one is special by dint of the accident of one’s country of birth.

Just as we have complicated family relationships sometimes involving blood and other times moving beyond it, we have a similarly intricate relationship with regard to notions of citizenship. Citizenship is the ultimate expression of group belonging However, the matter is complicated.

If your parents are citizens, and you are born in Canada, you can be a citizen.

If your parents are not citizens, but you are born in Canada, you can be a citizen.
(Some say this can be exploited as "birth tourism")

If your parents are citizens, but you are born outside Canada, you can be a citizen.

But if both your parents became citizens this way, you can't be a citizen.
(The "first generation limitation")

It's complicated.

Perhaps most famously, the Canadian government worked assiduously to deport “back” to Japan thousands of citizens (born in Canada, it must be emphasized) of Japanese descent, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war with Japan during World War II.

Canadian authorities swept away their citizenship and focused, instead, on their race. Their ancestors came from Japan. This, supposedly, meant that they could not be trusted in a time of war with Japan. They didn’t just lose citizenship; under Canada’s War Measures Act, they were declared enemy aliens.

The internment and mistreatment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II (which was paralleled in the United States) demonstrates one way that national governments have pointed to blood as a means to justify the mistreatment of their citizens. Who is defined as a slave? Who is black or Aboriginal? Who is detained and searched in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York City and the Pentagon? Who is respected in times of war?

Background photo: Working activities at a Japanese internment camp.

When crises erupt,
blood trumps citizenship.

Citizenship, in my view, should express your true connection to a place. Have you carved out a significant part of your life there? Been schooled there? Established serious family or economic connections? These are just some of the things that bind you to a place.

Background photo: A group of interned Japanese-Canadian men at a road camp.

I would have a fine, fat piggy bank if I were to be paid a dollar for each and every time someone has either told me that I was “half black,” or “half black and half white,” or has spoken to me about another person having ancestry divided into neatly arithmetical parts, as in “one-quarter English, one-quarter Japanese, and half Tamil.

The arithmetic quantification of race crops up in our daily language, because race is so deeply and subconsciously connected in our minds to blood.

In eighteenth century Mexico, criollos — people of Spanish origin who were born in the New World — were concerned that they were situated one step down the social totem pole from Spanish-born people who had settled in the country. Therefore, they enacted numerous social rules regulating and restricting every aspect of the lives of Indians, blacks, and mixed-race people, who were to be positioned several rungs down from them on the ladder of social hierarchy.

This caste system, or sistema de castas, was designed to ensure that the elite criollos were not associated with the tainted blood of miscegenation (the mixing of racial groups through marriage and procreation).

Hearing today of the casta system and paintings, a reader might declare it absurd and utterly passé. Absurd, yes. Passé, no.

Background photo: 18th-century casta painting depicting the 16 perceived racial combinations in Mexico.

Examples abound in the United States of close adherence to blood quantum in establishing or refuting the identity of American Indians.

The Cherokee Freedmen of Oklahoma, for example, have faced an ongoing battle over many years to establish that they deserve citizenship and full rights in the Cherokee Nation. Their origin is partially African-American — the Cherokee enslaved their ancestors before the American Civil War. The Cherokee Nation included both Union and Confederate sympathizers. The black slaves of the Cherokee Nation obtained their freedom after the Civil War, and many became members of the Nation.

However, in the 1980s, the Cherokee Nation began revoking the citizenship of the Freedmen, unless they could prove descent from ancestors formally listed as “Cherokee By Blood.” In 2007, Cherokee Nation voters approved a constitutional amendment that fully stripped the Freedmen of citizenship status.

Does being of mixed heritage make one less African or less Cherokee? I would hope not. The process of mixing cultures should add to your family ancestry, not subtract from it.

Background photo: Dennis Redmoon of the Seminole-Cherokee nation (AFP PHOTO/Brendan Smialowski/IGetty Images)
Race is an artificial concept.
It is an idea that we humans
have imposed on one another.
Background photo: A 1900 "Enrollment for Cherokee Census Card D1", from the U.S. National Archives