Bravo, Sam! Such an important article! Having struggled for years with my boyfriend’s lack of citizen status in either the US or Canada, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.

I remember learning how citizenship in the US didn’t used to be an important consideration. The Constitution barely mentions it.

All residents of the US are supposed to enjoy the same rights. That’s the theory. Citizenship was just presumed for anyone who made it over the ocean and settled down. (Except for Black people and Native Americans.)

That began to change in the 19th century because of and only because of racism.

Southern states after the Civil War tried to restrict citizenship to white people and leave former slaves high and dry. The 14th and 15th amendments were supposed to rectify that, though obviously they didn’t.

But with that effort, citizenship took on new power and meaning.

Shortly after, the newly revived notion of citizenship was weaponized against Chinese and other Asian immigrants in starkly racist ways.

Series of court decisions and laws withheld citizenship from them under any number of legal theories. Underpinning everything, though, was the notion that Asian people were subhuman compared to white people. Reading source material from the era is an exercise in shock and shame.

By the time that era ended, though, citizenship had taken on flesh and become a powerful construct. A racist construct of exclusion and stigmatization of “inferior” people.

Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot.

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