Difference and legitimacy

Adam Serwer, writing in the Atlantic, argues that Donald Trump and his followers at some level, whether explicit or implicit, believe that whiteness is a necessary condition for U.S. citizenship.[1] Michael Luo, editor of the New Yorker‘s web site, asks whether he and his twin brother, born in this country, but of Asian descent, will ever be accepted in this country.[2]

I think I know what they’re talking about. Though white, I too was bullied throughout my childhood. I could never fit in with the other children, no matter where we moved, at least in part because I could never (I still can’t) manifest an interest in sports. And I spent decades searching for the sort of community I could identify with, convinced I couldn’t be alone.

As it has turned out, I am alone, profoundly so. No matter where I move. Similarly Luo, with his twin brother, finds that no matter how old they grow, no matter where they move, they are always targets.

Luo and his brother can find community among fellow Asians (a broad category but Luo does not bother—and certainly should not need—to be more specific). I find that between childhood bullying, my father’s physical abuse, and the trauma I have endured in the job market,[3] that I can never feel safe, never feel accepted, and indeed, that the only time in my life I have ever truly felt safe was with my maternal grandfather, here in Pittsburgh, sharing breakfast and lunch with him, walking around Dormont, even sitting next to him in his bedroom (his relationship with my grandmother was, to put it much too mildly, fraught).

C. J. Pascoe described a high school demand for conformity—I could never really conform—that high school children impose upon each other.[4] I now realize it isn’t just high school. And while race is clearly a marker of apparently intolerable difference, my own experience, and the experience Pascoe describes,[5] makes clear it isn’t the only one.

Why, I still ask, can’t we accept people for who they are?[6] What is it about difference that demands shunning, expulsion, and ostracization?

I see now that this is a feedback: The more one wants or demand to be accepted, the more they will be rejected. The very existence of difference, let alone the celebration of diversity or multiculturalism, provokes a vicious, conformist response.

To be different is to be illegitimate. In every place I’ve been.

  1. [1]Adam Serwer, “Trump Tells America What Kind of Nationalist He Is,” Atlantic, July 15, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/trumps-white-nationalist-attack-four-congresswomen/594019/
  2. [2]Michael Luo, “Trump’s Racist Tweets, and the Question of Who Belongs in America,” New Yorker, July 15, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/trumps-racist-tweets-and-the-question-of-who-belongs-in-america
  3. [3]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  4. [4]C. J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (Berkeley: University of California, 2007).
  5. [5]C. J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (Berkeley: University of California, 2007).
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Xenophobia,” Not Housebroken, July 14, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/14/xenophobia/

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