When I lived in Turkey, in 2005, the US was pushing for Turkey to acknowledge a certain historical event an a way that Turks saw as biased against them. I had been living in Izmir long enough to speak passable Turkish, and was regularly invited to my neighbors apartments to eat breakfasts, dinners, have coffee, and pass time with many of them. One day, one of these neighbors came running up to me as I walked home from work, visibly upset, and began shouting at me in Turkish: about my government trying to force her government to admit to a crime that had not been a crime. She went on, quite emotionally and a bit frighteningly to me, as another neighbor came to stand by me, insisting that Turkey was being blamed, set up, or otherwise abused, and apparently blaming me for all of this. Yet, I had left my own country, as I tried to explain to her, for the very same reasons she was angry with my government: there was injustice being committed by my government, and I was powerless, as an ordinary citizen, to change that. More of my neighbors arrived, giving her similar explanations, and comforting both of us as we all walked into our building. I was stunned that I could be the target of such misplaced anger, apparently simply because I was the only US citizen most of them knew who actually spoke Turkish and lived in a lower middle class Turkish neighborhood, rather than in an expensive expat enclave.
Later, a similar thing happened. Different country, same idea.
When I lived in England, in either 2006 or 2007 I believe, one day at a gathering, someone walked up to me and introduced herself. Before I could finish responding with “Hi, my name is,” she shouted “You’re an American!” turned on her heel, and stormed away, leaving me stunned and saddened. I had left my country of origin because of allegations of being “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and siding with socialists even on the subject of illegal torture always being, well, illegal. Yet here I was being broadsided by a similar blind hatred based on my national origin, and based on the assumption that I must supposedly agree with the policies of the government of the country in which I was born.
Just recently, online, a person from Bulgaria commented, when I pointed out that she’d misread, or not read, the details and context of a comment I’d written which she was criticizing, ended the exchange by cursing me as a person from “that Trump country America,” etc, apparently conflating my critique of her (lack of) reading, with the fact that I live in the United States, and thus assuming that I must be anti-American. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth, at least regarding my association with Trump’s policies or presence in government. Not only did I vote against him, but I spent a great deal of time working to persuade others to do likewise, and to mitigate the results of policies, particularly anti-immigrant policies, implemented by his administration. (I am, after all, also a volunteer for an organisation that visits detained asylum-seekers…)
Yet, once again, I’ve been relegated to the status of an American who must therefore agree with my current government’s policies, however inaccurate this assumption may actually be.
As with the situation in England and in Turkey, no one consulted me for my actual opinion on the matter, but I was automatically the target of anger as a representative of my country of origin, based on a mistaken idea that I must agree with or represent that government. The irony is that in fact I had left the country, or risked reaching out to someone in another country, precisely because I disagreed and disagree with and refused to fund, via my presence in the country and hence economic support via rent, food expenses, income tax, etc. My reasons for living in a state that opposes the policies of this administration reflect the same reasons I left in 2004: it is my duty as a citizen of a republic to uphold the ideals of the republic, even when difficult. Now, perhaps more than at any other time in history, I feel it my duty to lend my little weight to efforts to change the course of this, my native country, toward the ideals voiced in the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But no one ever asked me about that.
So why do we human beings tend to assume that someone from a particular country must represent or even agree with the person or policies in power at the time? Why are all people taken to represent the worst in where they come from? Should we all not take the time to inquire of each person where he or she stands before casting the accusation of collaboration with injustice?