When confronted with criticism from immigrants, white Americans will often nonsensically retort, “If you hate America so much, go back to where you came from!” with the intention of forcing an admission that the place in question is worse. But what they neglect, as expected, is to apply that segregative logic evenly: I might not have minded returning to where I came from, if you hadn’t destroyed it. Why, after all, is it worse? Why are these countries, like China, that were once so far advanced that after venturing into the world chose isolation upon recognizing other civilizations had nothing to offer; like India, whose citizens in the awareness of their cultural fluidity alone withstood intrusive violence until the British strategically fostered in them a destructive self-hatred; like the Islamic Empire, whose discoveries serve as the foundation of contemporary scientific and mathematical advances, much worse? Why do white Americans have the right to interact with civilizations, to change them, to traumatize them, and expect that their peoples will not influence the makings of the United States?
Subsequently, it becomes obvious why, “If your country is so great why don’t you go back!” is a suggestion of self-serving hypocrisy; much like the colonialist mentality that forces Palestinians to pay Europe debt to the state of Israel rather than expect Europe to pay for its crimes, the retort attempts to right wrongs to the convenience of the oppressor so that a third innocent party is the one who must pay in place of the West. Certainly, if entire nations had not been destroyed by Western colonialism, the United States would not have an “immigration problem.” It might have, in fact, never existed. The quietly understood benefits to the oppressor reduces justice to pure simplicity, leaving ongoing symptoms of historical crimes unconsidered. The reality is that once the West has destroyed a civilization, it cannot expect to cut off ties with the people of that civilization by simply demanding they “go home.” You cannot murder, rape, torture, commit grievous harms on someone, and then expect your morality to be extractable from their existence by a simple parting of ways.
Rather, is the nature of these things to haunt the souls of those inflicting them. As it should be. America’s appalling history has a right to incorporation into the American identity. This is who you, who we, are now. That identity in its nature demands acknowledgment, and in an effort to cleanse ourselves, should be undone. The reason, of course, that white Americans are so distraught by the presence of immigrants in this nation is that we, of immigrant families, are constant reminders of the West’s despicable involvement in foreign nations. We are told to “go home”–because out of sight, out of mind. You do not need to think about the crimes you committed against the original country of an immigrant when you are not looking her in the face.
Reluctance toward any true justice is demonstrated not only in these defensive retorts. What is also evident is the failure to recognize those who have been wronged by Western visions of nation-building as people who now have a right, by having been involved as victims in these crimes, to be fully participating citizens of the West. Consider, for example, the common response to any suggestion of retributions paid to members of the black community (i.e. most black American citizens) whose families were enslaved. If the black community were repaid for forced labor, an estimated total of $777 billion would be repaid to black families for the labor “provided” by slaves. Setting aside the fact that the U.S. does not have that money, economists make the argument that these retributions, if paid, would devastate the economy. But let’s ask the question, whose economy does really this devastate? Are black citizens not participating members of the U.S. economy? After all, this is not money that is being exported to foreign nations. In other words, it is not currency that is lost to foreign economies, but dollars that will continue to remain in the US and fuel the US economy. Would black citizens not buy cars, houses, etc. with those wages that they earned? Would they not significantly stimulate the economy rather than devastate it? The response of white Americans that retributions to black families would be economically destructive is an indication they do not consider black citizens as citizens, who have not only the right to the wages earned by their families but the ability to contribute to the economy with those wages. What happens instead is that “retribution” is reframed as “redistribution” to emphasize the effect on white families rather than black ones.
Opponents of retributions will also attempt to employ the slippery slope fallacy. “If we pay back descendants of black slaves,” they will say, “who’s next? Native Americans? Women?” And to what, exactly, are you objecting? What else should be expected? If you rob five houses, and you are made to return the belongings of one of them, are you going to cry, “What next! You want me to return everything I stole?” Clearly we do. It is only the most reasonable expectation. And is that not justice?
Although in theory it may well be impossible to return everything stolen, unless the crimes are undone over thousands of years, this same practice of the application of practicality does not seem to deter those, who make the claim that retributions are impractical, from applying the mercy of practicality to only themselves: if it so impossible to undo the damage that we should not begin to attempt it, why should the impossibility of black citizens or indigenous peoples to continue to live in institutionalized oppressions be tolerated? Is this not equally impossible? Are they not equally human?
Common responses to suggestions that the West, or that specifically America, should seek moral reconciliation for its atrocities involve appeals, both real and theoretical, to historical crimes committed by non-Western civilizations. It is claimed by Westerners that theoretically, if non-Western civilizations had been as powerful, these civilizations would have “done the same.” Except, in a lot of cases, they actually were, and they actually didn’t. Since this isn’t the main point, however, it will not be explained. What will be explained is that in any civil society, one cannot, for example, steal from someone and then, when called to justice, claim that the victim would have done the same. That is not the reality with which we must work. It is an attempt only to derail the proceedings and obstruct the sentence. Likewise, the truth that non-Western civilizations have wronged each other should be of no concern to the West when seeking moral reconciliation. When having done wrong and attempting to undo the consequences so that we may be at peace with ourselves, why are the wrongs of others of any relevance?
Genuinely seeking reconciliation means a distinct uninterest in the historical crimes of others when they do not involve the West. The crimes of nations that the West has wronged and whether these nations are answering for them would be seen instead as “none of your business.” It is, rather, the business of those respective nations and their victims. But, as pattern demonstrates, the oppressor is disabled by his own atrocities from coming to this realization. The involvement of himself in the “immigration crisis” is one, like his involvements in any issue, that can not be acknowledged. When it is claimed, for example, that Palestinians lived in the region that should have been known as Palestine prior to the establishment of the terrorist state of Israel, many siding with the occupiers reply, “but what about before that?” or declare that it is uncertain whether Palestine or Israel existed first. But who existed first at the beginning of time is not relevant. Again, it is the unrecognized involvement of the West that was (and still is, with the “aid” afforded to Israel that should be used to repay black families) what erected this structure of institutional injustice. It is true that, as there are over any pieces of land, there were undoubtedly quarrels over Palestinian land among its own citizens, before the intervention of the British, but smaller wars between peoples of the same geographical culture are distinctly different from a powerful, persecuting third party that enforces the manifestation of its perspective on Palestinian boundaries.
And the perspective of Western oppressors have been enforced not only in drawing those boundaries, but in the convenient defining of Palestine as a territory and not a country, and therefore of its occupation as not occupation or apartheid. What makes a country, and who decides? If every nation in the world decided not to recognize authenticity of the British passport, will the associated country cease to function as a country? Should the lack of a military be any indication of whether a people make a country, when (1) that military is not allowed to exist and (2) the residents still clearly function coherently as a nation and identify one another as culturally, geographically, linguistically, and familiarly akin to themselves?
Necessary to the creation of a just world is a true, unselfish attempt to reconcile with the wrongs of the past and its prevailing symptoms. It is imperative, for this reason, that the interests of those who are disadvantaged are heard, valued, and operated upon above the reluctance of those who fear confronting their guilt. Those who are victims of the problem are demonstrably better equipped to draw a solution, having experienced the full extent of the enormities. That is the true objective party.