Browning America: The New Dialectic of US Citizenship

My parents used to call me a “Chipper,” much like the homespun terms “Blackanese” or “Korgentinian,” except for a half-Chilean, half-Persian. It was not only a testament to my complex cultural and racial origins, but my brownness: caramel skin burnt by the LA sun, bouncy curls dipped into cafecito, and sepia eyes sprinkled with sabzi.
My first confrontation with colorism and discomfort with my brownness was the first time that my brown body became a vessel. It is truly an intimate form of violence unlike any psychosocial stressor when you feel so viscerally detached from the body that carries you. These feelings of visceral detachment only heightened in the wake of the Trump election.
Now more than ever, the growing ethnic, racial, religious, and linguistic diversity generated by transnationalism, migration and interracial mixing has incited fierce discourse over national identity and social cohesion. Trumpism, a movement built upon deep-seated anxieties toward a browning America, was a cry for the reversion to a 20th century industrialized capitalist society that attempted to combat these sorts of demographic changes.
In the classical sense, Trump rejected the paragon of conservatism. What made him attractive to the American electorate was his authoritarian inclinations that privileged normative practices by rewarding conformity and punishing deviation. His “us vs. them” rhetoric and strong, uncompromising demeanor appealed to many in the white, rural working class; people who had a psychological need for epistemic certainty amidst an increasingly globalized landscape. This insistence on sameness in rural white America only reinforces the institutionalized rejection of difference.
As a multiracial amalgam and the product of immigration myself, I have had truly visceral experiences with colorism — experiences that cannot be captured in one sweeping narrative. Instead, it is constituted by an array of narratives, both compatible and incompatible. I was inspired to spearhead my own exploration of diverse experiences with color by engaging with people of color in the Swarthmore community in hopes of addressing the perennial question: What is “Americanness” and what does American citizenship mean to immigrants and people of color?
This intersectional approach will engender new avenues of discussion surrounding diverse experiences with color, bringing about an acknowledgement of varying colored experiences. This will also ensure that there is cognizance of individual complicitness in the victimization of others within the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. In this way, we avoid the presumption that white supremacy affects everybody in the same way and that strategies for liberation are similar.
To kickoff this profile series, I spoke with sophomore Saadiq Garba ’19. Born in the northern part of rural Nigeria, a historically nomadic society, Garba was adopted by relatives living in the U.S. when he was nine years old and moved to Washington D.C.
“I didn’t know much English then so I had to work hard for the first couple of years to learn English and try to fit in. I was accepted to a very prestigious high school and that paved my way to Swarthmore” Garba said.
Garba’s blackness was initially drawn into the forefront of his consciousness when he started to become familiar with the geopolitical landscape of D.C.
“D.C. is very segregated. There’s northwest Washington which is predominantly white and the northeast is majority black. I grew up in the part of town that was primarily white people. Traveling through D.C. going from northwest to northeast, you could see drastic changes in the quality of public areas.”
When Garba began playing recreational soccer on a primarily white team, he became even more aware of the structural inscription of black subordination.   
“We were playing this team, an only black team, and we won. At the end when we went to shake hands, one of the [opposing players] shoved me in the stomach and said, ‘Traitor.” It took me a while to figure out what they meant by that. I didn’t realize there was such a separation in regard to color here,” he explained.
So what does American citizenship mean to him? For Garba, being a naturalized citizen allows him to have an education.
“American citizenship is key to do just about anything in the States in terms of education. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be able to go to school or find jobs” he said.  
And while he acknowledges he has been privileged in his educational experiences going into his second year of higher education, he has become increasingly more on-edge with respect to his naturalization after the Trump election.
“My citizenship protects me but it’s not always a guarantee —  I can still get deported. I have to be careful with certain activities I engage in just to make sure I don’t raise any red flags and get into trouble,” he said.
Garba’s sentiments are echoed by many black and brown migrant Americans — a heightened sense of awareness and cognizance of how their bodies move through public spaces. Is this the new conception of American citizenship? A citizenship that is conditional and in a constant state of negotiation with the sovereign?
Are bodies under this doctrine “the citizens,” or merely “the governed”?
Systemic issues regarding colorism persist and fantasies of post-racial America are just that, distant fantasies. In sifting through profiles like Garba’s, we create a structural analog on how the new American citizenship is defined: through residence, allegiance, political voice, or perhaps just mere visibility to a sovereign. These narratives are testaments to the individual and collective effects of colorism in a dubbed “post-racial” society.

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