A few years ago, when in Iran, I heard my cousin say one of the most painful things I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t painful because it attacked me personally, but my personal values were certainly attacked. My cousin said that he believed that not all races were equal, and that, ultimately, we (Iranians) weren’t at the top of the hierarchy. I heard all of the implications in hid statement, including the fact that we were on a spectrum that went from Black people to white people, and one was clearly superior to the other. And I was so far from an adequate answer to this cry for help that I could only make it clear that I was vehemently against his position. The self-loathing is what was most painful about it. But we all live in this constructed reality that wants to subjugate us, and place us into a hierarchy that we never asked for. Living any differently requires constant struggle, and that’s exhausting. Of course, it’s so fucking worth it. But for someone who has no energy left over from fighting other fights in their daily life, it’s far from expected.
A few years have passed, and I have had to examine my own position over, and over, and over again. And the current political climate in Iran is challenging me once again. Because I live in a “free” country! Canada is a free country, and I am supposedly free to walk the streets without fear for my safety, as a queer enby immigrant. But how free am I? What’s the cost of this freedom? Let’s review this!
The land that I live on is unceded indigenous territory. When I walk to the corner of Parc and Milton, it is very clear that the indigenous folk have not received what they are owed, and the process of reconciliation is more than a little slow. Too slow. So, the freedoms I enjoy, to purchase land and move about freely, were stolen from a people whose lives and connections to the land were decimated, and no due process has been seen through to get them the justice they deserve, or the living conditions to heal from them. In 2022, we’re still talking about getting clean drinking water and affordable essential goods to native territories. What is the cost of my freedom? What would it cost to give them theirs? Every day that I live here, I am complicit in a theft that I am against. I’m afraid that I will never be able to do enough to live here in good conscience. What are my options? Do I give up my queer identity and go back home? Is Iran still my home?
Now, it’s so tempting for me to hope for such a drastic change in Iran that I could, in my lifetime, return there and live a good life, a fulfilling life. But I come back to the same issue over and over. The only place where it’s good to live is a place where people are not suffering. It’s a place where people are fulfilled and secure in their belonging. When I think of a place like that, I think of Scandinavian countries. But that thought falls apart quickly when I think of these countries’ exploitative relationship with the poor countries that Black and Brown people like me emigrate from, both historically and today. How secure can you be if refugees threaten your sense of belonging? How secure can you be if your reaction to social change is a growing neo-nazi presence? How secure can you be if you don’t adopt a reparative outlook towards slavery and colonization in your history? So where is this place where I could one day feel at home?
Today, Iran is going through social upheaval. It’s. in direct response to police brutality, and the police suck, honestly. Everywhere, all the time! They suck. But the difference is that Iranians aren’t blind to the personal freedoms that people in the US enjoy. The whole world is exposed to the picture of wealth and well-being that is the US, Canada, Western Europe and Scandinavia. Notice that all of these countries are predominantly white. Our philosophical and social academia, all around the world, is flooded with the thoughts and ideas of white authors from these very countries. So then, we must be at the bottom of some hierarchy, right? If the world is fair, then we deserve the place we’ve been afforded, right? Well, the world isn’t fair, and Iranians are rightfully fighting for what’s theirs. But what about what the rest of the world owes Iran? What about what the US and the UK owe the Iranian people? Like the truth for example. The truth that, even as an immigrant with full citizenship, they will never enjoy the same quality of life as white people. The truth that the indigenous people who lived of this land for millennia before this recent and horrifying invasion by Europeans, live alongside us in society, but not as equals. What about the people who worked the fields and built the railroads that changed the very face of these lands? They didn’t get what they were owed, and everything they’ve received since, they’ve had to fight for. What about the sense of entitlement that these relative newcomers, these white settlers, have towards this land, like children with a toy they’ve found and grown fond of? And most importantly, what about the extractive nature of the US and Canada’s relationship towards countries in African, South America and the Caribbean, and the middle East, to this day!? Is there a place for these concepts in the conversation? Is it truly worth having the appearance of conquerors at the cost of so much death and destruction? Is it fair to win a game if the other person doesn’t want to play?
For my cousin, who lives in a country still plagued by the consequences of imperialism, it seems like being on the other side of things would be worth it. I’m not well-placed to tell him to think differently. I can just tell him that this is not home. This place where I live is not home, and it will never be. Because it would have to change completely in order to become home, and I was ashamed for a long time of feeling that way. I mean, who am I to bite the hand that feeds me, or to rebuff a thing that so many people are desperate to have. But I’m not a bad person for not turning a blind eye to the cost of this place I’ve been afforded. I’m not a bad person for not taking full advantage of it, the way I’ve been told to so many times. I’m not a bad person for sitting cross-legged and refusing to participate, even as I refuse to “go back home”. As an immigrant, I’m stuck trying to explain the anger and resentment I feel towards the very things I refuse to give up. I don’t want to admit defeat, because no white person has more of a right to be here than me. But I’m not winning by being here either. If anything, I’m winning in the freedom I have to write these words, and that’s the freedom I wish for my cousin too: to freely criticize the shit out of the shitty governments of the world, especially his own, and to slowly make the place where he lives into a home.