Hi, I’m Emily. Obviously, you don’t know me.
I say “obviously” because, if you did, you would know that I haven’t lived in my home country of the United States for over six years.
You might not know the whole story, but you’d know enough: that I left shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, that I went first to New Zealand, and that somehow, I wound up living in Europe with a Dutch boyfriend I picked up along the way. The basics.
You might also know that I didn’t flee the US. I didn’t run away in fear for my safety, or that of my loved ones. In fact, though I don’t live there, I wouldn’t say I left my home country so much as I went to another.
But that’s a distinction that, perhaps, I’ll delve into deeper on another occasion.
Because this isn’t really about me at all.
See, when I criticize the US and someone says, “If you hate it here, just leave,” I roll my eyes. I scoff. I tell other people and we have a good chuckle. I make snarky responses like, “Well, I guess I’ve got some good news for both of us.”
But the problem isn’t that a few people don’t realize I live abroad. I don’t expect you to research me and my life before responding to something that I’ve said online.
The problem is this same tactic is used, time and time again, as an attempt to silence anyone who dares to speak out. The problem is that it’s dismissive, derailing, entirely beside the point, and makes little to no sense.
Let me explain why.
Number one: Criticism is not equal to hate. It’s time we put this nonsense to rest. Criticism is the necessary first step towards solving any problem; you can’t have improvement without it. Automatically equating all criticism with hate stifles any hope of progress — and it diminishes the impact of, you know, actual hate.
Number two: Not everyone writing about the US online is located in the US. Other countries have the internet; other countries can consume media and engage in conversations regarding American happenings. I know this seems obvious, but the amount of people that react to things as if the person who wrote them is obviously American or based in the US is truly astounding. Next time, before you hit the keyboard, stop to think: has this person actually established their nationality or location?
Number three: Some people can’t leave. Not everyone has somewhere else to go, or the money, resources, or support to get there. You don’t know everyone’s situation; stop assuming you do.
Number four: People have the right to criticize the United States, and it doesn’t mean they have to leave — or even that they should. If everyone who has ever said a negative word regarding the US had to leave, I’m pretty sure there would be nobody left. And we’re not just talking about the “whiny liberals,” either. I don’t know if people realize this, but criticizing Americans who protest? That’s also criticism. You don’t get a pass just because you throw the words “millennial” or “safe space” in there.
The United States was built on protest. So when I go on to add that it was also built on the genocide of indigenous Americans and the backs of thousands of slaves, that is essentially being as true to the idea of the US as one can be.
Number five: Where, exactly, do you suggest they go? There’s not some kind of magical force field around the US that separates it from the rest of the world. American politics, for better or worse, affect the world at large — and the world at large affects the US. Our problems neither begin nor end at our own borders, no matter where you’re from or where you live.
Look, I’m all for doing what you need to be safe and happy. And if that means finding a home in another country, so be it. (I’m not really one to talk.)
But let’s be real: when people say things like, “if you don’t like the US, you’re free to leave,” they’re not doling out practical or well-intentioned advice. They’re not posing an insightful question to get you thinking. They’re trying to shut you up.
I guess we’ll all just have to talk a little bit louder.