We have racism (1932), sexism (1936), classism (1971), speciesism (1975), heterosexism (1979), ableism (1981). (See this discussion of “ism.”) Now someone is proposing “borderism,” for discriminating against people based on what side of a border they were born in.
What’s the difference between a Mexican and a New Mexican? The former lacked the foresight of being born to American parents. New Mexicans, on the other hand, made the much more strategic choice of entering life with a U.S. birth certificate . This earned them the right to live and work anywhere across the fruited plain, a luxury not afforded to their southern namesakes.
For some stuck on the wrong side of the fence, migrating legally to another country is as impossible as undergoing a full-body skin transplant. Like race, citizenship is an attribute we inherit and have no say over. But while we balk at the idea of letting race determine someone’s legal rights, we unthinkingly support a similar principle based on citizenship.
Few examples illustrate this dissonance better than Loving v. Virginia . In this landmark 1967 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot prohibit interracial marriage. The decision was a response to Virginia state judge Leon Bazile, who declared that God placed the different races on separate continents so that they would not mix. Then, as now, his reasoning was brushed off as quasi-religious racism, yet it echoes the logic behind present-day immigration policies: We are all born on separate blocks of land and may not move without special permission and a visa sponsor.This guild system of nationalities is not racism. Nor is it nationalism nor nativism. In fact, no word exists to describe it. This is problematic, as our language often defines how we perceive the world. When the word racism entered the English language in the 1930s, it helped draw attention to the racial discrimination that pervaded society. Similarly, we need a term to highlight citizenship-based discrimination. My humble suggestion: borderism.
But is “border” really the same kind of issue as “race”? For example, if the issue is that people on one side of the border want to live on the other side, isn’t the concept of “border” relevant for both groups and not just an arbitrary category of discrimination? Since separate nations exist, marked off from the others by borders, each with its own citizens, isn’t some sort of “borderism” necessary? Or should borders and nations and citizenship cease to exist, letting everyone live wherever they please? But since they do exist, we must live with the implications. Right?