November 10, 2015

GRANT | Global Citizenship, Revisited

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On Hans Bethe House’s first floor lies a cardboard box requesting clothes to be sent to Syrian refugees. This drive to send clothes to refugees abroad works to forward the general “think global, act local” initiative. The question that we must ask is the following: After we have thought globally and acted locally, can we then call ourselves “global citizens?” According to scholar April Biccum, “The global citizen … is a subjectivity convinced of the need for development under free market terms … and is capable and willing to act as an agent of development.” My contention is with Biccum’s definition as it relates to a single word: subjectivity. The idea that Biccum puts forward is that a globally minded citizenry can be cultivated through a self-naturalization process in  which one comes to understand that he is an agent who can change the reality for others around the world.

My vision for true global citizenship involves making sure everyone’s voice and stories are heard. It involves granting everyone the power to vote in a society where people can affect change. It involves  using a universal currency by which everyone can participate in the economy. It involves the cultivation of  a global collective of  individuals not only as residents of a nation, but rather as a collective body that includes individuals regardless of their statehood. Should global citizenry truly be a subjective reality? If subjectivity is the individual’s understanding of the world around them, then there cannot be  a collective subjective experience. When multiple people come together, their world is one of  shared objectivity.

Keeping that in mind, how would one teach global citizenship and what knowledge would be taught?

Developing a global citizenship curriculum of sorts would involve understanding and critically analyzing whose voices and stories are valued more than others. In this syllabus for teaching global citizenship, what is deemed necessary knowledge and what would be deemed collateral knowledge? For example, would global public health and medicine include indigenous health treatments? Is the agenda of global citizenship a move toward global nationalism, universal humanism? Perhaps the study of international relations focuses more on nation building and empires than on social movements across cultures. What does a critical pedagogy of global citizenship involve?

Does giving someone a vote make one a global citizen?

One votes with her wallet as well as with the ballot. So does being a global citizen mean being a global taxpayer? Whose currency will we use? What we want is to have the image of the  dollar transform. Instead of a piece of paper that represents historical  economic colonization of foreign markets to one that symbolizes strong credit and good faith in the world.  When will we make the dollar become more than just a green paper with dead presidents on it? The larger question is this: In the modern age, what gives a true global citizen moral, social and economic capital?

Using this new admittedly theoretical standard, how does one become naturalized as a global citizen?

Being a global citizen requires more than just a self-declaration, a self-baptism into the global community. We cannot let global citizenship turn into voyeuristic tourism and cultural sampling. If one sees the world without borders then it becomes impossible to deny an immigrant or refugee citizenship while advancing one’s own position for acceptance into the global community. According to NBC Latino, “the process to gain legal status [in the United States] can take up to 20 years.” How can we deny citizenship to someone else and still consider ourselves productive global citizens? It is impossible to be anti-immigration and pro-global citizenry.

We need to be careful to not herald global citizenship as a way to escape the problems inside countries. Rather, it is instead a call to look outward. It is coming to an understanding that one does not forfeit one’s passport and magically receive the global passport. It is not ignoring the problems going on in one’s own country — it is working towards solving social issue on a grander scale.  Yes giving clothes to those in need is nice, wonderful and should undoubtedly continue. However, the next question to be asked is what is the condition of the laborers who made those clothes to begin with?

Jeremiah Grant is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jg856@cornell.edu. Gates & Ladders appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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