Friday, April 29, 2011


An adoptee posted on Facebook via his wife from the hospital, "Why can't Donald Trump lean on New York State to display MY original birth certificate?!"

 Show Me Your Papers Negro.

From Arizona to Obama, the issue of official records has been put into the foreground of the national conversation, as if papers are more important than the people that they're supposed to document. In our low-context culture Americans discredit reality if there's not an officially sanctioned, government-produced certificate that validates who we are. It doesn't seem to matter what we do.

Want a beer? Have your IDs OUT!
But I'm 50 years old!

This is your house? Give me the deed.
I was born here. My mother was born in the back bedroom. My grandfather built this house on land my uncle gave him.

Are you qualified? I need to see your diploma.
I have been working here for 15 years!

Are you poor? Show me your tax return.
Yes, I live with 10 other people in a 2 bedroom apartment with one bathroom just to appear poor.

Are you really American? Let's see your birth certificate long form birth certificate.
But I'm the president of the United States!

Are you her father? You're white and Jewish and she's a Black Haitian girl...And you're married to man.
Here are the papers proving she's my child.

But, as the adoptee points out above, this is only true when it serves people in power. None of this enthusiasm for officialdom serves the people it is documenting.

Although the need for legitimatizing seems obvious to us, it's actually a cultural trait ingrained in Americans. Furthermore, it short-circuits our development of trust and observation, and often blocks justice. Even when it's ridiculous.

1 comment:

  1. "At a newspaper where I worked, I received a paycheck every week. I always took it to the very bank it was dean on and always to one of the same two tellers. Every week they insisted on seeing my driver's license and as if having a state-issued license with my photograph on it, was not enough, demanded to see a credit card, too. Presumably, if I am in debt, I must be honest." from Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammed Yanus