Anyone can publish on Medium per our Policies, but we don’t fact-check every story. For more info about the coronavirus, see cdc.gov.

White Refugees from COVID-19

And why we don’t call white people that

Indi Samarajiva
Jul 16 · 7 min read
Image for post
It’s black and white

My friends are white refugees. They escaped the disease-ridden, badly governed island nation of England and came to a beachside villa in Sri Lanka. They’re white refugees.

We laugh.

Refugees aren’t white. Refugees aren’t rich. Lol.

But really, what’s the difference? They weren’t forced to flee, but they did leave for a better life. I have another friend who came here from America. I know people who were abroad and just haven’t come back. How do white people even have this option when people in more dire straits do not?

Those are rhetorical questions. We know the answer. White power. It’s temporarily suppressed by the plague, but it’ll come roaring back.

It’s not funny.

Some Theory

Citizenship and passports seem solid but they crumble upon the slightest examination. Dimitry Kochenov and Joseph Carens have written deeply about this. I will summarize them offensively here.

The New Feudalism

Image for post

Modern capitalism and old feudalism are just same shit, different day. Instead of a fief being the size of a village it’s the size of a nation, great. It’s like feudalism with jets. The serfs are still trapped.

Here’s Joseph Carens:

In many ways, citizenship in Western democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal class privilege — an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. To be born a citizen of a rich state in Europe or North America is like being born into the nobility (even though many of us belong to the lesser nobility).

To be born a citizen of a poor country in Asia or Africa is like being born into the peasantry in the Middle Ages (even if there are a few rich peasants and some peasants manage to gain entry to the nobility).

Like feudal practices, these contemporary social arrangements are hard to justify when one thinks about them closely.

Please tell me the difference between a serf unable to leave his manor and a Sri Lankan stuck in his country, able only to work as a literal serf in the Middle East; where they take our passports and bond us to the shipping container that we sleep in. Hundreds of years apart, but we’re still stuck. Globally speaking, we’re fucking peasants.

Then there’s the kicker:

Reformers in the late Middle Ages objected to the way feudalism restricted freedom, including the freedom of individuals to move from one place to another in search of a better life — a constraint that was crucial to the maintenance of the feudal system. Modern practices of state control over borders tie people to the land of their birth almost as effectively. Limiting entry to rich democratic states is a crucial mechanism for protecting a birthright privilege.

If the feudal practices protecting birthright privileges were wrong, what justifies the modern ones? (The Ethics of Immigration²²⁶)

The answer— which Carens spends an entire book on — is nothing. Nothing justifies modern birthright privileges. They’re there, but they’re not justified. We’re used to it, but people were used to feudalism too, and it was still shit.

We are as appalling to the future as the feudal past is to us.

Remember that. I always look at history and think ‘those dummies’. We’re the dummies. We’re the baddies!

The Baby Slots

Image for post

Ayelet Shachar calls our modern oppression the birthright lottery. I call it the baby slots.

You don’t even get to play because you’re a baby. You just fall out of a vagina somewhere and most of your life’s opportunities are set. Either that or your parents nationality casts the die. That’s it. You either wake up Finnish— where you have a 25–50x higher chance of reaching age five and the freedom to live all over the world — or Congolese — where your passport might as well be a KICK ME sign*. You can theoretically change your luck, but you better be the black Jason Bourne, because entire militaries will try to drown you first.

That’s the game. Stupid fucking game.

I say this as a winner. I fell out of my mother in Canada which was the brown-boy jackpot. I was slippery and useless at the time, but I won. Not in the sense that I did anything. I just showed up.

Economic analysis of global inequality demonstrates that “Our world today is still a world in which the place where we were born or where we live matters enormously, determining perhaps as much as two-thirds of our lifetime income.” Only a micro percentage of the world population swapping countries throughout their lifetime escapes the initial ascription of predetermined well-being or ruin.

Even more: as a key instrument of the preservation of global inequality, citizenship wields huge biopower by locking the world’s poor in the places where their economic power is nil and life expectancy extremely short. (Citizenship¹², Dimitry Kochenov)

This has been my lived experience. I get treated better. I spend less time and energy being humiliated at visas offices. I can earn more. Hell, I can only earn money on Medium because I have access to a foreign bank account.

With my Canadian passport I can visit 95% of the world and work in much of it. My Sri Lankan passport, however, entitles me to a rather useless 22%.

Now why did my life turn out this way? Was it my karma, did I save a cow in a past life so I could eat burgers in this one? Not that I remember. It’s just a stupid, cruel system that I was born into, like people were just born into feudalism. It’s just the history we live in, which we must endeavour to change.

We should not be gambling with babies. Every baby deserves a chance.

Plain Old Racism

Image for post
Adapted from Notes on the Global Grouping of Nationalities

Finally, just look at this map. Do you notice where the shitty passports are? It’s basically just a map of colonialism. Could it be, that like feudalism, that colonialism never ended? That these bastards are controlling and exploiting us still?

These dudes came to our country as the worst sort of illegal immigrants, took our wealth out, and then have the nerve to ask us for papers. Meanwhile they still come here on holiday and say the people are so friendly, but won’t let us visit without bank statements and a colonoscopy. Some friends.

We’re just sitting here stitching their underwear and building their phones because we can’t move. They let a few people (like me) through, but we’re just the garnish on a shit sandwich.

It’s just plain old racism and exploitation. It’s a global feudal system with a bunch of fiefs kept exploitable by the old tools of empire. Violence backed by diligent paperwork. If we ever try to move up on our terms — like to just walk across God’s green Earth — that upsets the new feudalism, so we get caged. We’re fucking peasants.

Where Was I

So that brings us back to my friends, and how they got to be in a refugee villa instead of a camp. I mean, it’s simple. Like I expanded, white power.

They’re white feudal lords and they can go wherever they please. They’re not refugees because have no power. Refuges have to ask for refuge. These are nobles. They just take it.

Not them personally, but the entire racist, colonialism, feudal enterprise that they sit on top of, which is validated by brown lottery winners like me and the ignorance of everyone else.

They can flee England and get surfing lessons while a Libyan gets drowned by the Italian Navy because of course they can. The entire point of feudalism is cruel birthrights like this which don’t make sense. We’ve been doing this since some apes ate the good fruit at the top of the tree and shat on everybody else.

But now I think it’s time to shake the tree. Every passport is equally shit right now. Some like the American one will be toxic for years, and UK’s not looking that hot either. However, the empire always strikes back. People will try to return to normal, but fuck that, your normal is us in a cage.

When we reset, we should not reproduce colonial borders again, because they’re cruel and unfair and I think it’s time to move on from feudalism, again.

None of this is to say I want any worse treatment for my white friends. I’m a champagne socialist, I want everyone to have champagne, or at least sparkling. I simply want equal treatment for my brown and black friends, indeed, my family. Stop locking us in feudal manors to make your clothes. Stop telling our babies they’re fucked from the moment they’re born. Stop being plain old racist, stomping on our necks, and saying it’s just the way things are.

The Black Death helped shake up feudalism and COVID-19 is shaking up the new feudalism. It’ll take time, but you heard it here first. We will be free.


*This is paraphrased from Kochenov. Also, as many people who have given birth have told me, you do not ‘fall out’ of a vagina. However, from the baby’s perspective, who has know idea what’s going on, you kinda do.

indica

Views from the global south

Indi Samarajiva

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Founded some stuff, sold one, now writing full time. He/him. Contact: indi@indi.ca

indica

indica

A global south perspective on the world.

Indi Samarajiva

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Founded some stuff, sold one, now writing full time. He/him. Contact: indi@indi.ca

indica

indica

A global south perspective on the world.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store