In part two of City of Rhetoric, the Placelessness of Political Theory: Citizen, Fleming argues that the identity of a citizen in America is not defined by shared political beliefs but by external characteristics such as race, gender, socioeconomic class, and education. Fleming introduces his argument with a quote from the National Standards for Civics and Government:
“The identity of an American citizen is defined by shared political values and principle rather than by ethnicity, race, religion, class, gender, or national origin”
Although our politics should be inclusive to all people and each person should have equal worth, the grammar and rhetoric of this statement is not cohesive with the state of American politics. Fleming proves this by comparing the sentence to the reality of what it means to be a citizen in America.
The first problem with the sentence is that America has always been a country which identifies its people by factors such as race and religion. In fact, less than two hundred years ago only white, land owning, men were allowed to practice their civic duties. They were the only people who had a political voice in this country, and for people who were not apart of that demographic, the government did not hear their cries. Furthermore, although white land owning men are no longer the only group of people who can take part in the advantages of being an American citizen, language and national origin are still barriers. For people, who are born outside of the United States and want to become citizens, they must have knowledge of the English language and show that they have shared political values and principles as the United States. Shared political values and principles have nothing to do with the legalities of being an American citizen, yet it is a requirement of people who want to become naturalized citizens. Excluding people because they do not speak English or have different political beliefs is hypocritical of what it means to be American.
Finally, the statement above ignores the fact that race, religion, class, gender, and national origin are important factors in political participation. First of all, “political participation in the United States is highly stratified” by these factors. Not only do white, Christian, males have the biggest voter turnout, they also vote very differently from black, Muslim, men or white, Jewish women, or even Asian Christian men. Leaving ascriptive identities at the door ignores that there is privilege in being a white, heterosexual, Christian man. The quality of life changes based on how people identify so that needs to be voiced in politics. Differences are more important than shared political values in the arena, because it is these differences that affect social inequality, political participation, and political representation. Therefore, ignoring these differences is not a way of unifying people but dividing them even more.
Fleming’s argument is important to my research because I am researching a community that has been almost ignored in the world of politics. Because of their socioeconomic class and race, their voices are not heard in places where it is important to be heard. This community was left to fend for itself and it resulted in the displacement of its community members. It is important that I take this into account when I am researching.