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Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

Conditional Citizens

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Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami
Hardcover $25.95
Sep 22, 2020 | ISBN 9781524747169

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  • Oct 12, 2021 | ISBN 9780525436041

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  • Sep 22, 2020 | ISBN 9781524747169

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One of:
Electric Literature 56 Books by Women and Nonbinary WOC to read in 2020
BuzzFeed Most Anticipated Books of 2020
Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2020
Vulture Best Upcoming Books 2020, 1/10/20
Paste Magazine Most Anticipated NonFiction Books of 2020
The Week Anticipated Books of 2020
BookPage: Most Anticipated nonfiction
Ms. Magazine:  Most Anticipated Feminist Books 
Library Journal:  Barbara’s Picks
PW top 10: Most Anticipated Politics/Current Events 
LitHub: Most Anticipated Books of 2020 

“No-holds-barred… thread[s] together the experiences of a breathtakingly diverse underclass. This constituency is increasingly finding its voice, and she is amplifying what had long been intimate, complicated inner thoughts.”

“Powerful…Drawing on her considerable talents and abundant intelligence—Lalami attempts to account for the ways that powerful American forces use class status, religion, border policing, national origin, non-whiteness, and gender to diminish and deactivate full citizenship. Conditional Citizens clarifies the stakes of the most crucial American election season of the 21st century thus far.”
The Boston Globe

“In Conditional’s sharp, bracingly clear essays, Lalami lays out all the ways that the basic rights of citizenship are unevenly applied to those whose faith or skin tone fall outside the realm of “traditional” Judeo-Christian values. By fusing deep research with lived experience, the book doesn’t just ask you to consider that the personal is political; it makes you marvel that anyone could still presume otherwise”
Entertainment Weekly

“[Lalami’s] perspective is unique, and the beautifully written personal stories she includes give Conditional Citizens a flair and warmth rare in a polemic about what’s wrong with America.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Propulsive, fascinating… Lalami treats this complex, incendiary topic with nuanced considerationand blistering insight.”
Booklist [starred review]

“In this eloquent and troubling account, novelist and National Book Award–finalist Lalami (The Other Americans) draws on her personal history as “an immigrant, a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim” to argue that becoming a U.S. citizen does not necessarily mean becoming “an equal member of the American family” . . . This profound inquiry into the American immigrant experience deserves to be widely read.”
Publishers Weekly [starred review]

“Consistently thoughtful and incisive, the book confronts the perils of our modern age with truths to inspire the coalition-building necessary to American cultural and democratic survival. A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Laila Lalami has written with such sharp clarity and illuminating insight that reading this book was like encountering America for the first time. Probing, unflinching and fiercely intelligent, Conditional Citizens is a must-read for all of those who have stared, stunned, at the shifting terrain of our political landscape and wondered how we got here, and what we can do.”
—Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King
“This is an urgent, compelling, and persuasive book, written by one of our most important critics of the American character. Laila Lalami has given us a clear-eyed, even-handed assessment of this country’s potential—and its limits—through her insightful notion of conditional citizenship. Her book is a gift to all Americans—if they are willing to receive it.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and Nothing Ever Dies

“With great moral passion and intellectual verve, Laila Lalami explores the questions the political volcanos of our times have thrown at us: where do we belong, how contingent is our place in the world, and how are citizens made and unmade? Whether narrating her own journey or invoking history and literature, she equips us with bracingly fresh resources to confront our terrible new age of mass deportations, border walls, and brutally enforced statelessness.”
Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger

“Conditional Citizens is a blitz on the way the nation titillates and injures its most vulnerable. Lalami has created a fleshy yet rigorous treatise on how this national obsession with suffering necessitates different ways to be and to remember. The book is absolutely remarkable.” 
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

Author Q&A

What is a “conditional citizen”?
Anyone who doesn’t have the same rights, protections, and liberties as other Americans. The first piece of legislation to delineate the boundaries of Americanness, which was the Immigration Act of 1790, restricted U.S. citizenship to “free white persons.” Some of the rights that flowed from this status—such as the right to vote—were further restricted to propertied white men. This meant that white male landowners had a voice in how the new nation was to be governed, while everyone else did not. Over the next couple of centuries, access to the rights and protections of citizenship was slowly expanded through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Nineteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and the Immigration Act of 1965, among others. Yet the founding limitations to citizenship still persist in different forms today. 

Consider, for example, what happens when a citizen is stopped by a police officer for a minor violation. The outcome of such an encounter can range from a friendly warning to a traffic ticket to a violent death. We’ve seen this with Philando Castile in Minnesota, with Eric Garner in New York, with Sandra Bland in Texas, and with so many others. An ordinary interaction between a citizen and an agent of the state escalates and ends in violence because of the racial identity of the person involved. 

Or consider a citizen’s right to be free of unreasonable searches, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. A few years ago, reporters for the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD had been surveilling mosques within 100 miles of the metro area, recording the license plates of worshippers attending services, mapping neighborhoods where Muslims lived, gaining access to private homes, and placing undercover agents in Muslim student associations—all without warrant. These citizens’ rights were violated because of their religious identity.

We like to think of citizenship as a great equalizer: after all, we all carry the same passports. But our encounters with our government—whether at a police stop, a border checkpoint, in the voting booth—are still partly determined by race, class, gender, or national origin, which is to say they’re determined by accidents of birth. The rights, protections and liberties of American citizenship are not yet available equally to all; instead, a great many of us are what I would call conditional citizens, rather than equal citizens.

Is this another book about He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? 
No, we have enough of those already! In Conditional Citizens, I explore America with two lenses: the personal and the historical. I became a U.S. citizen in 2000, and I wanted to reflect about how my relationship to this big, beautiful, brutal country has changed and deepened over the years. I’m still moved by the universalist ideals that lie at the heart of the Declaration of Independence—that all men are created equal. I’ve never managed to visit the Statue of Liberty without getting a bit misty. At the same time, however, I can’t abide the lies that America too often tells itself about its past, or even its present. You often hear liberal politicians say that America is a “nation of immigrants,” but in reality a slew of laws strictly prevented the arrival or settlement of nonwhites. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Johnson Reed Act of 1924, or Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s are just three examples. It was not until 1965 that race-based quotas were eliminated and that people from all parts of the world could immigrate here. The political moment we find ourselves in right now is the consequence of forces that have been at play for decades, so in that sense this isn’t a book about the current president so much as it is a book about all of us who are caught in the consequences of the lies.
Your first four books were novels, but this one is a work of nonfiction. Why the shift? 
I’ve been writing nonfiction for as long as I’ve been writing fiction. Over the last twenty years, I’ve published dozens of essays, criticism, op-eds, and columns in many different venues, both in the U.S. and abroad. These pieces were a chance for me to articulate my thoughts about a recent event, or to understand something I’d been puzzling over, or even to take a break from novel writing. Of course, there is a difference between my first four books and this new one. In my fiction, I refrain from judging my characters and try to narrate their stories with imaginative empathy. In my nonfiction, by contrast, I have the chance to provide context and to exercise judgment. My reliance on memories, personal biases, and historical tangents also made the material much more suited to nonfiction. In short, Conditional Citizens is a distillation of ideas I’ve written about in the past but never had the chance to write about at length.

Do you explore the same themes in this book as in your novels? 
There is a preoccupation with ethics in all my fiction—my characters usually face moral dilemmas—and I think this is true in this book as well. But while my novels have often centered on immigrants and exiles, Conditional Citizens takes a wider look at issues of belonging and unbelonging as they relate to all who live in this country.  
The book ends with a chapter called Do Not Despair of This Country. Why shouldn’t we? 
I think it was James Baldwin who said that “there are no untroubled countries in this fearfully troubled world.” Whenever I feel despair, I remember that the generations that came before us were faced with injustice, too. They were faced with widespread bigotry and state violence and casual brutality. But they remained steadfast and in some cases lived long enough to see progress. We should try to meet the challenge of the present moment, too, so that we can leave the world a tiny bit better for those who will come after.

Table Of Contents

Allegiance 3

Faith 29

Borders 48

Assimilation 72

Tribe 93

Caste 117

Inheritance 136

Do Not Despair of This Country 160

Source Notes 169

Bibliography 189

Acknowledgments 193

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