Border Violence

Rise Against: Prayer of the Refugee

For the first song in our mixtape, I present to you Prayer of the Refugee by Rise Against. I chose this song as I believe it has interesting messaging about the interaction of refugees with the population of their destination country. I will primarily be utilizing Di Cesare’s section 21 “Migrants against the poor? Welfare chauvinism and global justice”.[1]

The chorus seems to have a double meaning that outlines the conflict between native citizens of the destination country and migrants:

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down

Don’t hold me up now (Oh, oh, oh, oh)
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down, down

I believe that the chorus can be read as being both from the perspective of the migrant and the native citizen.

From the perspective of the refugee the chorus can be interpreted as an assertion of one’s own autonomy over a system that barely acknowledges their humanity. It implies a degree of expectation of systemic discrimination and rejection by the refugee, requiring an assertion of autonomy from the refugee. I imagine it as a backlash to the welfare chauvinism as outlined by Di Cesare in section 21.[2] Anecdotally speaking, being the child of two Cuban refugees who migrated to the United States, amongst Cuban exiles self-reliance and autonomy are seen as virtuous and necessary attributes one requires to survive. Whether it be because of the predominantly wealthy and white makeup of early Cuban refugees or be it a sort of survivorship bias, self-reliance manifests as a core political value that informs many Cuban-American’s deeply economically austere politics. Again, this remains an anecdotal example, but I believe it may help illustrate a potentially interesting read on the dialogue between a state operating within the mindset of welfare chauvinism and the refugee forced to act autonomously.

Inversely, interpreted from the perspective of the native citizen the chorus acts as a rejection of the refugee, acting as the embodiment of welfare chauvinism.[3] To them the migrant poses an imminent threat to the social and economic fabric of society, undercutting native labor, and benefiting from unearned welfare. The chorus embodies the citizen declaring that they “don’t need their help” and ultimately that the migrant will “let them down”. The music video alludes to the economic significance of the migrant, showing all the products in the store being made by the cheap labor of the migrant as a massive American flag hangs inside. The message is a clear statement about how much American life is dependent on this cheap foreign labor. The line “don’t hold me up” can be read as the citizen shouting at the refugee, embodying the protectionism that seeks to minimize the reliance on cheap foreign labor that is often contextualized through the lens of “sovereigntism underpinned by racism”.[4]

I would also like to draw your attention to this verse in particular:
We are the angry and the desperate
The hungry and the cold
We are the ones who kept quiet
And always did what we were told (Oh, oh, oh)
But we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm in the safety of your home
We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up everything you’ve known

To compare it to Di Cesare:

“The migrant, however, unmasks the state. From its external edge, she interrogates its very foundations, pointing an accusing finger against discrimination. She ties the state back to its historical emergence and discredits the myth of its purity. And she thus insists that the state itself be reconsidered. In this sense, migration bears as subversive charge.”[5]

The migrant acts as an ideological undermining force of the liberal nation state. The violence necessary to maintain the border regime of the liberal nation state acts to undermine its ideological underpinnings, and the refugee is the lens by which it is exposed. Rise Against expounds this with their combination imagery that shows migrants engaging in productive work while singing the quoted verse about how they are subverting the essence of the liberal nation state implying the mechanism to do so is their very existence, mirroring Di Cesare.

Daniel Lazcano


[1] Di Cesare, Migrants and the State p.61-68
[2] Ibid, p.62
[3] Ibid, p.62
[4] Ibid, p. 62
[5] Ibid, p. 11

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