Here and there through these eyes



Think about ants. They cannot see the soaring birds, why would they need to? Their lives consist of the path in front of them, following the scent trail of their fellow ants. Yes, occasionally one of them will get distracted and venture off on a solo adventure. Mostly though, their perception limits their world.

Look around you. Think about the people who go through their lives following the paths of their parents, older brothers and sisters, this graduating class just like last year’s graduating class. Think about the people who are trapped in the same organization or the same job for years and decades. Think about the way they told you there was no success outside of their realm of perception. Think about the ants and soar.

The screaming silence

I am an international student and scholar. Thus far I have visited 9 countries (11 when I count Puerto Rico and the USVI separately). Guess what? People are all the same. We are born, struggle to survive, find love within and outside ourselves, we get sick, age and die seeking freedom, peace and happiness. Everyone.

In today’s world, there are those that point fingers at one group or another, to call them lazy, untrustworthy, evil and the list goes on and on. The fact is, most of these groups have no reliably identifiable phenotype. The Donald lambastes immigrants and Muslims though he needs them to wear shirts and headdresses or carry signs to recognize them. Faculty and staff at our university regularly point out Chinese students’ (lack of) ability, but many cannot tell that some are Japanese, Korean, etc. Some are United States of American. Myself, I walk in and out of situations where I am called African American…someone on the outside creates and applies these labels to the diverse and beautiful people in our campuses and communities. No matter what you think, all stereotypes hurt people in some way or the other.

And guess what? If you don’t use the stereotype, but do not stand against it, you still support it. It’s social economics. People spend energy to express their beliefs and opinions, their revenue is the support of people like them cheering them on and laughing at their jokes. Their costs include ostracism from groups they respect or want to be a part of. If the stereotype user claims to be part of the dominant culture, using stereotypes to victimize subordinate cultures or groups then they and their words already have the social capital and revenue. The victims do not. Now, here we have to realize, because they claim to be part of the dominant culture or represent the dominant culture does not make it true. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Some person at one end of the spectrum spews hate at people at the other end. The people near the oppressor end may align themselves with the oppressor. Those near the victim may align themselves with the victim. Those in the middle say “meh” and either side may claim them based on some superficial characteristic. In the end though, the oppressor has the power and without the support of the middle, the victims will continue to be victimized.

So let us use an analog (strictly hypothetical of course). Suppose a powerful person like a presidential candidate in the USA claims to be the ideal American. Suppose then, said candidate incites his supporters to racism and violent racism. He categorizes a group of people (perhaps an entire religion) as being evil or denigrates people of a particular gender. He is the oppressor. He stereotypes all the people that fit one label (religion, skin color, national origin, etc.) as something bad (terrorist, rapist, infidel, traitor etc.) and makes them a target.

Suppose then a person like an international student fits one of the labels the oppressor uses. This can be religion as mentioned before, some style of dress or even a way of speaking. To be clear, this student is NOT a terrorist, rapist, infidel or traitor. However, this is what he hears people like himself called in American mainstream media regularly.

It’s scary to speak out against someone who wrongs you, when they lead millions of people who look like the people that surround you everyday. If the oppressor labels all those who look like him as allies and none of them deny it, what does that mean? So, finally, suppose the schools that recruit students from countries around the world, all hear the media coverage, but never issue a direct statement publicly denouncing racism, stereotypes, violence towards their students and their students’ families? Can these students feel safe? Are these schools meeting their social responsibilities to their students? How long can they wait before the aura of permissiveness crosses from hate toward non Americans, to those who look like non Americans, to poor Americans, to Black, Latino, Asian or White Americans…and so on and so forth?

Of course I’m just being hypothetical, but really, how long should American Academia, Science, Industry, non profit organizations etc wait before they say out loud and without any ambiguity, that this type of public rhetoric is wrong?

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