What The Syrian Refugee Crisis Can Tell Us About Race And Visibility

What The Syrian Refugee Crisis Can Tell Us About Race And Visibility

Why are African refugees rendered invisible?
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In light of the Syrian refugee crisis, in light of all of our recent conversations about borders and walls and displaced people, the idea that some lives matter more than others has especially informed the way we talk about and empathize with refugee communities around the world.

A product of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, and the subsequent Syrian Civil War, about 11 million Syrians have been displaced, both within their home country, and as refugees in foreign territory. Their journey for peace and stability has been a trying one, heavy with loss and a desperation to protect their lives and their loved ones. As this community continues to move throughout parts of Europe, the global response concerning their reception and well-being has been absolutely incredible. Though many European countries have been hesitant to welcome Syrian refugees into their countries, many are opening their doors, and we can attribute this to the enormous pressures that the global public is impressing upon the EU powers at be.

Syrian refugees are more visible than ever. One of the many countless examples was the photograph of a dead Syrian toddler who washed up on a Turkish beach. This tragic image went viral all over social media, and forced those not directly affected by the crisis to see the devastation in real and tangible terms. But what continues to be a reoccurring quality of the Syrian refugee reception are the ways in which global communities everywhere want to empathize with and shed light on all that Syrians are facing. And this empathy comes in many forms: Whether it is retweeting the image of a dead child, or volunteering at a local refugee camp, citizens everywhere feel moved to act, feel responsible in helping to tell the story of this moment in history.

So, the question becomes why are certain displaced people made more of a priority than others? As EU leaders rush to meet on Wednesday in attempts to address how and where they will distribute 160,000 refugees among their countries, why do African refugees and immigrants not receive the same kind of visibility and urgency in Europe, but also within a global context? For example, the UN estimates that about 3000 Eritreans leave Eritrea each month, and most head for Italy as a means of escaping the conflicts in their home country, as well as Eritrea's forced, indefinite military conscription, which demands that citizens serve in the army for an unlimited amount of time. Eritrean refugees must cross the Sahara Desert, which is an arduous and dangerous journey that has resulted in many deaths. If these migrants are successful in crossing the desert, they must take on another journey across a body of water. Two years ago one of the largest migrant disasters took place right off of the Italian island of Lampedusa. The ship was carrying more than 500 migrants, and of those lives 360 of them drowned. The incident helped to bring attention to one of the most deadly migrant journeys: the trip from North Africa to Europe. But the concern and outrage certainly did not last. Fatal Journeys, The International Organization for Migrations estimates that more than 3,000 African migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of 2014, but rarely do you see images of this devastation being shared on Twitter and Facebook. It is also important to make note of the hostile and racist immigration policies that are created in Europe as a means of deterring African migrants who are seeking safety and better futures for themselves and their families. Imogen Foulkes of the BBC writes “Until June of this year, Switzerland accepted avoidance of Eritrea's military service as a valid reason for claiming asylum, and the country now has one of Europe's biggest communities of Eritrean refugees. But Switzerland, like many European countries, no longer allows applications for asylum to be made at its embassies abroad, meaning that anyone wanting to make a claim must make their way, somehow, to Switzerland.” There is no doubt that these practices contribute to the regular boat tragedies in the Mediterranean. But most importantly, these policies are reflective of a collective European(and international) attitude concerning the welfare of Black bodies, and the attitude maintains that these bodies are disposable, that these bodies do not matter.

Syrians everywhere deserve visibility, deserve the opportunity to tell their story. But we must become wary of our unconscious and conscious attempts to lift up some communities and render others invisible or unimportant.

Rumi, the famous Persian poet, once wrote “the wound is where the light enters.” That line becomes especially relevant when you take a look at the numerous children’s drawings that were created in response to the unfortunate Lampedusa shipwreck. Students at Lampedusa’s elementary school, with the help of their teacher, were inspired to respond to the children who drowned on the boat that day, and they do so with colorful and heartbreaking clarity.

Here are some of the drawings below, courtesy of The Huffington Post:


Like the students in Lampedusa, we must find the space to include everyone in our narratives of injustice. Not one soul should be left behind.

Cover Image Credit: Photography by Tullio M. Puglia & Alberto Pizzoli

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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News Flash: 'Building The Wall' Is Still A Dumb Idea And Always Will Be

The government is still partially shutdown because of funding for the wall. Really?

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A man who is a strong supporter of building the wall told me this metaphor: If you don't want the wrong people walking into your backyard, you put a fence up. We don't want the wrong people coming to America, so we put a wall up. I respect people's political beliefs, and because of this, I want to share mine.

I believe that President Trump demanding money to build a border wall is dumb.

It's hard to believe so many people really think that this "build a wall" has everything to do about border security. It's just inhumane and wrong.

Literally, the most notorious drug lord of Mexico has shed light about how he smuggles the drug into the U.S. They have brought it through fishing boats, trucks going through the legal point of entry, underground tunnel, but not through unwalled parts. The half of million pounds of narcotics that were secured at the border? They were all al legal points of entry.

I'm saying this because I am a proud daughter of immigrants who crossed the border. The media has portrayed immigrants as these horrible people infiltrating our country. They just want somewhere safe to live to raise their kid.

The conditions of Latin American countries are inexplicable. Communist have risen from the ashes dominating these countries letting people rot on the street starving. There are little to no job opportunities. I haven't seen my family in three years because it is dangerous to go.

The media doesn't tell you this. They don't tell you how many people have gone to the border and returned to Mexico because ICE agents tear gas them.

They tell you that they throw babies over fences to distract border patrol agents. They tell you children are dying because of malnutrition of trekking thousands of miles to get the border. They don't tell you that those same children have been eating unmonitored food with thousands of microorganism some mal some good.

Not all immigrants are not bad people. The notions that all immigrants are criminals is "fake news." It has been a hook, line, and sinker for the Republican Party. There are studies such as one from the journal Criminology showing that places with high undocumented immigrant population does not equal high crime.

Should undocumented citizens attempt to become legal residents of the United States? Absolutely, and that is a problem if they are evading taxes and other legal notions with more consequences.

However, we should not lie to ourselves and act as a wall is to help border security against drugs and crime. It's just a physical quota like 1920s immigration laws. There is a better solution then sacrificing 5.7 billion dollars. Let me translate that: 5,700,000,000 dollars. That is our taxes. As a college student, I rather have those 5.7 billion dollars be translated to scholarship, grants, financial aid, and helping us, the future of this country become the best people we can be. Why build a wall when the future of America, who I personally think is more important can be helped.

I don't come from a rich family, and I don't have the means to afford a college education without loans, so when I hear that the Government can afford to give 5.7 billion dollars for a wall, I have the right to be upset. Tell me I'm wrong, and call me dumb, but this is my unpopular opinion.

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