The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
In the past couple of days I have seen an enormous amount of xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist comments on the Internet, from people like politicians trying to push their agendas, to teenagers with too much free time and no knowledge of history and geography. Normally I get angry and argue with people, trying to prove and show how wrong they are: how Muslims, people of colour and immigrants are humans as they are. How being an immigrant isn’t bad and migration is a natural process. However, I have reached a point in my life in which I’m genuinely tired. I’m tired of having to argue about the humanity of other people. I’m tired of having to argue about my humanity and right to migrate. I’m tired.
The terrorist attacks in Paris a few days ago were disgusting and horrific. However, it is time everyone stops pretending they are an excuse to not want refugees in their communities, to hate on Muslims and to close borders for migrants. They aren’t an excuse. If you think they are an excuse, go ahead and be bigoted. Call me “leftie”, call me “liberal”. I’m just educated. Educated enough to know that you can’t blame everyone from the same religion because of the actions of a few, and more when those few hurt “their” communities more than anyone else. ISIS has been terrorising Syria and Iraq for months. They are linked to a recent attack in Beirut too. Little concern I saw about this from all the suddenly “aware” people.
Muslims are the prime victims of this sort of terrorism, which has political goals rather than religious goals, just in case you didn’t know it. Muslims are also the main fighters against it. “Islamic” terrorism kills more non-Westerns than Westerns. Boko Haram is another good example. Millions of people have been displaced in Nigeria because of them. Thousands dead. All this in the last couple of years. Again, silence from the international community. And media isn’t even the blame. Media covers these events, trust me. People just ignore them. Because the headlines read “Nigeria”, “Syria” or “Iraq”. And let’s be honest: hardly anyone cares about Africa or Asia unless it is to be racist, to show how “good Samaritans” they are, to be a tourist, or to”invest” in their resources.
Another thing I would like to talk about is how people love to define what is terrorism and what isn’t. Terrorism is a threat to the world, yes. But “Islamic” terrorism is not the only type of terrorism that is an issue. Between 2009 and 2013, more than 55% of terrorist attacks in Europe were by ethno-nationalistic and separatist groups (Source: Europol). In 2014, separatist, anarchist and far left were the most common forms of terrorism in EU (Source: Europol). Moreover, attacks by far right and neonazi groups are currently on the rise. In Europe, in the last months, various refugee shelters have been intentionally burned down, many mosques have been attacked, anti-antisemitism has been proven far from gone and discriminatory attitudes towards immigrants and religious minorities keep being reported. In London, Islamophobic attacks increased by 70% between 2014 and 2015. Last month, there was a xenophobic attack in a school in Sweden in which two people died and another two were injured. In June 2015, a mass shooting driven by racist motives left eight people dead in an African-American church in USA, followed by various arsons in other African-American churches. However, these type of things aren’t called “terrorism” (they actually are!). They are just “hate crimes” and smalls efforts are made to tackle them at national or international scale. Because “racism just happens”, “it isn’t that serious” and “we have to live with it”. It is obvious that not all lives matter the same.
Furthermore, if you analyse carefully the current language of some Western politicians and media outlets when discussing migration and the present refugee crisis, you will find resemblances with genocidal language used by Nazis and by leaders of the Rwandan genocide. I’m not exaggerating. Research if you want. Jews escaping from persecution and smuggling into England or travelling to USA during and after the II World War were as demonised as current Middle Eastern and African refugees are. Politics of fear made tragedies like the Holocaust possible because everyone fed into them. And without doubt, nationalism and fascism are things that Europe hasn’t left behind. It is time everyone stops pretending just a few individuals are racist: we have a growing unaddressed problem. Because if we didn’t, politicians, governments and parties with a clear xenophobic ideologies wouldn’t be as followed, voted and popular as they are right now.
Racism is not only saying racial slurs and openly discriminating others. Racism is thinking you are inherently superior to others for no reason other than your race, nationality or ethnicity. Racism is thinking you shouldn’t allow people from a specific ethnic group in “your country” because you won’t be safe due to some “members” of that ethnic group being dangerous, like if your own ethnic group is perfect. Racism is automatically assuming brown people are terrorists and black people are criminals till “proven wrong”. It doesn’t matter if you make your opinion public or not. It doesn’t matter if you have black friends or not. It doesn’t matter if you donate to aid organisations in Africa. It doesn’t matter if you tell no one you agree with a xenophobic political party. You are still racist. You aren’t “saying it like this” by writing a rant on your Facebook about how Islam is evil and migrants come here to steal your jobs while simultaneously living off benefits (guess nothing is impossible!). You are just a bigot. An uneducated bigoted.
In particular, there is a problem with the complex superiority of Christians, white Europeans and white European descendants in terms of terrorism and crimes. Society can’t keep sweeping under the carpet hundreds of years of genocide and slavery in Africa, America and Asia, which was in great part justified with Christianity, while pretending imperialism didn’t have consequences or it doesn’t affect current issues. Great part of the wealth of some European countries is inheritance of colonialism. And this didn’t happen long ago. Most decolonisation movements (and all the independence wars in which thousands died) are more recent than the II World War, yet in Europe we don’t hold massive memorials to remember this. Despite being a fundamental part of the history of the continent, nobody likes to remember colonialism and most schools don’t even teach it properly. Why? Because nobody likes to be associated with that sort of crimes against humanity, and less when they didn’t participate in them. Think about this if you constantly blame 1.6-1.7 billion Muslims in the world of the actions of terrorist groups like ISIS.
Now, let’s be honest: we are all taught prejudice and stereotypes about other races, religions, nationalities and ethnicities. In our family, in school, through media, through books. Many of us have unconscious discriminatory thoughts and we think it is normal and ok. I admit I have my own toxic thoughts about others which I’m working to eradicate. Ignorance is innate but keeping it is a choice, and more if you live in a multi-cultural society or/and with access to the Internet. A part of growing up is developing critical and logical thinking abilities, to judge and analyse what we read, see or listen. These abilities are developed to be used in our daily lives, not to just pass exams and get jobs. Question what you read in newspapers and what you see in TV. Discuss controversial issues with others. Research about topics first before giving an opinion on them. Don’t just try to be intelligent: be wise too. Wisdom is important.
Identity isn’t a reason to discriminate negatively. Nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion…. These aren’t reasons to discriminate and make others seem inferior. We don’t live in a fair world. We don’t. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to make it fair. We live in a world primarily divided by identity and it is upsetting to see it. Power relations are set in such a way that systematic oppression of certain groups depending on class, gender, race, sexuality, age and others happen in all societies across the world. And I repeat, it is upsetting to see it. I don’t have much faith in the world when comes to this: I don’t think humans will be able to live in global peace any time soon. People don’t stop putting identity before humanity and people don’t want to let go their power. I hope I’m proven wrong at some point in my future life.
I have little more to say. I will conclude this post with something I learnt recently in one of my university modules.
As you may already know, identity is a social and historical construction. Our differences from others (race, religion, gender) shape our identity. How we see ourselves is all about how we see others. When we acquire a form of identity, we are separating ourselves from others identities. Because of this, dealing with identity based discrimination, like racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, is not about others. Others don’t have to prove or show you they are humans as you are. If you are racist, the problem is not about the race you hate or dislike. If you are Islamophobic, the problem aren’t Muslims. If you are xenophobic, the problem aren’t foreigners. You are the problem. Muslims don’t have to apologise for what happened in Paris nor publicly condemn it for you to know that ISIS doesn’t represent them. YOU are the one who has to sit down and re-check your thoughts. Tackling identity based discrimination is about dealing with yourself. Why you feel superior? Why you think others are inherently bad or evil? From where does your privilege comes? From where do your discriminatory thoughts come? And for people who suffer from identity discrimination: stop explaining yourself, stop proving your humanity and stop apologising. You don’t have the fault.
Sharing my thoughts,
Beauty is everything nowadays. Beauty is nature. Beauty is love. Beauty is art. Beauty is intelligence. Beauty is confidence. Beauty is humankind. Beauty is realness. Beauty is music. Beauty is family. Beauty is friendship. Beauty is poetry. Beauty is touch. Beauty is happiness. Beauty is secrecy. Beauty is sexiness. Beauty is rebellion. Beauty is different. Beauty is equal. The whole world is basically beauty for the deepest people. The good thing about this term is that it is subjective to everyone’s eyes, mind and heart. Hence beauty is diversity, above everything.
However, even if the word “beauty” sounds enchanting and lovely, it has become one of the biggest problems within society.The pressure to be perfect is too real nowadays. Too real. I’m sure there has always been pressure, but the global media, social networks and the Internet have added even more burden to the population. Many people seem obsessed with being someone’s “woman/man crush”. Nowadays, being called the “baddest” in Twitter is the biggest compliment. The thirst for likes in Facebook increases with every new beauty trend. Photoshop has become the world’s most shamed but used tool. We spend minutes choosing a good “selfie” and selecting a good “filter”. People go to the gym and workout to become “body goals” in Instagram, instead of caring about the actual benefits to their health. Make up is the new natural look. Cosmetic surgery is so common now, and not only with adults, but also with youngsters. Having a thigh gap is everything. Having a big butt is everything. Eyebrows are more than just hair. Lips are more than just skin. A pretty face makes you famous. And an appealing fashion style makes your rich and adored.
I know that currently there is this big wave of “let’s allow people to do whatever they want with their bodies”, and I couldn’t agree more. Make up shaming is wrong. Skinny/Fat shaming is wrong. People should be allowed to make decisions about their body because it is theirs. If someone wants to get cosmetic surgery, it is their decision and it should be respected. If someone wants to show off the body they have worked hard on, it is completely find! Nevertheless, I can help but feel concerned about how much being considered beautiful is getting to people’s head. It is not only about how this obsession leads to eating disorders and other mental health illnesses caused due to low self-esteem. It is about how the value of humans is starting to be measured just by their beauty, instead of by their talents, skills, achievements, wisdom and intelligence.
As humans, we are more than just our appearance. We are intelligent. We are hard-working. We are wise. We are skilful. We have a wide range of qualities. So why, why is beauty the one that counts the most? Everything I’m saying may sound a bit too overdramatic, but if you actually spent a few hours focusing on how much people care about beauty, you would realise of what I’m trying to say. We care more about likes in Instagram than compliments on our actions. We look up to people who show little more than a good looking face and a hot body. We fight over stupid mean comments on our appearance, but we ignore criticism on our studies or work ethic. And unless you are a public figure or a celebrity, a pretty face will not get you very far away, and unless you are a model, it isn’t going to pay your bills.
Perhaps, this obsession wouldn’t be dangerous or important, if it wasn’t because of how society’s idea of beauty is too too too dependent of pop culture and Eurocentric standards. On the one hand, pop culture is problematic. When I was little, I got mocked often for having an arched back and a big butt. Satiric comics often made jokes of people with thick eyebrows and thick lips. Having a thigh gap and collarbones noticing got people calling you “anorexic”. But all of the sudden, all of this is acceptable, and even pursued by the majority of people. And why? Because certain celebrities have acquired these attributes, using them as “new iconic styles”. Then as always, mainstream media glorifies and fetishizes those looks. And of course, the general population gets brainwashed and is crazy about them. Silly to be honest.
Should I be happy that now people aren’t going to shame my body shape? Maybe. Am I happy? No. Why? For the reason that this trend will end up disappearing as quickly as it appeared, and we will be back to the same story. Body shapes and physical attributes aren’t trends set by popular figures. Or at least they shouldn’t be. The high influence of celebrities’ appearance in ordinary people’s life is pathetic, and horrible for both sides. On the one hand, celebrities have to deal with a lot of pressure to look amazing and incredible in every picture and video. How they dress on an award’s show red carpet is more important than the awards they are nominated for. On the other hand, ordinary people that don’t have the money, time and ability to reach those beauty standards feel worthless and less pretty. People who decide not to follow the trends are mocked, people who decide to follow the trends are mocked too. Ridiculous.
Make up is another aspect of pop culture that needs to be addressed. Using make-up is not bad. Make-up is nice and very artistic. It can also help to cover scars that may cause us psychological distress if seen. It can help us to look different every day, so our face suits our clothing. It is not only about looking attractive. It is also about feeling confident. Make up is wonderful. But it is dangerous too. I always say that make up is there to polish the attributes people already have. It shouldn’t be there to create a fake image of ourselves, because at the end of the day, the majority of make-up items are temporal. We can apply to our skin litres and litres of foundation. We can draw our lips bigger and bigger. We can shape our eyebrows perfectly with a pencil. But our appearance is our appearance, from the moment we are born, to the moment we die.
Moreover, what is quite upsetting is how women we are socially forced to use make-up to look pretty: we are forced to believe that beauty is more important than the rest of our attributes. How many times have we all seen magazines and TV-shows shaming celebs for not using make up or the “correct” make-up? Why all the dolls for little girls, like Barbie and Bratz, are full of make up on their faces? Why women in certain positions within their workplace are told to wear make up to look “presentable”? It is quite worrying because men are not told the same things. Though men have their issues too. We often tend to underestimate the beauty standards set on men: having a six-pack, being 6ft or over, perfect jawline… Men do suffer from self-esteem issues, and are victims of media and society too.
On the other hand, we have the issue of Eurocentric standards. The historical colonisation of countries in America, Asia, Africa and Oceania by Europe led to the supremacy of Caucasians for quite a long time. This supremacy brought oppression for various races and ethnicities, not only political and economic, but also social. When people talk about the implications of colonisation, they talk about slavery, they talk about stolen lands, and they talk about genocide… But they rarely discuss how colonisation affected the mind of oppressed people. Now, this can be a foreign topic for you if your ancestors or you weren’t affected by colonisation, but many know what I’m talking about. Colonisation white-washed the world, and even if it ended theoretically, this planet is still suffering due to it. If you think about it, many countries obtained their independence in the second half of the 20th century. Not long ago.
When I say “white-washed”, I’m talking about how people around the globe fell into the believe that “white is the best, everything good is white”. And that believe was passed onto generations and generations. At present, the supremacy of white people is still a thing. It still goes on, yet it gets concealed a lot. And not only in the West: non-Western countries are also affected by this. Growing up in the West being part of an ethnic minority is hard, and you can suffer from discrimination and racism every day, either directly or indirectly. But growing up in your country of origin, if this was colonised, has drawbacks too. The obsession with light skin tone, straight hair and blue/green eyes is global. White people’s physical attributes are the most worshipped attributes because the rest of races’ attributes were and are often shamed and put down. Futhermore, mainstream media promotes white beauty over anything else. Just look at the lack of diversity in famous fashion magazines and adverts. In catwalks. In skin care product adverts.
I’m not saying that non-white people aren’t celebrated at all. But 75% of times, the majority of non-white people celebrated for their beauty, both by society and in media, have light skin tones. In the case of women for instance, they also wear usually straight long weaves, sometimes of blonde or red colours. You don’t see a lot of afros. You don’t see natural curly hair. You don’t see women with hijabs or veils. I can’t count the times I have seen people praising Latinos for their beauty, but leaving out indigenous, afro-latinos and Native people. I can’t count the times I have seen people praising light-skinned Asians from the Middle East and surrounding countries, but leaving out dark-skinned ones. It all comes down to the lack of representation these races and ethnicities have in mainstream media, and the high amount of satirical jokes that mock the attributes of these people. And sadly, the fault is not only in white people. Self-hate due to appearance is frequent amongst non-white people.
Now, you can say that the lack of representation in the West is normal because “this is the West, this is white people’s region, get over it!”. But, apart from being a wrong statement, it is ignorant. For instance, America is originally from Natives and Latinos, though they have a very low representation in mainstream media. And in Europe, countries like United Kingdom have a high rate of diversity because after the II World War, help was asked to countries like Ghana, India, Pakistan, Jamaica… United Kingdom doesn’t have diversity just because people decide to go there randomly. United Kingdom, as other European countries, was damaged by the war and needed help to recover. When bringing African, American and Asian people to their country, all these countries were committed to integrate them and make them part of their society. Not just use them as mere workers and tools. And with integration, comes representation and acceptance of new ethnicities and cultures, something that didn’t happen 100%, even if promised.
On conclusion: beauty is good and beauty is bad. Beauty is important but it shouldn’t be central to humans. We need to start valuing people more for their hearts, for their brains and for their hands. Because beauty is subjective. We need to learn that beauty, above all, is opinion. Self-love is essential in life: liking how we look, in order to have a good self-esteem. You can rock make-up every day, but you need to learn that you don’t need it to be beautiful. Celebrities and public figures shouldn’t define how you feel about your appearance, and you shouldn’t shame them for their looks and decisions neither. When beauty is dependent on pop culture and Eurocentric standards, a lot of people suffer. A lot. There are hundreds of ethnicities in the world, and there are seven billion of people. Judging everyone by the attributes of some is stupid. And more diversity is needed, because representation is important.
I’m a person who likes to be positive, hopeful and peaceful. I believe in the power of wise words and wise actions. I think that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I consider hate and violence a poison. I try to see the good in this world everyday and be grateful for what I have. However, it is hard. Everyday, I wake up to a new depressing story, and I can’t help but feel distressed. There is a reason why I don’t like watching the news. I do read and listen to them, to be informed about what is going on: but I hate doing so. As the globe shakes due to the outbreak of protests in Ferguson, Hong Kong and Mexico, between many others, I can’t help but feel frustrated. There are a lot of good things out there, yes. But that is not reason enough to ignore a reality: the world is an unequal place.
There is always so much oppressed people can take, and that is something I would have expected people to learn from all the conflicts and wars the world has undergone, and still undergoes. For instance, the situation in Mexico is devastating. 43 students disappeared, without leaving trace. Mexican citizens are tired of their corrupt government.I don’t know if politicians realise that “power” is subjective, and the same people that give it can take it way. A government is nothing with a nation to govern over. Money and authority won’t be very useful when people decide to be disobedient; the willingness of people to strive for change is starting to be bigger than the fear of being punished. Nobody cares about the law any more because they don’t feel protected by it.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, protesters are on the streets asking for democracy and the police is trying to silent them in a non ethical way. I remember once in religion lessons that the teacher asked us about our opinions on freedom. I said “freedom is theoretical but not practical”. I don’t think a lot of people understood me, but I still stand by what I say. Everyone who says that humans we are free to do whatever we want is obviously delusional, too optimistic or blind. Freedom is not equal for everyone, and that’s why it doesn’t exist. Freedom is not people doing whatever they want: it is about people not feeling judged, controlled and threatened. Freedom is so restricted by norms and laws across the world. From school to the street: from the governments to our families. I have never actually felt free in this world. No, I’m not enslaved. But some of my family’s values have oppressed my personality since I was little. Some of society’s values have made me subject of criticism just for not following the current.
We all love to look back and feel happy about how things have changed and how the world is a better place now than fifty years ago. More gender equality, less racial discrimination, more acceptance of the LGBT community… Nobody can deny that progress is being made: but social changes are happening too slowly, taking into account how rapid other sort of changes, such as technological innovations, occur. The situation in Ferguson is a prime example. Stereotypes keep taking the lives of hundreds of young black men in USA every year. People may argue that “is not about race, it is about police brutality”. While police brutality is an issue around the globe, the Ferguson case has a big element of race incorporated, as many others. And not only because of the whole media and general public response, which was partly racist as per usual. For example, a twelve year old black kid playing in park and carrying a fake gun was shot and killed by a policeman a few days ago, in a state in which carrying guns is allowed. He was obviously seen as a threat, and I can’t find any reason but the colour of his skin. He wasn’t violent. He was just playing around. He didn’t even point the gun at the officer. Let’s see the excuses now.
Martin Luther King said, “we have learned to fly the sky like birds, we have learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters”. And he was right. In my opinion, it is about attitude. Some people are simply not interested in equal rights, and the saddest part of this is how many of these people are actually people in power. People chose to be ignorant a lot of times. I can understand if a kid or a teen says something out of hands, because at that age, you just repeat what you hear and not everyone is able to evaluate things with their own brains: you are growing up and learning. But there are “mature” adults out there who don’t hesitate in making clear their racist, homophobic, sexist ideas. And unless you live in the Artic or in an isolated country, there is no excuse for this. You can quote any religious book you want, I don’t care. There is no excuse for discrimination. And in fact, most religions have love as their main principle, so using them to spread hate is totally against their God/Gods.
As inequalities keep happening, people are getting more and more tired. They don’t feel secure. They don’t feel heard. They don’t feel appreciated. I’m the first one who promotes peace, but I see how not everyone is able to react peacefully to oppression, and more when your protests are mocked and silenced forcefully. The excessive militarisation of Ferguson, Mexican and Hong Kong’s police have just increased the tension between protesters and the law enforcement, as it always does. You can’t expect people to stay calm when you are pointing guns at them and throwing tearing gas. You really can’t: not everyone is MLK, Gandhi or Mother Teressa. I don’t condone or accept violence, but I’m intelligent enough to understand it in cases like this one. Rioters are not doing any good, but it is not like if police are handling the situation any better. People are saying that violence is not the answer, but that is the response of a lot of governments when PEACEFUL protests start in their countries. They don’t want to listen and they send their troops. It is better to focus on why people are being violent than condemning them without thinking: to solve a problem, tackle it from its roots.
Inequalities make me sick. It makes me sick thinking that right now, someone is dying due to hunger. It makes me sick thinking that right now, someone is suffering from depression because they are scared of coming out. It makes me sick thinking that right now, a little girl is being forced into marriage because she has to be a “woman” and a little boy is being forced to be violent because he has to be a “man”. It makes me sick thinking that right now, people are being killed due to their religious beliefs, or for not having any religious beliefs. It makes me sick thinking that right now, people struggle to accept themselves because they are constantly judged by their skin colour. It makes me sick thinking that right now, workers are being exploited while someone is getting very rich out of it. It makes me sick thinking that right now, we are all not equal for the sake of our status, race, nationality, sexuality, religion, income.
It has reached a point in which, sometimes, I don’t want to have kids, because I don’t know how I’m going to explain them why inequalities exist. What is more: I don’t know how I’m going to protect them from discrimination and the dangers in this world. However, I end up realising that I can always educate them and raise them to tackle these issues, so they can be part of a fairer system worldwide. Education is key to change the world. I’m not talking about school only. It is not about teaching children to be workers: it is about teaching children to be humans. The world is a beautiful place. Life is a beautiful journey. It is just people that manage to make things cruel and complex. Everything is neutral, and you choose to make it positive or negative.
Said all this, I feel a bit better after letting my thoughts out. However, pictures of injustice still float through my Twitter timeline. From Asia to America. From Africa to Europe. The revolution is real. Too much oppression. Too much violence. I don’t recognise the “free” world I see on the news. Tonight, I see humans. But no humanity.