Too many bad things happened this week. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, Israel began a ground mission in Gaza, and children at the southern border of the United States continue to live warehouse-style while politics stifle any resolution. Meanwhile the conversations in the news (from my western POV) reek of the distinct language of dehumanization. It is hard for people to relate to other people — empathy may be one of the most civilized traits a human can develop. That said, it seems that we as a human race would accomplish much more if we ingested the things we see happening as happening to fellow humans, rather than things happening to “others.”
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was a tragedy in every single way, but the political implications intensified when it was discovered that Europeans were onboard. The reasoning for this is political; the situation is bad for Putin and his relationship with the rest of Europe. But what if the plane had been carrying only Malaysian people? Would the whole tragedy remain more detached from the west because we see the passengers as somehow less important?
People hate when discussions turn to race or ethnicity, especially in situations of tragedy, and especially when the racial implications are nowhere near explicit. No one said the world only cares about white people. But there is a well-documented disproportionate outcry when a white child goes missing vs when a non-white child does. 53,000 white children would never be shunned in the way many Americans are treating the “illegals” (their language, not mine) at the border, most of whom are victims of an out-of-control drug war fueled by the (mostly white) demand for drugs in the U.S.
On a related note, are the actual deaths of over 300 Palestinians and counting (over 70 of whom were children) that much less valuable than the possibility of Israeli casualties? I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself, but I would argue that its (U.S. sponsored) iron dome is doing just that. Of course it is not a sustainable answer in perpetuity, but then again neither is the slaughter of hundreds of people of a particular ethnic group. That is sometimes referred to as genocide.
You can choose to ignore race in these conversations, but I won’t because I am acquainted with reality.
Whether a person is in “your” country legally or not, whether a person is living in occupied territory or settled land, whether a person is from Asia or from Europe — people are people with no exceptions. As we move into a time where we will be forced to work together as a united human race in a way we never have before thanks to climate change (and who knows, maybe an alien invasion) we need to repeat that to ourselves over and over again. Without reminding ourselves that all humans are created equal we will continue to dehumanize people we see as others, and when we do that we inadvertently make ourselves less.