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Land of the free and home of turning a blind eye

Opinion
By Emily Phillips
Oct 13, 2016

The things that happen on our soil seem to hold more news value to us than anything else. Yahoo! breaches of security and gorilla deaths outdo Russian air attacks and foreign genocide. Our news reels suggest that our citizens and government are more worthy than citizens and governments of any other country.

       According to edupass.org, one of the most common American stereotypes is “ignorance of other countries and cultures.” While most of us spend our free time catching up on our fantasy football stats or debating the latest idiotic statement from a presidential candidate (which in all honesty, can keep us pretty busy), world events occur rapidly around us and, to most Americans, without notice.

       In 1994, approximately 800,000 people were slaughtered over a 100-day period in Rwanda. An estimated 2 million people were displaced and forced to leave their countries for safety elsewhere. Although this happened less than three decades ago, leaving millions of people deeply scarred and traumatized even today, many Americans have no idea that it ever even happened. Most of us probably don’t care to.

Refugee children walking back from the river on a hot summer day. These kids live in a refugee camp in Northern Greece, near Thessaloniki. Photo by Emily Phillips.Refugee children walking back from the river on a hot summer day. These kids live in a refugee camp in Northern Greece, near Thessaloniki. Photo by Emily Phillips.

       Currently, there are an estimated 21.3 million refugees on this planet, more than half of whom are children. A lot gets lost in a number, but they’re people, with faces and names and stories and unique types of laughter. Most Americans don’t know a lot about where they are or how they got there or what their lives look like right now. Most of us probably don’t care to.

       On September 19, the United Nations gathered for a summit to discuss refugees and migrants. This was the first time the General Assembly had ever called a meeting at this level to discuss the refugee crisis happening worldwide. This meeting happened in New York. And few of us heard a thing about it. Most of us probably didn’t care to.  

If the things happening overseas right now were happening on American soil, we’d care. If colleges and universities and schools and workplaces were being bombed every single day in America, we’d hear about it. If American kids were separated from their parents by thousands of miles and the only thing keeping them apart was governmental paperwork and immigration statuses, we would try to end it. Our hearts would break, we would lose sleep, and we would have to do something. We would have to fight for justice.

Are Americans worth more than refugees? Are Americans worth more than Mexicans? Are Americans worth more than Muslims? What makes us so special, with our white skin and our English language and our legal statuses? Why do the things that were given to us freely at birth become the things that make us more valuable than other human beings? Why do we get to stay shielded and safe and ignorant of millions of other people’s turmoil and torture, simply because they reside outside of our borders? This is not right. This is not fair. And this is not Christianity.

Another American attribute given by edupass.org is our generosity. We are a kind and compassionate people. We are passionate about helping the homeless, vigilant in our care for veterans, eager to lend a hand to those down on their luck. We have it in us to make a difference, and we long to change the world for the better, but we have simply lived in our insulated world for far too long. It is vital that in living compassionately, we remember to look outside our borders and care about what’s happening, regardless of nationality, skin color, or religion.

America isn’t perfect. But if we wait until our problems are solved before we start to care for other countries and cultures, we will never begin. And if we believe that we are more deserving of help and compassion than those who are different than us, simply because an ocean or a language or a religion lies between us, we are not Christians.

Emily Phillips

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