When President Obama was running for his second term in office, a BBC poll was released to show what the result could look like if countries outside of America were to have an influence. Staggeringly, every country surveyed voted in favour of Obama, except one: Pakistan.
Pakistan was the only country that voted for his opponent. Why? Many of the commentaries and discussions at the time credited this to the fact Obama was responsible for infiltrating Pakistan with drones—those eerie, buzzing, flying machines that kill people from afar; devices that have haunted innocent citizens and continued to create a justified fear of death.
But this poll got lost in the bigger picture of Obama defeating Romney—and the growing dissent towards Obama and the drones was barely dissected. Yet the apparent suffering of innocent Pakistanis continues, without many voices sharing the discussion or understanding their situation.
Likewise ISIS—before they decapitated James Foley—released a statement that has not been given much attention as the violence continues to escalate.
"You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force", and "[America] and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!"
Now let me be clear, I am not advocating for what ISIS have done, and I have no understanding of what it takes to communicate or deal with terrorist groups. However it reminds me of the line from Shad:
"But [I] wondered who's the heretic,
and is the true terrorist American or Arabic?"
Does anyone in the West ever call the Americans 'terrorists' for their involvement in the Middle East? People are quick to call people from ISIS 'terrorists', but the group has stated they're repaying like for like. Have we stopped to consider a different point of view?
I started reflecting on the fact that I couldn't name a single big-budget American war movie where the Americans were the enemy—or "the baddies"—never mind having a Muslim or Middle Eastern hero. Of course this makes sense from a political point of view (as in, the politics of the movie industry to woo their audience), but what does this narrative do to us and our perceptions? Particularly if we are privy to only hearing the "right" side.
It seems that it's very easy for one side of the story to get lost in the noise and clutter of the media.
The danger of a single story
While the current talking point of the year is ISIS and the Middle East, the publicity detracts from the fact our biased narratives are creating silent and twisted conundrums on a regular and consistent basis.
In her compulsory-viewing TED talk, Chimamanda Adichie said: "My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity; no possibility of a connection as human equals."
Too often it's easy to disregard those who don't look like us or act like us. It's even easier to do this when we have limited understanding of their stories or contexts or cultural lenses they see the world through.
But do we acknowledge the fact that—though they may seem different—other people are still human beings created in the image of God?
Again, from Chimamanda: "Power is the ability, not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly.""
"Native Americans (like us)"
Recently in New Zealand, "foreign drivers" have been responsible for a number of deaths on the nation's roads. This has led to citizens taking the situation into their own hands—literally—by confiscating the keys of "foreign" drivers who they thought were driving irresponsibly, and some drivers have even been assaulted.
And though it wasn't just tourists from Asian countries, this is the region picked on and harassed the most in public discussion.
Furthermore, as a constitutional lawyer, Mai Chen points out, "the real difficulty is [that] Asians are a visibly different migrant group in New Zealand, [yet] we're all migrants in a way. [And] people can't quite tell if we're from Korea or Taiwan or China, and they can't tell whether we're recent migrants, whether we're actually here on a visitor visa—or a study visa—or whether we're a fifth generation Asian New Zealander. The difficulty is that they often mix us up."
For me lots of this reflection revolves around a line from a professor in Canada. I have a friend in British Columbia who was in a lecture when this statement was made: "Everyone's a racist".
My friend wasn't just shocked by this, but also hurt and offended.
"No, not me", he replied. "I make a conscious effort not to be a racist."
I, too, remember being stunned and perplexed by the lecturer's willingness to paint everyone with such a wide, sweeping brush; there's no need to paint by numbers if you're willing to make the effort to see what's possible.
But perhaps it's like being unaware of a particular brand of car until you're on the hunt for a car yourself: the more you're attuned to it, the more you see.
Racism is my relative, who raises her voice when talking to someone of another ethnicity on the phone, despite the fact they've been in the country for over a decade.
Racism is my friend, who discounts the ability of a man who fits the racial stereotype for being uneducated or over-represented in criminal behaviour, but finds out this man has more qualifications than he.
Racism is a speaker I heard, who thought the swimming pool with Pakeha (white) people in it was cleaner than one with Maori.
Racism belongs to all my friends who choose to incorrectly pronounce the city Tauranga with a 'tow' (as in tower), rather than correctly with a 'toe'—because they don't think it matters.
Whether it's Pakistanis, 'Africans', 'Asians' or your local indigenous people, we are called to love them as ourselves; and for some of us, that's a great deal of love.
It may not be perfect.
It may not solve everything.
But a great place to start would be to look at the other side of the story, and love all people as human beings created in the image of God.
Let's do our bit to stop the perpetuation of racism in our communities.
Matt Browning is a storyteller and lover of ideas. He is currently setting up Shake Up - a social enterprise for youth unemployment in Rotorua, New Zealand – taking youth who are dropping out of high school or coming out of youth prison, and hiring them full time so that they can get the experience needed to be hired in the future.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html