What if the refugees were white?

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It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

I suppose a fair number of liberals in Europe and North America were moved to a brief tear or two upon seeing that three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach after drowning while escaping persecution. The divine feminine protects him now, from the violence, the virulence, the voyeurism.

After his picture came out, and because humanity needs to compete with pop culture memes these days, the social media feeds were awash with performed, public indignation. White folk especially were positively giddy with empathy for that brief second as they peered into their smart phones before the barista called their name out for their morning latte.

Their false empathy is useless of course because the non-sentiment fails to understand two very important points. Two points that encapsulate what this is all about.

Point number one – a little known fact for all you folks out there about refugees and which countries take in the most:

The overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are hosted by some of poorest countries in the world.

Over 85% actually if you’re interested in these weird things called facts. Nope, the biggest hosts of refugees are not the shiny, wealthy democracies of the west, but the Jordans, Ethiopias, Lebanons, and Pakistans of the world. Not that those are stellar nation-states with great human rights records, but I’m not talking about governments here. I’m merely stating a very real fact that across the globe the poor are the ones who are hosting other poor people running away from violence.

Those are the stats, year after year, from the UNHCR – conveniently ignored by the people of the Western nations. Not surprising considering moral entitlement and manifest destiny are two sides of the same coin. Westerners, in Europe, North America, and anywhere else in the world – wherever we may find ourselves on the spectrum of empathy (or astounding lack thereof) when it comes to the ongoing humanitarian crisis with our Syrian kith and kin – we must be clear on a very important truth:

The countries of the West don’t do shit.

But they certainly act like they do.

(And there’s a long history of that behavior.)

These are the same colonial countries who benefit, yes benefit, from the ongoing sectarian violence in the Middle East. The Middle East burns because the Western world constantly shoots it’s veins up with black goop coming out of the sands.

(Anyone else notice that the price of gas in Western countries always tends to be a fair bit lower than the rest of the world? Also, all those shiny streets and spanking economies? Yeah, that comes from centuries of colonialism that also result in fallouts like large influxes of refugees.)

So not only does the West do precious little while pretending to do a lot, it actually owes those running away from the persecution and violence created by the geopolitical structures of Western imperialism. It owes them big.

But the majority of the West doesn’t want to share in their ill-gotten gains. Privileged communities rarely do.

Which brings me to my second point.

Just ask yourself this very simple question.

What if the refugees were white?

I don’t need to hear the answer. I know it already. In fact I’m just going to go ahead and make my second point without waiting for the eventual disappointment that your answer (no matter what it is) will bring.

Cos, make no mistake, my friend:

Refugees across the world are treated like human garbage for one very simple reason – they are not white.

Now let me see you shed a fucking tear for that.

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