"If you aren't careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X
Take it from someone who teaches it, English is a weird and quirky language. Words often adopt a short hand meaning that evolves from its original intent. For instance, lets look at the word, rational. 'Rational' has got to be the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word rational means "Having reason or understanding." This sounds fine and dandy in principle.
When we apply it to the sciences we can point to theories and factual evidence and say that we are being rational [because we are operating off what we currently know is true]. Same for mathematics - mathematical proofs are absolute in their meaning so you can be quite rational so long as you understand the logic underlying it.
It is when we enter the dreaded humanities that rational suddenly morphs meaning into a statement of virtue. When it comes to politics, the moment someone claims they are rational you know they are gesticulating in doublespeak - either to hustle you or because they don't understand what the word means.
If we go back to its dictionary definition we see the roots of this issue, "Having reason or understanding." Because we are not omnipotent levitating brains capable of perceiving all possible perspectives and insights this raises a very fundamental question. How can you understand something of which you have no experience of? The understanding of a sweatshop is going to be vastly different if you ask the worker making two dollars a day compared to if you ask the owner who makes two thousand dollars.
How could one be 'rational' in discussing topics that you have only a limited secondary understanding of. Logically wouldn't the act of claiming to be 'rational' in such a discussion be itself irrational because your understanding comes from a subjective source. At best you could claim to have an educated opinion, and even then it raises the question of where did this information come from, and from whom? In the political arena the decaying carcass of 'identity politics' is dragged out to be publicly beaten anytime you question how different perspectives might emerge from different experiences. A white man shooting up a mosque is given a headline referring to him as an "angelic boy", and references to mental illness. A brown man shooting up a nightclub is automatically labelled an extremist violent terrorist who is a threat to civilisation.
Enter Edward Said's Orientalism. Edward Said, a Palestinian-American lecturer of history found it rather surprising that when he researched primary documents on the non-European world (referred to as the Orient) during Victorian England most of the information was written by Englishmen, who in many cases did not speak the local language and relied on second hand accounts of travel from European aristocrats.
This is akin to having a history of Thailand written by a drunk 21 year old backpacker in elephant pants who won't shut up about how she had the time of her life in Koh Phangan. To showcase the sheer arrogance behind this kind of thinking there is a claim by the then Governor of Egypt stating he "understood their history better than they did.". In researching the historical discipline known as "Orientalism" - the study of the Orient by Europeans, Said came to his thesis that the act of knowledge production is an inherently political act and should be viewed as such.
We are conditioned to view knowledge production in all forms with the same reverence we treat scientific and mathematical proofs. We forget to realise that knowledge is produced by fallible and subjective human beings - human beings who often have agendas and biases at play. Like say justifying the colonisation of other nations under the guise of 'civilising' them. When we approach historical sources we have to question, who wrote them, why did they write them, in what context did this information appear? History as presented from the coloniser appears very clean and sanitised when you determine the cut off points for where things begin.
Just ask the Native Americans or the Aboriginals... if you can find any.
In order to justify what was, in the eyes of the people already there, invasion and mass murder (in one example: one third of the population of Algeria was killed before it was successfully 'civilised' by the French), you need to construct a social and cultural narrative of otherness. The study of Orientalism produced this by portraying the Orient as decadent, sinful, effeminate, and steeped in mysticism through second and third hand accounts of travels and stories like A Thousand and One Nights. The 'West' (which rarely mentions the influence of the Eastern Byzantium Empire on Medieval Europe or its trade with the Arab Caliphates) constructed a moral identity of being civilised, enlightened, and virtuous. But again you could ask the Irish on the enlightened policy of starvation as a means of control.
So the Orient had to be the opposite of the 'West' - it had to be despotic and wicked and cruel, steeped in traditions and mysticism, sensuous and feminine. Its men, cowardly and weak - servants to be 'uplifted', its women, seductive and exotic - prizes to be conquered. This same cultural pattern of Orientalism still exists in modern form, under the more sophisticated guise of how different groups are portrayed in the media as the other.
The other exists as a sort of ideological mirror to the dominant group. In holding up this mirror the dominant group projects their anxieties and fears onto the other. Muslims are 'invaders' who will 'outbreed' the white race. Asians are smart but socially awkward and either fetishised or emasculated - assimilated or rejected. Darker skinned people are stupid and lazy - simultaneously taking jobs while mooching off welfare. Immigrant nations of the new world face an existential risk of being 'taken over' by new immigrants who aren't European.
The danger of stereotypes is not that they do not contain a grain of truth, the danger is that they present a static and fixed image - denying the agency of the group stereotyped to define themselves. Let's take the 'positive stereotype' of Asians as smart and studious. While there is a historical precedent stemming back to the Chinese Imperial Examinations - where everyone was technically eligible to sit (but naturally those who came from families with means could actually afford to be tutored to learn how to read and write instead of working in the fields), and if you scored high enough you would automatically be elevated to the status of Mandarin (scholar-bureaucrat or scholar-gentry) - this creates a fixed and static image that reduces the other to an object to be viewed through the lens of the dominant group.
If an Asian person does do well academically, their achievements are not associated to them but to their identity as an other, furthering the stereotype in the eyes of the dominant group. If they do not perform well academically they are castigated as a 'bad Asian' since their identity is interpreted through the lens of the dominant group. In both cases the person being stereotyped is being reduced to a passive object by virtue of their fixed identity. Their otherness permeates their sense of identity and it allows the dominant group to define them and control how they are viewed.
This is part of the strategy of divide et impera - divide and rule - a strategy as old as Rome. So long as each group views itself, not as parts of a greater community that has enough for all, but as lonely lifeboats in a sea of desperation, the few lords in their landed estates are never threatened by the landless many. You can play each group against one another as they vie to advance up the hierarchical totem pole. The myth of the model minority is wielded like a nightstick to bludgeon other groups and insist that their problems are purely of their own design.
If we go back to the word 'rational' we see misused time and time again. It is the members of the dominant group which extort claims of being 'rational' as they attempt to control how topics are discussed. Instead of projecting the voices of those who have an understanding of topics (say women when it comes to abortion) - both on a lived perspective and from an academic perspective - we silence them under the cry that they are not 'rational' when the very claim of rationality is itself absurd.
Human beings are all subjective, our early experiences fundamentally shape our brain and the way we perceive the world. Malcolm X's earliest memory is the Ku Klux Klan coming to his house, on horseback carrying rifles, looking to murder his father. His perspective on whites is going to be very different from Martin Luther King who grew up safe in the suburbs. Instead of rejecting this in order to promote the beliefs of the dominant group we need to acknowledge the inherent biases of all beings and learn to evaluate them at their source.
The talking heads, which give the wonderful illusion of debate, bandy about premasticated bullet points with no insight from those involved under the pseudo intellectual authority of being 'rational'. This constructs a media complex that gives us the sense of 'objectivity' and 'reason' without ever actually discussing the topic. Until the next hot topic issue comes along and we move to the next manufactured debate.
In the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack we have dozens of articles detailing the terrorist, his motivations, manifesto, life and background, yet scant to say on the experiences of the Muslim community long used to suffering xenophobia and bigotry. We cry out with faux outrage in the purifying catharsis of social flagellation, "How could this happen here? This isn't us." and ignore all the remarks from those we have deliberately othered, who have long been subjected to a pattern of racial abuse.
We point to the perpetrator, and in our righteous indignation, we do not see the ideological edifice that created him. In our haste to condemn and view the perpetrator as the other, we ignore that the heart of his malignancy was not born of mental illness, but of the media complex that created and reinforced his views. The ideological hucksters who will publicly denounce the violence, but have made careers reiterating the ideas that inspired it. These paragons of 'rationality' and champions of 'free speech' who are very concerned about their right to foment hatred, but will claim no responsibility for their consequences.
When we look at those who are different from us in appearance as the other we strip them of their inherent humanity. This is by design. We do not see the individual but the stereotype pre-constructed by the dominant group to justify their mistreatment. We fail to recognise the fault in our own stars, that what we are told is crafted by those with an agenda, that it is always the few with too much, that control what the many with too few see. That the vaunted bastion of intellectual thought that is knowledge production has rotting foundations, being written and controlled by subjective beings with vested interests. It is difficult to hate those you understand, those whom you have come to know and see as your brothers and sisters. And this is why we can never know. This is the thing they must bomb - this change from I to we.
If we wish to move away from the dark past of petty tribalism, from the ancient squabbles of ancestral feuds, to sit together at the bright future of a shared and common fraternity, we have to question why we are taught to fear the other. Fear is the absence of knowledge, the mind killer born of ignorance. Fear cannot be defeated by the bitter fruits of hate. It must be defeated at its roots - for fear is the absence of love.
Not the erotic love of lust, or the filal love of friendship, but the agapic love that views all people as individuals deserving of respect and dignity. The agapic love that leads us to treat those we encounter on life's long journey as our brothers and sisters, instead of our competition in a cut throat rat race to the bottom. That lets strangers become friends as we learn from each other. Only when we defeat this inner fear do we realise that we have more in common with those we are taught to see as different than those who live above us in their walled estates and tall towers.
Only then do we realise our enemy is not those we are trained to see as the other. Our enemy is those who would deny us access to knowledge, for in their hearts they dream themselves our masters. Our enemy is those who we are are taught to implicitly trust, who divide us on arbitrary lines of colour and creed so we never question why so few control so many. Our enemy is those who profit off systems of alienation so that in our nihilistic rage we lash out violently at those who share a kindred dream. To move forward from the lingering shadows of our darkest day we must question the ideological roots of a system that teaches us fear, for they are incompatible with the ideals of our nation.
"Ōna mano tāngata
Kiri whero, kiri mā,
Iwi Māori, Pākehā,
Nei ka tono ko ngā hē
Māu e whakaahu kē,
Kia ora mārire
Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
Edward, Said, Orientalism. https://wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/orientalism.htm
https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/384911/islamic-women-s-council-repeatedly-lobbied-to-stem-discrimination?fbclid=IwAR2WUWv4rw4DyWb2UYFoGuoAV51rXFeVvZQCiZxuU0Ua4t0rHPuXrtXI7ks (earlier attempts by Islamic Womens Council warning NZ Parliament about dangers faced by rising xenophobia).
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6812527/Inside-life-New-Zealands-worst-terrorist.html?fbclid=IwAR2L5yc2hsv5m5QHwnuKPEAVdV53FPcQay0VEeyTZPFjCALwW1jB5mNyzLQ (note the term 'alleged gunmen' and attempts to humanise the perpetrator by focusing on his life. He is never explicitly referred to as a terrorist and shown to be 'misunderstood' or made a bad decision)
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-17/christchurch-mosque-shooter-who-killed-50-may-have-acted-alone (follows pattern of US Media regarding white terror attacks: 1) obfuscate - the perpetrator is never referred to as a terrorist but a 'gunmen' or 'shooter, the event is never referred to as a terrorist attack 2) humanise - the perpetrator is portraying favourably 'arguing in good faith' and covers his life and manifesto extensively 3) label - attach the label of mentally unwell as an easy scapegoat to turn a systemic problem into an individual problem 4) lone wolf - perpetrator is never the product of an ideological system but merely an unhinged madman acting alone. 5) shut down - any attempts at dialogue or discourse on the topic are met with the cry that you [the left] are making it about politics and taking advantage of a tragedy.
Born somewhere between the old world of Korea and the new world of New Zealand Isaac is an award winning writer, teacher of literature and nomad currently residing in Nanjing.