I hate a cynical outlook, particularly my own. Right now the world is a scary place. The plight of Syria refugees is front and center, where I believe it should be, but the rhetoric I am hearing is annoying at best, astounding at worst. What I have learned through all of this is that talk is rather cheap.
On days when I am likely to bemoan the vapid and alienating aspects of social media, in particular ,but not limited to, FB (which I have attempted to quit more than once) I am reminded by my friend Ruslana, a thinking and feeling person, wife, mother, linguist and a Ukrainian who truly cares, to remind me that some revolutions like the one in her country, were started with the use of FB. And she is right. Ruslana says it like it is and I appreciate that. Still, I have a difficult time separating the wheat from the chaff on FB. Let me explain.
For those who do not want the refugees to come into the United States, I BELIEVE you. I don’t agree with you, not at all, but I believe you. Their often xenophobic, racist and reactionary rants sad and sickening as they are , are quite common on this side of the pond. This rhetoric, though, is not exclusive to Americans. I can hardly deal with this viewpoint, but I recognize and respect that those who express it have the right.
Now, those who I relate to most—liberals, because, I AM one, I have more trouble believing you feel what they say they do. It is because of the way they express their outrage. When does the rhetoric of support become more than just—well, rhetoric? My FB news feed is literally inundated with seemingly clever (please don’t force me to describe them—you’ve seen them—different takes on the “first” refugee family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Pilgrims and Indians, the Holocaust—you get it) memes which I find particularly offensive because they are so reductive. That the horrible, horrible crisis in Syria and the lives’ of its people, are even ideologically reduced to a meme on FB offends my sense of decency as well as my sense of reality. I imagine Syrian refugees would be offended, too, if they had time to think about it,but they don’t because they are busy trying to save their own lives. But of course, everyone to his own.
I have quite intentionally decided, quietly, not to participate.
Do these memes make a difference? I don’t think for one minute that they do. So then why post them? I suppose it makes the one posting feel good in some abstract way, a pseudo-activist sort of a syndrome might be going on here— but it does nothing for the situation at hand. If it does, please tell me how, because it would honestly make me feel better.
My other objection becomes the fact that these posts are often mistaken by those posting them for some sort of social justice action (see , above “pseudo activist syndrome”), but really , NO: far from it. Who are they trying to convince with the memes? The friends who already share their views? Not necessary. The people who disagree with you? Not possible.
A lively discussion was taking place on the FB wall of one of my friends. A very enthusiastic and righteous fellow proclaimed “I’d house refugees!” Excuse me while I open my eyes in incredulity! Really? REALLY? Would you really? Because, dude, no one is stopping you. Because in REALITY, that is what is needed. But there is where it stops, for most. Right on that FB wall. Here is the sad truth: there exists a terrible, terrible need in every single town and city in this great country of ours. Here is a litmus test of your true intention:
- Are you walking over the homeless on the way to purchase your Starbuck’s?
- Are you hiring Mexican workers at slave wages for your restaurant?
- Did you offer to house and of the horrifically suffering population of New Orleans during the Katrina disaster? (many of which still have not been able to return home.)
- and on and on and on.
PERSPECTIVE: Before you post that meme, maybe initiate a REAL conversation of what is possible and doable on your page and get some real action going. More than intentions are needed.
I have met so many Syrian refugees in refugee camps in Sicily and can say, with all honesty that they have been some of the kindest people I have ever had the opportunity to engage with, even in their dire circumstances far from home their grace impressed me—something I will never forget.
They deserve more than our memes, more than our empty rhetoric. Talk is cheap and ubiquitous. There is so much we can’t do. Let’s put our energies into something we can.
And to quote my friend Eric, a man who has done much to alleviate the suffering of Africans in their own countries : “If you can’t point out Syria on a map, maybe you should stay out of the discussion.”
Here are some organizations that you can get involved with or donate to: