Necessary Dialogue

Cartoon showing how people perceive shooters of different backgrounds

(image copied from BBC news trending link)

Look at the image above. What emotions does it evoke? Is there truth in it? Are there false assumptions in it? What groups seem to be negatively targeted in the image? What groups are left out? Is it a fair comparison of the groups represented? What is unfair about it? With what purpose was it created?

If I am being completely honest, I love images like this. It isn’t because of exactly what they depict, or because I always agree with them, or even always disagree with them. I love images like this because they are a powerful tool to open up and evoke dialogue about real and important; issues about prejudices, stereotypes, societal ideals, current events, and more.

When I see an image like this, I immediately start asking myself questions about it. I analyze it. I tear it apart in my mind. I break it down until I feel that I can see it from every perspective possible. Then, I begin to form my own opinion about the image, its importance, its potential harm, its failings, its triumphs, and most importantly, how it can be used to effectively begin a dialogue about the issues it represents. I do the same with articles, events, facebook posts, tweets, and any other form of shared opinion. I do it because I think the world needs to be look at more critically. I think the world’s happenings need to be challenged, evaluated, discussed, and reviewed rather than just be accepted as they so often are.

Dialogues, whether they take place in person, on the internet through newspapers and journals or the various forms of social media, through political debates, or protests in the street, are an important step in working towards change. Discussion is where change begins.

So, let’s discuss.

This image was powerful to me from the first moment I saw it. As part of an article on the BBC news website, the image was used to discuss whether or not the #ChapelHillShooting hashtag was created and used by Muslim communities too soon after the event. The image was used as an example of the spiral effect that hashtags and images following events can have on skewing people’s opinions of an event. A discussion of the image’s role in such a case is absolutely valid and necessary; but seeing as how it has already begun to take place through the article to which it was attached, I would instead like to begin a discussion of the image itself.

 The image is full of thought provoking elements. First, there is the clear categorization of people. The image categorizes people based on race, religion, profession, purpose, and reactionary outcomes to the actions being displayed. I find this breakdown particularly interesting because, although society compares these categorizations just as the image depicts, the categories are very different.

Is it fair to compare a person’s religious motives to a person’s racial motives or their professional motives? I would argue that in most cases, it isn’t a fair comparison. Yet it is a comparison that is consistently used by the media and society in general.

Why is it that the actions of an individual, or a small group of Muslims is used to berate and demonize the entire religion? Why are similar actions taken by a Christian (for example) only met with criticism of that particular individual? Why are the violent actions of someone with black skin made to represent a failing of an entire race? Why are the violent actions of someone with white skin made to represent the failings of that single individual’s upbringing, rather than a whole race? Why is someone who is trained in violence a representative of good, when someone who picks up a weapon in defense of their surroundings is deemed to represent the bad side of society?

The comparisons don’t always make sense. They are rarely truly justified. They increase stereotypes and prejudices; and yet, they are almost always accepted as fact; as right; as truth.

If a peaceful global society is ever going to truly exist, society needs to start questioning the standards of comparison that have been set for them. More people need to be willing to talk openly about what they think is unfair. Images, social media posts, blogs, newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, movies, art, music; all of these elements and more offer a chance to evoke dialogues about the important issues facing a global society. Discussion is where change begins. Discussion can lead to action. Action will lead to change.

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