Stephanie Mullings: Our eyes

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 6:10pm

There are approximately 7.5 billion people in the world at this very moment, and each of us are distinctly different. That means there are 7.5 billion different fingerprints, or chromosomal sets — billions of bodies with unique faces, minds and movements. That reflects billions of connections, ways to communicate — billions of ways to live, feel and love.

Billions of moments and memories that make up identities and experiences. That also means there are billions of ways to hurt and cause pain. Billions of ways to divide, hate and fear. There are billions of ways to detach and ultimately billions of ways we can separate from each other.

What do we see when we look at one another? Is it just physical? Like skin color, hair texture and body type? Or the clothing we wear? Maybe it is more than that? Do we ever look beyond the surface and discover the languages and dialects we use? Where we come from? How we got here? Do we see the beauty of the individual? Do we acknowledge our various intellects? Experiences? Can we embrace our differences? Or will we continue to weaponize them, ultimately militarizing our very bodies, violating and exploiting not only our own character, but our environment as well. In a more general sense, what can we possibly gain from tearing each other apart?

I pondered these questions a few days after I reflected upon the tragic incidents which occurred in Manchester last week. My thought process was the following: First, it was accepting that the victims of this merciless killing were 22 innocent young people, not much younger nor older than myself, some of which were attending their first concert by themselves. Next, it was coming to the realization that a current pop culture icon like Ariana Grande, whom millions have grown up watching on Nickelodeon and idolize, would be targeted and attacked.

Typically, it is easy to become so far removed from acts of terror. Treacherous occurrences happen thousands of miles away, across oceans, involving people we have never seen nor known. We feel pity, sadness, uncertainty — and then as quickly as we were shaken by the tragedy, we move on, distracted by the normalcy of our own lives, forgetting about the ruin those affected now find themselves in. Manchester cannot be one of those instances. So I wonder, what happens now?  Fear? Mayhem? Hate? I think we can look to history to validate each of these conclusions.  

It is no secret that as acts of terrorism rapidly infect the globe, xenophobia follows in its wake. Xenophobia is defined as, “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries or cultures.” Following the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014, xenophobia most often appears in the form of, “a dislike of, or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force,” otherwise known as Islamophobia. We see this in the spike of hate crimes and anti-Muslim groups following 9/11, and even in our political culture. As recent as January, when President Trump’s executive order attempted to ban immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. It is interesting to note that even the President of the United States ran a campaign centered on rhetoric instilling the fear of our differences and now has taken executive action to keep us divided and isolated from others. The latest FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report, shows that anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen 67 percent, totaling 257 reported instances in 2015. According to the Pew Research Center analysis, that is the highest number since the al-Queda attacks on New York City and elsewhere in 2001. In recent years, we have seen this statistical trend demonstrated at the University as various Islamophobic incidents have occurred. For example, the anti-Muslim chalking on the Diag, or even more recently, the defiling of a prayer rug in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library — both of which gained national attention, spurring the involvement of the FBI. Last year, The Michigan Daily even published a piece entitled, “Muslim students say Islamophobia is frequent and underreported on campus.” We act cruelly and violently against each other, even on our own campus.

Just a few days ago, in Portland, Oregon, two men were fatally stabbed by a man who they confronted for yelling racist comments at two teenage girls on a commuter train. One of the girls was Black and the other was Muslim and wearing a hijab. These men, now identified as Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, have been labeled as heroes for their courageous actions. Given current undertones of today’s society, some may be lead to believe that it is acceptable to victimize people for their differences; however, these two men obviously did not share the same sentiment. They acted powerfully by countering this, thus standing up for their convictions and ultimately showing the world how things should be. Unfortunately, these men had to sacrifice their lives in order to do it.

There are approximately 7.5 billion people in the world at this very moment, and each of us are distinctly different. However, our differences lie in how we view them. With all of this being said, I’ll ask again.

What do we see when we look at one another?

What do you see?

Stephanie Mullings can be reached at srmulli@umich.edu