03 September, 2016

We dehumanize people when we reduce them to a single thing.

You, everyone, reallyreally must watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie giving her speech on World Humanitarian Day 2016 at the United Nations. This speech should be listened to, studied, and discussed vigorously. It is a marvelous feast for thought.

Ngozi Adichie says, “We dehumanize people when we reduce them to a single thing.” She persuasively talks about how insidious and unconscious this systemic process is. Living in our world today, and particularly in Germany, the practice of media and people to refer to those in great tragic need for shelter only as refugees is systemic. We do them a disservice by reducing them to this label. They have so much to say. We should be listening to their stories. We should be opening our minds and borders to their dilemma.

Shamefully, I have heard heated discussion among friends and acquaintances about the refugee situation, questioning whether those who have been admitted entry into this country are “real” refugees and “not real” refugees. The media and people insist on differentiating between war refugees and those how have flown their countries out of dire situations caused by sociopolitical, economic or climate change disasters.

Even though this is only anecdotal, all those I have met who have flown from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, or Eritrea have done so at great risk to their lives. They have suffered beyond belief. Not one did so out of self-service or a wish to profit from our social services. Not one hasn’t suffered or lost dear ones to hunger, in disease-ridden camps, through corporal punishment inflicted by police or government officials, in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or under unbearable conditions of overland transport. They have lost everything.

In my opinion, future generations will look back at this point in history and judge us according to how we have acted during this great humanitarian crisis and not whether some hatemonger gets elected as President of the United States. Shouldn’t we all, including the media, concentrate our focus on this ongoing disaster? As Ngozi Adichie says, “We cannot measure our humanity, but can act upon it.”

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