What Do You See?

genocide_2aEstimated deaths from genocide

What do you see when you look at this image?

Do you see a list of numbers?

Or do you see human lives?

Genocide has become, unfortunately, a word that our hearts can often be distant from. The majority of Americans have never come anywhere close to this type of persecution. All we know about genocide is what we have been taught and what we have seen on the news. Because of this our world is, by and large, quickly growing desensitized to this kind of injustice and violence. As we grew up history classes did teach us about a few of these past atrocities. And by a few I mean only the Holocaust. Possibly Rwanda. Apparently those are the only genocides deemed notable in our education system…

I digress.

Even with the little information that is discussed, genocides are frequently presented as a series of dates and facts – events we study and memorize as we learn to shove our emotions into the corner. The numbers of victims killed are talked about as if they are only statistics and not human beings. It seems that for the most part we have detached the humanity that rests beyond all of those zeros pictured above.

As much as I want to pin the blame on our education system and living in America, my ignorance is no one’s fault but my own. Because there came a point when I honestly choose to look away. It was easier. Maybe you feel the same way. We turned in the opposite direction, drowning out the voices of those hurting, rather than turning to hear their cries for help. But if we don’t rise up and fight for those suffering then who will? As Ginetta Sagan states, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” Remaining quiet speaks volumes of whose side we are actually on. While the international community may be passive and disengaged to ongoing injustices and genocide, we can choose to stand united and fight for the freedom of these innocent lives.

So we face the reality. In its entirety. No matter how frustrating or painful. Facing the truth about genocide is heavy, but educating ourselves and speaking up on behalf of those who can’t is the least we can do for those actually being victimized.

And the reality is, genocide doesn’t happen overnight.

We question how such terrible injustice can surface, but the truth is we willingly let it happen without putting up much of a fight. Genocide doesn’t happen out of the blue, but rather is systematic and organized. An accumulation of small acts of manipulation is what leads to greater violence and the atrocious mass killings that come to mind at the mention of genocide. Warning signs are always visible, it is just a matter of will we have the eyes to look for them?

To understand more about how genocide can occur we have to venture into the psychology of the perpetrators. An unlikely and twisted place to travel, but trying to see their motives can shed light onto how we can stop genocide in its tracks. Perpetrators are often driven by fear, power, control, greed, and narcissism. These motivations, among others, can quickly become the origin of destruction and domination.

Gregory H. Stanton made a predictable outline of the 8 stages of genocide that are typically seen throughout history. Obtaining a better understanding of these stages can allow for intervention as soon as warning signs are present. The initial stage of classification is all about distinguishing between “us” and “them”, whether that is by race, religion, culture, and nationality. During the symbolization stage the dominant group gives symbols and names to the other group. Classification and symbolization alone do not necessarily result in genocide. It is only by incorporating dehumanization that genocide is inevitable. It is through dehumanization that social death occurs because of the strong hatred attached to the victim group. Through hate speech and propaganda the dominant group completely denies the humanity of the other group. Perpetrators have become fully desensitized and no longer see the people that are behind the faces.

Although it is not anywhere close to the same degree, but I am afraid that we too have become partially desensitized to this type of injustice. The very fact that we can turn on the news today and still function proves of how numb we have become to violence. If the perpetrators of genocide are desensitized to their horrific actions and feeling nothing towards those they are hurting, will you allow yourself to feel for them and have that lead to you taking action? When we read about more deaths and continued destruction from genocide will you choose to see them as people and not just facts? Because these numbers we hear about are not mere statistics. They are human beings. And they are crying out for our help.

Will you listen?

-Riley Loftus


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