I’ve heard people wonder aloud why the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand have garnered worldwide attention, support and sympathy while the more-than-2,000 young children who are trapped away from their parents seem to be forgotten, to not matter, to be a lesser story. I think the reason is fairly simple: The 2,000 are faceless and invisible.
We humans tend to ignore what is out of sight. How often do we turn our attention to the elders who sit alone and neglected in the often smelly, lonely halls of nursing homes? Do we worry about the people in our prison system, most of whom have caused no harm to anyone and yet have lost access to all the important parts of their lives … to family, neighborhood, community and, most horribly, to the freedom that every adult deserves. Do we think about the animals bound and tied, starved and beaten by callous owners? Do we worry about those who need medical care but who have to die instead because they don’t have the insurance coverage or the money to take care of their basic needs?
Without giving situations a face and a story, people tend to do nothing. What we don’t know about, see or think about can’t be “fixed.” Once we see that shivering animal, the crying child, the unjustly punished, we begin to identify with the situation and help. We care when we can see a fellow living being in need. Their pain becomes palpable. Most of us, the good people we are, feel an urge to reach out and help.
So why were we all riveted to our TVs for this cave rescue? After all, those kids were half a world away. Why did we find ourselves truly caring about them and, at the same time, not showing much concern for the plight of little children forcibly taken from their mother or father right here in our own country? First of all, never seeing their faces makes them unreal to us. Add to that that the media didn’t tell their stories so that we could judge for ourselves the plight of these battered and desperate refugees. We were, in fact, actively pushed away from our feelings by media committed to making us see them as “the other,” different from us, undeserving of asylum, of a safe place to stop running.
What we heard was that they deserved what they got, that they “broke the law.” We could look away and not feel guilt since they had been stripped of their stories, their faces, of the valid reasons they made that amazing and treacherous journey northward. This intentional failure to tell the truth and give the full context of our supposed immigrant “problem” is outrageous and dishonors true journalism. We are not told about the long-term U.S. meddling in Central American affairs. Had we been given context, most of us, as the big-hearted Americans we generally are, would have responded and would still be responding differently.
By not telling that story, leaving out the history and the causes of this ongoing problem, we feel justified in turning our backs to the suffering of thousands without even knowing the part our own country has played in this ongoing exodus.
The U.S. created much of the disarray in Central America, leaving them under the control of tyrants. Citizens of that region flee for their lives. We need to wake up and know that we are being deprived of facts about what is happening. We need to be leery of swallowing what our media tell us. They are no longer independent sources of information. Instead, we are being stealthily turned into sheep rather than free-thinkers. We have to be on the alert for anything that makes us feel anger or hatred. Media that cause us to feel this are part of the corporate conglomerates forming us into easy marks for manipulation and control by those who would pit us against each other by appealing to our baser emotions.
Perhaps the best way to circumvent this effort is to just turn-off the news and turn on our inner knowing that all human beings seek the same thing. We all want to be happy, live in peace and be free. Being brown or black doesn’t change that yearning, that right. Were we in the same circumstances, we too would do everything in our power to save our families. Know that. Feel that. Then, soften that heart and open your mind. Fight back against horrific policies with compassion - no matter what your television tells you.
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who is a former resident of Houma.