Let’s be clear. Donald Trump Jnr didn’t just compare Syrian refugees to skittles. He referred to them as poisoned skittles!
Bearing in mind that the odds of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack are about 1 in more than 3.6 billion, Mr Trump’s comparison of a few poisoned skittles in a bowl of candy isn’t even close to the reality.
But it’s the reductionism that I find so distressing. To reduce desperate asylum seekers to poisoned candy is just such a dehumanizing thing to do.
Of course, Wrigley, the makers of Skittles jumped on it quickly releasing a statement pointing out the bleeding obvious, “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.”
Similarly (like father like son) Donald Trump Snr has routinely compared Syrian refugees to snakes, using the lyrics of a song that tells the story of a woman who takes a snake into her house to try to rehabilitate it, only to have it kill her.
But it’s not just the Trumps. Last year Britain’s Daily Mail caused an outcry when it published a cartoon depicting Muslim refugees as rats. The horror, of course, is that this is exactly how Nazi Germany depicted Jews. As rats that needed to be fumigated from their nation.
And then there’s the practice of referring to indigenous Australians as apes, like the racist football fan who was recently ejected from a stadium when she threw a banana at an Aboriginal player in a clear attempt to cast him as a monkey.
It’s called objectifying behavior.
In order to protect ourselves from others we have to distance ourselves from them. We have to turn them into objects so we can treat them without having to consider their feelings.
When we objectify others, we strip them of their humanity and their individuality, hence objectification is also called depersonification.
People can be seen as rats, snakes, apes, even poisoned candy.
At its most benign objectifying others looks like name-calling. At its worst it turns into scapegoating.
When our anxiety about a situation becomes unbearable we find people we can objectify and load our fears on. Like the original scapegoat from Leviticus 16, where all the sins that were likely to poison relations within Israel were transferred to an animal that was then driven into the wilderness, we do the same with our poisonous anxieties as well.
We’re afraid of random acts of terrorism. And reasonably so. So we call all Muslims snakes or rats. It makes us feel better. For a little while, at least. But it doesn’t make us safer at all in the long run.
The opposite of objectification is empathy. And it seems to be in very short supply these days.
To empathize with another is to see them as fully human and as worthy of respect and dignity as we believe ourselves to be. It results in compassion and mercy, generosity and hospitality. Accepting an increased quota of appropriately vetted refugees from Syria seems to be an entirely empathic, Christian thing to do.
And if I remember correctly that’s pretty much was Jesus told us to do, right?