Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.

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?

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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5 thoughts on “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.

  1. “And if I remember correctly that’s pretty much was Jesus told us to do, right?”

  2. Very thoughtful post. The definition of objectification and the rationale behind it are very true. It makes complete sense in the context of refugees.

    I don’t want to hijack this blog post, but I just want to get this out while it is fresh on my mind. I have often wondered about objectification in the context of women. The simple answer is that boys will be boys. I have always thought it has to be a deeper issue than that. Most men don’t objectify their mom, sisters or daughters. I wonder how the definition and rationale behind objectification in the context of refugees applies to the objectification of women? I suspect it is fear-based. Maybe fear of acceptance and belonging? If so, then maybe empathy is the solution to the issue of objectification of women?

  3. I love this response to the skittles analogy (thanks Ernie Reilly):

    “If I gave you a bowl of skittles and three of them were poison would you still eat them?”

    “Are the other skittles human lives?”


    “Like. Is there a good chance. A really good chance. I would be saving someone from a war zone and probably their life if I ate a skittle?”

    “Well sure. But the point-”

    “I would eat the skittles.”

    “Ok-well the point is-”

    “I would GORGE myself on skittles. I would eat every single skittle I could find. I would STUFF myself with skittles. And when I found the poison skittle and died I would make sure to leave behind a legacy of children and of friends who also ate skittle after skittle until there were no skittles to be eaten. And each person who found the poison skittle we would weep for. We would weep for their loss, for their sacrifice, and for the fact that they did not let themselves succumb to fear but made the world a better place by eating skittles.

    Because your REAL question…the one you hid behind a shitty little inaccurate, insensitive, dehumanizing racist little candy metaphor is, IS MY LIFE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF MEN, WOMEN, AND TERRIFIED CHILDREN…

    … and what kind of monster would think the answer to that question… is yes?”

  4. I get it! I try to live with the truth of Imago dei. But I am curious as to anyone’s thoughts on Jesus calling His Imago dei people “brood of vipers” was that Jesus calling someone a snake. I am not defending anyone. It is just an observation. I can barely watch any news knowing how it effects me. May the Lord be merciful to us all.

    1. Yeah, I guess calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers or Herod a sly fox is pretty objectifying. But it’s worthwhile pointing out the distinction that when Jesus does it he’s attacking the oppressors not the oppressed. And he doesn’t scapegoat them. In fact, Jesus is the Ultimate Scapegoat himself. Today, we reserve our most objectifying language for the weak, the outsider, the marginalized, the disadvantaged. And it’s shameful.

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