Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"savage"

There are a lot of things that irritate me. CNN comments at the bottoms of articles are generally distasteful, illogical political arguments with only religious texts used as evidence get me heated, and Facebook statuses of people from my high school can be pretty face-palm worthy. There are some things, though, that make me plain mad. Red-vision, blood-boiling, fist-clenching mad. Here's one of them. Read under the cut if you wish.




Earlier this summer, a friend informed me that these ads were going to appear in San Francisco on the sides of buses. I was shocked when he told me, and sickened at the thought. Imagine: you're waiting to catch the bus, your two dollars in hand, and finally the bus pulls up. On the side of it, it says plainly, for everyone to see, "Your people are savages." Blacks are savages. Jews are savages. Latinos, Asians, Indigenous people, you are savages. You are expected to stare straight ahead and simply board the bus as if nothing was wrong. Yesterday a Muslim activist, Mona Eltahawy, decided she would not just stare ahead and was arrested (and spent the night in jail) for spray-painting over this ad in a subway station in New York City.

I'm sorry, but fuck that.

I don't agree with everything Mona has done. For example, I disagree with her on the topic of bans for face-veils and niqabs, and I thought her article "Why Do They Hate Us?" had some problematic aspects. Our differences aside though, I really fucking respect her for what she did yesterday. (Check out the footage here.) If I did not have to worry about how an arrest would hinder to my ability to serve my students, I would be out there spraying the shit out of these posters too. This language should not be tolerated, by anyone, against anyone, period. End of story.

Today with my students, we talked about the word "savage" and why it is so vile. We looked at the definition. Nearly every definition I found contained the aside "of an animal." Because I teach literacy, I asked the kids what they thought the italicized bit meant. They pondered it, and then answered, "It means that the word savage is used to talk about animals." Exactly. So the word savage is reserved for animals, and the meaning is "uncontrolled, violent, fierce." My students, brilliant and perceptive young adults that they are, discerned that the ad, then, was making the claim that Muslims are animals and they are violent.

Why the leap to Muslims? Geller, the hate-mongering "activist" who created these ads, is a well-known Islamophobe. Though she specifically named Israel as the country deserving of support, she used "jihad" as the opposition. Jihad is not Palestine. Jihad is not even "Islamic terrorism," though the word has been hijacked to make the two seem synonymous. Jihad is the struggle that every Muslim faces. It is most commonly the struggle to be a good Muslim, the struggle to build a strong religious family and community, and the struggle to defend Islam⎯with force only when necessary. So, if the objective is to "defeat jihad," what that means is to defeat Muslims. The ad is saying that Muslims are animals, and we must fight them.

The word "savage" carries so much horrible history. Geller is a competent enough woman⎯I am certain that she knows the background. Indigenous people of the Americas and Africans brought as slaves were both labeled "savages." These people were seen as subhuman, and so were treated brutally and denied their equal rights for centuries⎯some would argue to this day. The word "savage" has been used to justify acts of violence, oppression, and even genocide.


So yeah, I'm mad. Some people are trying to reclaim the word "savage," but frankly I don't support that. There is no way in hell I'm going to label myself an animal so that I make it that much easier for people to justify treating me as subhuman. I'm not going to hold up a word that has been used to oppress and destroy whole cultures, whole races, throughout history. I never will refer to myself as a savage because I know the danger that word holds. It is a word that, when said enough, can convince people that some folks are not deserving of respect, are not deserving of rights, are not even deserving of their lives. It's a word that can convince people that it's okay to enslave a group, that it's okay to wage a violent, bloody war in order to annihilate them. It's so easy to hate what isn't "human."


...phew. Quite a heavy post for me to come back with, but it needed to be said, and I need to say it. Having this on my hand today was a silent but firm protest, and a humble display of solidarity. It's hard sometimes to be a teacher because I can't always say the burning things on my mind. I did, however, get to have some really powerful conversations with both students and staff about this, and that meant so much to me. Some days I just need to say, "This really fucked up thing is happening and I want someone else to know."

I'll be posting pictures soon, maybe even later tonight. Thank you as always for your love and support. I recognize that there is still so much good in the world, even when I'm momentarily struggling to see it.


Ps. I have some mad love for my Jewish brothers and sisters. Here's another reason why. :)

1 comment :

  1. SMH, this is horrible. How are these posters even allowed in public places? I despise how the message tries so hard to justify racism. I'm glad to hear that you brought this up with your students. It's definitely something to discuss about.

    ReplyDelete

Comments make my day⎯really! I love reading what you have to say. Hope to hear from you. :)

Best,
Leila

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