Comparing Skittles to refugees is stupid, but not because you’re equating people to candy. It’s because broad generalizations are the very definition of prejudice. It’s something that’s easy to say, easy to understand, gets people emotionally fired up, but doesn’t make any actual sense.
Donald Trump Jr’s Tweet & the Internet’s Response
Donald Trump Jr recently tweeted: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 19, 2016
* This tweet used to show a bowl of Skittles. The image was removed because Donald Trump, Jr used a copyrighted photo without permission.
There was immediate backlash from the internet and the media for comparing refugees to Skittles. Though it’s a well-intentioned criticism from the public, it completely misses the bigger problem.
I don’t think there’s a problem with comparing people to candy. It’s a metaphor. That’s what metaphors are. They compare things that aren’t alike to make a point.
The real problem is the point that Donald Trump Jr is making – that a few people represent an entire population and we should treat them as such.
This Analogy is Prejudice, and Why That’s a Problem
What Donald Trump Jr is saying is that because a few Syrian refugees are terrorists, we can’t take that chance and should therefore ban all Syrian refugees to be safe. This is on point with Donald Trump, the Trump campaign, and a large portion of Trump supporters.
* They also take the liberties of equating “Syrian” with anyone who looks Middle Eastern or Muslim, and “refugee” with any immigrant, children of immigrants, or someone who looks like an immigrant.
This is wrong on so many levels, the most basic one being that no Syrian refugee (using that term very specifically to mean a person with refugee status fleeing from Syria) has ever committed an act of terror or violence in the United States.
But the deeper level of why this argument is wrong – not just morally, but plain logically – is that you’re taking a small group of people, identifying a single trait, and projecting that onto an entire population. That’s what prejudice is. And from prejudice, we get racism, sexism, bigotry, etc.
There Have Been Muslim, Middle Eastern Terrorists in the US
Yes, acts of terror have been committed in the US.
In the Boston bombing, the two brothers were Muslim. They both identified as Chechen, which is obscure enough for many Americans to lump them into the Middle Eastern category. However, they were born in Kyrgyzstan and Kalmyk ASSR, which were both part of the former USSR and mostly considered Russian. But of course, we’re not blaming Russia because Trump loves Putin.
In the San Bernardino shooting, the shooters were of Pakistani decent and pledged allegiance to ISIS. So, they got lumped into the Middle Eastern & Muslim group. But we ignore that the husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, was a natural-born US citizen from Chicago.
In the Orlando shooting, Omar Mateen was of Afghani descent and was influenced by ISIS, so he fits into the Middle Eastern Muslim profile. But he was also a natural-born US citizen from New York.
Based on the common characteristics of these recent terrorists, it would be easy to say that Muslims from the Middle East are terrorists, or likely to be terrorists (ignoring that they were actually born in the US or in Russia).
This makes it easy to ban Syrian refugees because, well, they’re Middle-Eastern and they’re probably Muslim. And most people take it further to be suspicious of all immigrants, or people of other faiths such as Sikhs who are often mistaken as Muslims.
So people who support a ban on Syrian refugees are saying that a small group of people who exhibit similar characteristics of ethnicity and religion are dangerous, so therefore all people with those similar characteristics are also dangerous.
Seems to make sense. It’s simple. It fits into a digestible narrative that’s easy to understand. Muslims are bad. Arabs are bad. Keep them out. And anyone who looks like them.
So, let’s apply this reasoning across the board.
White Americans Are Also Terrorists
In the Aurora movie theater shooting, James Holmes was a white, American-born citizen.
In the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Adam Lanza was a white, American-born citizen.
In the Charleston church shooting, Dylann Roof was a white, American-born citizen.
Based on the same logic that we use to scapegoat Syrian refugees, there are a handful of people who committed acts of terrorism. They are all white. They are all natural-born American citizens. Therefore, to keep America safe and not take any chances, we should deport all white, American citizens, including anyone who looks white.
As an Asian immigrant and naturalized US citizen, I surely don’t want any white, natural-born US citizens to be in my neighborhood shooting my children.
You can see how stupid of an argument this is, but we seem to be blind to that stupidity when applying the same line of reasoning to Syrian refugees.
And if you’re thinking that Islam is the root of terrorism, let’s not forget the Crusades, the slave trade, British colonization, American colonization, American slavery, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and Apartheid, (just to name a few) who all committed horrible crimes against humanity under the banner and justification of Christianity.
Judging entire populations because a small group of people commit crimes that have some characteristics in common is just stupid.
Don’t Be Stupid. Or Racist.
This isn’t a moral judgement – it’s just plain logic that a child would understand.
If a toddler eats a bad Skittle, they might think all Skittles are bad. But if an older child eats a bad Skittle, they’re smart enough to realize that it was bad Skittle. It doesn’t mean all Skittles are bad. In fact, the vast majority of Skittles are delicious. Something was wrong with that one Skittle. There is nothing wrong with Skittles in general.
But I get it. When the world seems chaotic and dangerous, you need to make sense of it. There needs to be a reason for why there is chaos, and it’s easiest to make sense of it if a person or group of people are causing that chaos.
So when a populist candidate comes around and says what people want to hear – empathizes with their pain, reaffirms their fears, identifies an enemy, and gives a simple solution – they are the greatest story teller and marketer in the world.
That’s what Trump, Trump’s campaign, and those who support a nationalistic and nativist ideology offer. It’s mostly lies and racism, but we ignore that because it’s such a clear and simple story to digest.
That’s how Trump is able to sway such large populations to adopt a worldview that makes no logical sense – he’s a brilliant marketer that uses the basic rules of sales and entertainment to capitalize on people’s emotions. The presidential race is one big reality show to him, and he’s killing it.
Except the lives of refugees aren’t a reality show.
They are real people just like you and me. They have the same fears of extremists and terrorists – that’s why they’re refugees. They have the same hopes that their children will thrive and succeed and contribute to society – that’s why they’re coming to America.
So either a few bad people are terrorists, or all Syrian refugees are terrorists, which means all white Americans are also terrorists. Which probably includes you. So if you’re telling refugees or immigrants to leave, please close the door on your way out.