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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Empathy for the Ukrainians Not Whataboutism

As many around the world, I have been marvelled at the shows of empathy to the Ukrainians by neighboring countries. It warms my heart to notice that empathy exists in Europe. It makes me feel that things might be ok.

Yet, as many brown people I have felt prey of the "what about" fallacy. What about the Syrian refugees? Or the Honduran fleeing danger? As the biggest newspaper in Switzerland explains "es sind dies Mal echte Flüchtlinge". As the racist editorial in the bigoted, xenophobic newspaper explains, this time the refugees are "real", not brown bodies.

I do hope for the removal of whoever wrote and enable such shows of inhumane editorial practices. But as I do I have to agree with one thing the racist implied: We need to do whatever racist process that enables empathy for the Ukrainians to flow. We need to help the ones in need.

But what about the irony? Note it down. Store it in your memory. Take evidence for the next battle. But do not let it limit your empathy. Humans are in danger. People need our help. We need to help. We need to help and account for how much the others help.

In the next crisis we can use our new knowledge of the size of the human heart to rightfully ask for what is needed. Pinpoint racist talk points and spotlight the gates that prevent empathy to flare up. It is a sad truth that a new brown crisis will come up.

We need to use the knowledge of how much people help the white to fire our quest for justice. But today is not the day. What about Syria? It sucked, it sucks. But thankfully we are less awful to the people of Ukraine. Hopefully we can in the future care for all the same as we do for the blue eyed pale Ukrainians.

Racism exist. It controls our power structures and how we care for humanitarian crises. They need to be eradicated. Yet the war in Ukraine requires our hearts not our whataboutism and other misinformation fallacies.

PS: An anecdote

During my studies. I was the student that would ask questions. I would ask many questions. Most questions. I had a big ego. I just assumed that if I did not understand something probably the others did not and just would not ask.

Later on, I learned part of my macho behavior was right. Many people felt as if they could not ask questions. I still feel bad for them. But I struggled with what to do.

I try to make less questions. I work to improve the questions I ask by filtering and editing them. I wait for people to ask first. I try to be a better citizen of the places I inhabit.

But I learned that it is not my role to stop asking questions. What is needed is for everyone to feel as if they can ask questions. Remove biases such as the sexism that leads women to feel out of place rasing their hands.

Ideally, every student should be able to ask questions when they have one. Every refugee should receive asylum when fleeing a war or any humanitarian crisis. Racism and sexism need to be eradicated but until that day comes, we need to avoid whataboutism and give praise to what deserve praise and flac to racist behavior.

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