Yusra Dahri, London
As my fingers skid across the keyboard, I not only present my thoughts to you, but I influence how you hear them. Is one thing more significant than another? Or another more stressed? What do you hear? Is it it LOUD or quiet? AmIconfusingyourushingyouafterallhowshouldyoubereadingthis?
How do you feel when you read this? Who do you think I am, and what do you think I’m trying to say?
What is the voice you hear?
And whose story do you think I’m trying to tell?
The above tend to be questions that any active reader asks themselves whilst reading. However, as constantly bombarded with information we are on a daily basis, surely even the most active reader would become exhausted and start passively accepting information at some point.
Usually from an early age, by either our teachers or our parents, we are taught to think before we speak. Nowadays, we think that happens less and less with introduction of social media. However, is that really true?
In reality, the duty to carefully curate our words is the first, universal responsibility we have and everyone keenly senses how we use them. We know the power of language. We know how it can be used to manipulate, even in the most innocent of ways. And this is amplified by the mainstream media.
The narratives that we know are founded upon the same ‘truths’, obviously. However, it is in the presentation of these truths that diversity of opinion emerges. All language has a purpose, otherwise why would it exist?
Likewise, the very way that we perceive the world, others and even ourselves is affected by this. We all know that we are connected more than ever before, but on a human level, are we really? Hiding behind our screens, we are often inflicted with a false sense of bravado. Ironically, we tend to witness the kind of immature shouting match that we thought we left behind in our diaper days more than constructive and intelligent dialogue. If everyone is fighting to get the last word, the sad truth is no one can really be heard. If everyone is in a bid to ‘out dazzle’ each other, the truth never really gets its moment in the spotlight.
Furthermore, the media can change the perception we have of ourselves. Of course, we know this. Take for instance the “even smarter, even slimmer, even richer” standards that are impossible to meet, or conversely what is in my opinion one of the great trends of the last few years namely that self-care and motivation has been riding a hype, but that hype too is dying down. All of this can alter our self-perceptions and have deep-reaching impact.
However, what I’m mainly referring to is the portrayal of minorities and marginalised communities. To be fair, I don’t think the mainstream media is particularly as cruel as some individuals can be. However, speaking as someone who grew up in a generation where social media and global connectivity were almost a rule of life, I think we have to think what message we are sending to the children of this generation. I wouldn’t want any child to read or hear a part of themselves, be it religion, race or identity, ripped apart by someone who ‘forgot to think’.
There was nothing more harrowing to me as a child to read the cruel, alien words of others about myself yet to hear them echoing in my own mind. I was both my own victim and criminal. When you can’t find the words to fight back, you feel nothing but a woeful acceptance. I was lucky in the sense that I could just close a tab or browser, but for the children who couldn’t escape what the media reflected in our world, I only hope they never began to believe it. That they had the courage to find their own sense of self. Especially as what we believe, we tend to become.
Not to get to twisted up in Pavlovian theory, but the words we see commonly lumped together in the news such as ‘crime’ and ‘refugee’ and ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ are going to create (and have created) adverse connotations in our minds such that even refugees and Muslims themselves will have trouble forgetting the ‘classical conditioning’ that has created this fear, even though we know better. Is the media narrative to blame?
In our time on this earth, we have amassed a mountain of history and literature. We know how people thought, what they believed (Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, are a testament to the anti-Semitism of his time) and yet we still have the audacity to laugh at them.
If our words are really (as they were for our ancestors) our ‘time capsule’ for the future I suggest we cease our mocking. We are remembered for as much we say as we do.
And if this is our legacy, I think our descendants will get their fair share of amusement.