Retake the narrative

Wrote a response to someone asking, “Why should Muslims have to answer for what some madmen do halfway across the world?”

It’s not about what’s right or fair, unfortunately. It’s ultimately about controlling the narrative, in a reality where a vast number people, including those in positions of power, are troublingly uninformed.

Let’s avoid race and religion for a minute. Let’s take something like say, football fans and football hooliganism. Even here, the most extreme cases will always end up hijacking the narrative amongst the uninformed.

If you’ve never watched football before, and you don’t personally know anybody that likes football, and the only thing you see in the news is examples of riots and fighting following football games, you’re quite likely to assume (based on the news reports that you read) that football is a horrible sport.

This isn’t very fair, but that’s life. The implicit connection is made, often even if you try to tell yourself “I’m sure they’re not all like that”. (Consider how people feel less comfortable flying after reading about a horrible plane crash, even when we intellectually know that these are statistically unlikely.)

Unfair implicit connections are made all the time, and if nobody makes an effort to correct them, they persist. A stereotype is perpetuated, and a prejudice is born.

Now, suppose I love football. I see it as a beautiful, honorable game that’s all about discipline and teamwork and honour. I simply can’t comprehend why some “football fans” (and I use quotes because in my opinion, these folks don’t even qualify as real fans– they’re OBVIOUSLY just thugs who use football as an excuse to commit acts of violence) do such terrible things.

Am I, as a football fan, obliged to speak on behalf of these radical, crazy hooligans?

Technically, I’m not.

In a perfect world, I shouldn’t have to.

But if I don’t, then that’s the only side of the story people ever hear.

So then I have to ask myself, should I remain indifferent to some people subverting the thing that I love, and others mistaking that perversion for an accurate representation of reality?

I could! I’m totally entitled to!

What I do next is entirely up to me. I can either witness an unfavorable stereotype be perpetuated, or I can step in and say no, that’s not cool.

Some people are lucky; they never have to care about this. If a certain type of person shoots up a school, nobody asks other persons of that background to step up and change the narrative. That’s a privilege the rest of us don’t have. Every woman has to carry this burden of representing her gender. Every minority has to carry the burden of representing their culture. It’s not fair, but it’s how it is.

Perhaps things will change in the coming decades. But it won’t happen by itself. It’ll take a lot of work.

The question is, who’s going to do it? If not you, who?

I’m reminded of Benjamin from Animal Farm. He was one of the wisest dudes on the farm, wise enough to know that he was witnessing some serious bullshit. But he was far too weary and cynical to get involved. And was he under any obligation to get involved? Of course not.

And when they betrayed and murdered his best friend, his protests were too little, too late.

He was the one creature on the farm who had the knowledge and perspective to actually make a difference.


It’s deeply unjust that the world we live in is full of negative stereotypes and unfair generalizations. It SHOULDN’T be anybody’s responsibility to correct the ignorance of others.

But if you have the time to say “Why should I care?”, then you have the time to pitch in to make a difference. The power is yours.

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