A guest post by Sophia Gardiner, artist in residence at Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) who delivered Re-Telling: Scapegoats, Media & Politics on Thursday 4 September as part of our Work in Progress exhibition.
The term ‘Scapegoat’ stems from Ancient Greek and Hebrew traditions. In the Biblical text, an actual goat is prepared as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the populace by having it ‘carry’ their sins out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement, removing sin from the community. The original term ‘azazel’, means ‘for removal’, or ‘sender away of sins’.
In modern usage, ‘Scapegoat’ or ‘Scapegoating’ refers to the practice of singling out a particular party for unmerited blame in society. As a political tool, we often see the scapegoating of distinct social groups. Throughout recent history, such group range from Trade Unionists, the Jewish community, migrant groups (such as immigrants from the West Indies and Eastern European migrants), Irish Travellers, the unemployed, the Muslim community and refugees. Such scapegoats are often propagated by mainstream media, who neglect important facts about these communities, twist visual representations and appropriate situations to the advantage of the worldview that they are selling – often in favour of those who seek to profit from social division.
Working with refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced peoples, I have seen first hand how scapegoating can affect communities and individuals. It results in social isolation, mental health issues such as depression and a lack of awareness about your rights. It also brings about stereotyping, racial tensions, prevents accountability, legitimises harmful legislation targeting certain groups, hate crime and violence.
With a delegation from RAPAR human rights charity, I arranged a workshop which would give victims of scapegoating, some of the most persecuted and voiceless individuals in our community, an opportunity to actively confront the media that is used against them by politicians and tabloids, by cutting apart the hysterical headlines, ill-informed quotations and propaganda to tell it like it is…
“I had no idea how therapeutic that could be, cutting up all those offensive headlines!”
– Nahella (Workshop Participant)
“We have all these untruths and biased opinions of the politicians and newspapers which have some really hurtful affects on these communities, we did not simply say ‘this is your opinion, but we think…’ it was about saying ‘your opinion is wrong, and here is why…’.”
– Workshop Participant
“The power is in the words and its how we use them. So we took the negative words and made them positive, and so can we do with our lives and society, to not to feed our younger generation with harmfully biased views, but with positive and welcoming attitude.”
– Manjeet (Workshop Participant)
“I think it was a very empowering exercise for us. I think these headlines are highly discriminatory, and I hate how they just get away with saying these things.”
– Workshop Participant
“I liked having the opportunity to express myself so that people will know we are here to contribute, to help this country not to hurt it. It is often hard to get people to understand this, but our work today made me feel better about confronting this attitude”.
– Abiola (Workshop Participant)
The delegation consisted primarily of asylum seekers (people who have claimed asylum after fleeing persecution in their own country). For them, the important aspect of this workshop was that the participants- rather than simply talking or writing about their own stories, were actively ‘Re-writing’ the propaganda used against them in a direct way.
They were able to not only challenge this media, but to challenge it in a way that would give them an outlet for not simply expressing themselves, but to do so in a community setting that would enhance their participation and dialogue about their perspective, their stories and how their existence should be acknowledged and understood that these communities are given space to speak out for themselves.