Today the whole internet is talking about Donald Trump Jr.’s recent tweet comparing refugees to poisoned Skittles.
When I first saw the tweet, I was sickened by Trump Jr.'s — and by extension our country’s — inability to see refugees as human beings in need of help. But I also was reminded of a similar tweet with a vastly different response two years ago.
In the spring of 2014, following the misogyny-inspired mass shooting of six at UC Santa Barbara in Ilsa Vista, Calif., the hashtags #notallmen and #yesallwomen circulated as everyone attempted to debrief yet another act of violence in our country.
One such tweet, which has since been deleted but was circulated widely at the time, read:
“Imagine a bowl of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful. Not all M&Ms are poison. #YesAllWomen.”
The premise being, of course, that while good men do exist in the world, women have spent a lifetime preparing to meet one who is not.
These two tweets are clearly based on the same concept. In a pool of good people, there are bad ones. And, if you search #yesallwomen on Twitter these days, some have taken issue with bringing this up, acccusing feminism of misandry. It is easy to make a connection between the embrace of the M&Ms framing and the widespread denunciation of the Skittles tweet, and for some to say “those liberals, they’re such hypocrites.” But the difference — and this is a crucial difference — between “refugees as Skittles” and “men as M&Ms” is the unspoken power imbalance between those who are the subject of the analogy and those who are saying it.
Refugees are, in many ways, exactly who Jesus is referring to when he speaks of “the least of these.” They are without a home to return to, completely dependent on the generosity of strangers, and have experienced violence and terror many of us cannot fathom. If they are welcomed into the United States, they are faced with prejudice, racism, and in some cases, threats of physical violence.
And men, the object of the M&M metaphor, are a privileged group of people. Though many men experience hardship, pain, and trauma, being male — as a political demographic — means you hold power that others do not. Men are paid more than women, and the gap worsens when we focus on women of color. Men can be victims of sexual assault, but they are assaulted at a lower rate then women, and they are not taught to treat it as a pervasive fear the way women are. Men comprise the majority of leadership of the nation, businesses, and religious institutions.
When you start to look at the power and underlying dynamics of the people we are talking about, the comparison breaks down. As people of faith, we do a disservice to our faith when we ignore the nuances of how our systems create people considered “the least of these.”
If we really want to compare Skittles to M&Ms, I’ve made some edits to Trump Jr.’s latest tweet that better reflect the power structures at play: “Hello person seeking refuge. Here is a bowl of Skittles. Half of these Skittles think you and your children are terrorists and do not deserve to be here.
Welcome to the United States.”