What is a human being? It sounds like a simple question, right? I guess (somewhat) scientifically speaking we are bags of water with various types of cells, a few organs and blood floating around held together by skin and muscles on a frame of bones. Brains to process our thoughts. Feelings and hormones buzzing between neurones. Tongues and lips that we might communicate organised sounds to one another. I’m sure we could all agree on that much.
Society doesn’t seem to find the notion of a human being quite as simple to define. Within each and every society, some people are more respected than others. When one looks closely at this, some intersections and marginalised groups within this shared bubble we live in, are not treated the same. Not given the same rights. Not valued the same.
What is it that makes one human being more valuable than another? The colour of the skin we see has so much misguided importance and determines a lot but it holds together the same cells and water we know we all share underneath. Different levels and types of melanin determine the shade of skin we wear and apparently the status we might hold in the world.
Racism and colourism, on an infrastructural level, tell us that white people – and within ethnic groups – lighter skinned people, have privilege in the UK. The pigmentation of someone’s skin is undeniably a determining factor in the value they are given. We start to see that history seems to be more significant in conditioning us as to what is a human being, rather than science.
The faster society changes and adapts to new ways of living, the more conditions there seem to be as to what makes a person’s life valued. The colour of one’s passport and one’s nationality, either gives incredible status or extreme lack of it. How can a passport have so much impact on the perception of worth? If someone is lacking in a passport at all, or in any kind of papers or documentation, then they are insignificant. The absence of these mean that individual has no rights whatsoever, it’s as if they don’t exist. Do words written on paper determine a human being’s actuality?
Refugees might have a different colour skin from the majority. The different words that come out of their mouth sound different; the religion they believe in is scary and the flag of their home country is unrecognisable. All of these factors make them undesirable. Less human? People refuse to understand or know their struggle, making it false and invalid in their own minds. Having no comprehension of whatever it might be that any refugees are fleeing from, does not mean that it isn’t real. People who have never faced a situation when risking your life and the life of your children is still the better option, does not mean that anybody can pass judgment. The same privileged people would expect an open welcome if they were ever running for their lives, because they have never been turned away. They have never had to question the worth of their own life.
Women are attacked and abused on a daily basis by those closest to them, by acquaintances and by total strangers. Why is there still so much abuse against all women? Women had to fight, struggle and strive and still are doing so all over the world, just to survive. All through history, women had to demand to have the same rights as their male counterparts. Women were property before they were people. Women were silenced before they forced men to hear their voices. Some biological differences determining gender have a role on the rights and importance given to that person. Are women not as human as men?
Society tells us that we have moved on from history, that things are better. So much has changed. No more slavery, no more segregation, women have rights, no more war. How much has changed when history has left behind its mess like the dregs of tea that remain at the bottom of the cup, long after it has been drunk. The odour of history lingers and as a society we are struggling to shake it off, wondering if we ever will.