Reframing refugees in a changed political climate

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. Mr. Trump has expressed mistrust of refugees, particularly those of Syrian descent, saying things like “We cannot let them into this country, period. Our country has tremendous problems. We can’t have another problem.”(1) His election has spurred panic and fear in refugee communities across the United States. One Syrian refugee named Mohammed said in an interview with National Public Radio, “Everyone is terrified, they are scared, they are shocked…You brought them here because they are refugees, they don’t have homes anymore…Send them back where? To hell?”(2)

The Global Growers Network is a largely refugee centric organization. Even before the election the goal of Ross Oscar Knight and this team of Emory students was to create a photography project that challenged existing perceptions of the refugee community. However, after November 8, they said that the importance of their project was amplified.

“This doesn’t change our goal and I don’t believe that all of those who support Trump have such a strong negative perception of refugees. But, I feel more strongly than ever that we must challenge stereotypes of whose land it is, who gets opportunities, and who are refugees. I am not going to change the art I want to produce for Global Growers, but I am more sensitive and passionate about this work that ever before,” said Knight.

In a group conversation with the Emory students working with Global Growers, perspectives on the role that their photography project plays in the broader political climate varied. However, the group did agree on a few overarching points. They all believed that a major driver of social and political mistrust of refugee populations is that there is a singular dominant image of a refugee as someone who originates from the middle east, practices Islam, and could potentially be a terrorist threat. This is not an accurate image of the American refugee community and the group did recognize that the photography series of Global Growers could serve as a counter narrative to challenge current perceptions of refugees.

Sarah Loftus said “Art is a beautiful and important piece of social change. It is a declaration of expression that impacts people’s minds and ways of thinking, and in the least exposes people to issues that are otherwise ignored. Mere exposure can be an important factor in the art of persuasion and activism is no different.” The Global Growers group and Ross Oscar Knight felt that the significance of their work has been heightened and that it can serve to challenge the pervasive, false and damaging image of the American refugee community. Hopefully, inspiring the broader American audience to develop a stronger sense of empathy towards this marginalized community and actively work to improve refugee quality of life in Atlanta, Georgia, and the greater United States.

Author: Aspen Ono

(1):Kopan, Tal. “Donald Trump: Syrian Refugees a ‘Trojan Horse'” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

(2)Amos, Deborah. “For Refugees And Advocates, An Anxious Wait For Clarity On Trump’s Policy.” NPR. NPR, 15 Nov. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

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