So, Have You Heard?

Yep, we’ve all heard about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s daughter, baby North. And most of us are pretty aware of who the current World Cup championship title holder is: Spain (and hopefully most of us know where it’s located on a map).

Moreover, just about anyone who’s anyone has heard of Miley Cyrus’s twerkfest at the VMAs this past year.

Don’t believe me? Three hundred and fifty-seven first and second-year students from popular universities on the East Coast (including, but not limited to, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, Duke University, Elon University, and Brown University) anonymously answered these questions to test their general knowledge on news events. I even got a few answers from students living outside the country. Let’s take a look:

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Wow! What an overwhelming number of correct responses to each of these questions (especially the last one). As you can see, the results gathered from these questions indicate that we know quite a bit about what’s hot in pop culture and sports. But what about other types of news stories, such as those dealing with racism, discrimination, murder, and hate? How many of us have heard about the 2007 story of renowned Hindu priest Rajan Zed being discriminated against while opening a prayer for the US Senate? I didn’t even know about this event until recently— seven years after it happened— so I’m not exactly bereft of any ignorance to the event either. Let’s look at some additional poll results to see if anyone else knew about this:

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It’s astoundingly clear that many more people were unaware of this news event than the first three they were polled on (including myself). Here’s some background on what went down: Rajan Zed, a Hindu cleric, appeared as a guest Chaplain at the United States Senates, where he opened (or attempted to open) the day with a Hindu prayer. Sudden interjections with passages from the Bible were made by Ante and Kathy Pavkovic, two devout Christians. Theological outcries became rampant in the Senate, but Zed was eventually allowed to complete the prayer. After the event, many radical Christians openly rebuked the US Senate for even allowing a Hindu to open prayer before many pious Christians, a sin far too gruesome to ignore.

Amongst the religious hodgepodge and fervent defense for Christianity, Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt stated “…Zed committed the sin of idolatry, right there in public, violating the first of God’s Ten Commandments with full government permission.” However, Klingenschmitt and many other protestors did not acknowledge the fact that the United States of America runs one of its governmental principles on the freedom of speech, blatantly stated in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. This means that people in the US are allowed to pray freely and practice any religion, be it Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or Satanism.

There was also another question on my poll about a more recent event. A Muslim student in the United Kingdom was stabbed repeatedly because she wore a hijab. I asked students if they heard about this event. Here are the results:

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Once again, a vast number of those polled had not heard about this event either. A couple of students even refrained from answering. Here’s a bit about what happened: Muslim PhD student Nahid Almanea fell victim to a brutal attack in which she was stabbed sixteen times in the head and the back for wearing a religious outfit. Another attack of a similar nature occurred in the past three months, as well. This prompted Essex police to tell residents not to walk outside in private areas until the murderer is found.

I asked students one final question: Do you think Zed and Almanea’s stories contain instances of hate crime? Take a look at the results:

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That’s a pretty good consensus, one that’s almost hard to ignore. Hate crimes are defined as crimes directed at characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Crimes can range from hateful/discriminatory speech to murder. Insults thrown at Zed after the tiff at the Senate and the murder of Almanea could be possible examples of hate crime. So, why haven’t the majority of us heard about these unjust, important, and newsworthy stories?

Let’s take a detour and reexamine the title of this article: So, have you heard…? It’s evident that North is cooing in her crib, Spain is a winner, and Miley is twerking herself through her day, but do we really have any idea about what’s actually going on around the globe? I requested students to answer the following question on the same survey: “If you’re unaware of some of these events, why do you think you’re unaware?” Here are a few responses I found:

“The media is manipulated to air garbage news to keep the people unaware. Knowledge is power and our political leaders know that.”

A bit 1984-esque, if you ask me, but I received a lot of responses like this one. I cannot tell you if the government has some sort of role in this conspiracy theory, but perhaps a country’s government would cover up news like this so people don’t form a bad opinion upon the institution of government.

“Frankly, the news just does not care about real world events. It is a much bigger deal to talk about Miley Cyrus twerking than to discuss matters that really affect our society. Media shapes the way we think and lately, all the media cares about is celebrities and meaningless drama. It is a lot easier to discuss who is winning a soccer game than to report about the stabbing of a young student. And in the end, average Americans would rather hear about the soccer game. It reinforces the idea that we live in a perfect world, instead of the harsh reality that bad things everyday without any logical reason.”

Perfectly logical! We all want to live in a utopian society, or believe that our society is already utopic. In general, we would much rather hear about good or funny things, or perhaps even events that make us feel better about ourselves instead of the harsh and vitriolic reality we’re really surrounded by.

“The high school culture that I have been living in places more importance upon things of popular culture, such as the VMAs and Miley Cyrus. If I don’t know about twerking and the VMAs, I can be ostracized by my peers. But do they care about a Muslim student who was stabbed to death for wearing a hijab? No. There’s something about high school that makes it its own little world, where popularity and knowledge of pop culture are supposed to rank highest in our lives.”

It’s true. Veritably enough, the high school society we’ve all experienced found twerking amusing. If you were to say that you haven’t heard about Miley twerking at the VMAs, people would pause mid-conversion to demand you “Excuse me? HOW HAVE YOU NOT HEARD…LIKE OH MY GOSH.”  Unfortunately, it is normal for people to view others who aren’t exactly like us as “different” or “weird.” Whether she wears a hijab or a bindi or if he decides to wear a yamaka, certain people tend to veer away and associate with people they perceive to be more like them. Instead of acknowledging that different sorts of people exist, we’d rather learn about what type of drama is going on in a celebrity’s life…probably because it’s easier for us to read and digest.

Finally, I posed one more question: What do you think you can do to be more globally aware, instead of just having a limited awareness to pop culture? Here are some answers I received:

“Go to news sources like BBC, Aljazeera, Aaj Tak, and the New York Times. Go directly to the world news section, too. Oh yeah, stop reading celebrity gossip on Yahoo! News. That’s crap. Take 15 minutes out of your day and read some real, non-brain numbing stories.”

Great suggestions for finding news. International stations are worthy enough to be looked at by our young eyes. Also, that’s a good tip. A little bit of time invested each day can make you much more informed.

“Befriend foreign people to gain insight into events pertaining to other people around the world.”

Having a diverse group of friends is a great idea. You could learn a lot about other cultures and the daily lives of those around you. And besides…who wouldn’t want more friends?

 “Me? How about addressing the MEDIA’s focus on the inane? That’s where the problem is.”

I knew someone was going to say something like this. We endorse and support the media and their current stories through the amount of views they get. We control what we share on social media. Practically, without the youth, there is no media because we are the ones who shape it. If we find Miley twerking more entertaining than any global event…well, the media will broadcast that to get their ratings up. A change in our thinking can consolidate future knowledge about what actually matters.

It’s crazy to think that so much is happening in our small world, yet a lot of the youth remains unaware of what’s really happening. We focus on five percent of the world’s population when we read celebrity gossip and sports insiders, but what about the 95 percent of the average people out there? Do we know enough about other countries? Probably not.

I’m going to try to take some of the suggestions I’ve garnered from this survey and implement them into my daily routine. I’m going to attempt to seize all the opportunities I’m presented with, and make the most out of my youth with all the knowledge I collect in my six by six cranial reservoir. What about you?