06:51 am
27 October 2016

Our Mourning is Broken: Paris and Privilege

We watched as Paris was under siege of an outbreak of violence. The hearts of Parisians are aflame. The dregs of humanity reached into the bosom of a city and clenched its heart in acts of terror.

I try to have faith in humanity and its ability to prevail in dark times like these, when people are terrorized and taking cover. It’s heartbreaking to read updates of death tolls and feel the panic in the air. People like the ones responsible for the heinous attack chip away at my hope.

However, the aftermath of these situations – the fearmongering, the Islamophobia, the xenophobia – also reveal the lack of humanity in the world. When we hear of these tragedies, we quickly look for the target of blame. Without questioning, without confirmation, we blamed Muslims for the attack. And now that those fears have been confirmed, we lash out with our bigotry. People of Christian Faith are rushing to condemn and antagonize innocent people who had nothing to do with the attacks, as if Christianity has not often been the sword that has left rivers of blood in the street. We call for vengeance masquerading as justice, usurping the power of the God we claim to honor.

What happened in Paris is despicable. My heart goes out to them. But, while mourning the victims of this tragedy, I understand that the world’s call for collective mourning is due to our obsession with the preservation of whiteness and the romanticized ideals associated with the city of lights. There are people of color in Paris, but the world’s mourning is predicated on the idea of Paris as a white city. Paris, as a symbol, represents the white western world which rarely knows – and is terrible at dealing with – its vulnerability. It’s important that the attackers are brown people because the victims are representative of whiteness and the innocence we associate with it. Mourning the deaths of Parisians isn’t a problem. The problem lies in our unwillingness to confront the conditioning which has allowed us to only view certain people as victims when terror strikes.

Lebanon experienced a deadly attack that is getting little to no coverage. We are not changing our profile pics to the Lebanese flag. Nor did we have the option to honor Kenya’s flag after the Garissa Univeristy College shooting or an American flag after the massacre of nine innocent people in Charleston. Because we are taught that brown people killing brown people is not senseless; it’s expected and it’s normal. We, though most of us have no real ties to France, have immediately lifted them in our hearts. This is something we should do. However, the lack of mourning for the deaths of the innocent people in Syria, Baghdad, Beirut – and wherever else violence has touched – shows our bias and how ready we are to canonize and pray for a select few. We pray for those in the west, those that personify our western exceptionalism and ideals rooted in what whiteness designates as worthy of attention. We are taught to mourn with Paris, but not with Beirut or even Newark or Chicago. Social media outlets implement ways to honor certain victims, but not others. Parisians are cloaked in martyrdom while Lebanese are met with silence and blame as they await the coming of our mourning. That in itself is terrorism, for it teaches people that they aren’t valued. It places a hierarchy on who is to be grieved and is contradictory to any assertions that all lives matter.

I stand with Paris, but I also stand with Syrian refugees whose plight is only worsening due to our shortsightedness and our desire to bundle their lives with the lives of the people from whom they are running, as if anyone blamed German Jews for the Nazi occupation, though they were all German by nationality.

Stand with Paris, but stand with all terrorized peoples, not just those who the media deems worthy. Stand with those on our own soil who are reeling from the effects of oppression and violence. Red white and blue banners and Eiffel Tower vacation selfies are not solidarity. Solidarity is working to lift the people in every corner of the world who suffer under the weight of oppression. Solidarity is ending terrorism on all fronts, whether it’s fueled by racism, capitalism, misogyny, religious extremism, queer/trans antagonism, or classism.

Stand with Paris. But stand for more than that. Stand for the dismantling of regimes and systems which leave people angry and desperate while also funding, arming, and facilitating the terror we claim to hate.  Pray for the families of the victims. Send love and light. Honor the dead, but also do more to lift up those who continue to live and suffer through these atrocities while feeling abandoned and ignored.