Deafening y/our ears to critique does not make what is being said about either you/us or an issue, or both, any less valid.
This thought came to me as I read reactions on Facebook, in particular, from people who had gone ahead to change the colour of their Profile Pictures to reflect the colours of the French flag – blue, white and red.
Having also earlier posted a critique about the selective outrage of Western media, in particular, and how some of the real issues which also affect others in the world are screened out from public viewing, I was struck by some of the defensive reactions of subsequent posters regarding their decisions to identify with the French people in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy.
In fact, the more I read the comments and the raging Facebook ‘dispute’ about it, I felt drawn to post a few more thoughts on the matter. It struck me that people who got upset about critique of the ‘selective outrage of the West’ re the tragedy in Paris, were deliberately misunderstanding what was being said. Or, so it seemed to me, at least.
Indeed, a Facebook/ friend and colleague had this to say about all the memes imploring us to ‘pray for Paris’. I wickedly commented on her post, declaring her both my ‘sista’ (sister) and a preacher. She, in effect, had posted a version of what I was thinking at the time of writing this very blog.
The irony in her post was clear, if not provocative. It is only during times of crisis that many of us remember to invoke the powers of the Divine – through prayer. Otherwise, we have no time for such ‘higher order things’.
Further, we only seem to have these outpourings of support for one victim but not for all – a most convenient kind of prayer, if ever there was one, I thought.
That said, I again thought that, it was instructive she would post what she said when she did, as I too was also digesting all the gushing calls for ‘support’; and wondered why it was not obvious, even to those declaring concern that if we are truly moved to love, then ALL people must fall under our invocation of support.
This has certainly not been the case in how we have reacted to and mobilised endorsement for Parisians compared to others like the people of Lebanon for example, who had also experienced a similar tragedy a day earlier.
For the record, no one and I mean no one is diminishing what has happened in Paris. Not anyone intelligent and with a bone of compassion, at least. Certainly, that was not the aim of my Facebook post on the matter.
On trhe contrary, it is to highlight the needed critique of Western media’s near exclusive focus on issues in countries in the West, even while similar tragedies happen elsewhere, simultaneously. And that, this contributes to the very problems which lead to the our selective outrage about whose lives are worthy of being mourned and how.
For instance, Kenya and other places like Pakistan have also undergone the same, if not worse pain, this year. However, their voices, their pain, their concerns were/ are, routinely, blotted out from public viewing. This is curious and does require a critique of how we are often herded into sheep-like behaviour, with respect to what to think about and, in this case, how to show such thoughts and related emotions (by the changing of our Facebook Profile Pictures to blue, white and red, for instance!).
It behooves us to ask what is really happening here? To bury our heads in the sand and pretend as if there is no correlation between these realities and Empirist attitudes which deem certain lives as expendable and, therefore, unimportant is to purposefully miss the point.
Which is also okay for those who do not wish to engage the dialogue, or even to care about others outside of these narrow frames within which we often operate during moments like these.
But, regardless of how you spin it, ignorance is not bliss. Getting upset because others have chosen to enlarge the tragedy in Paris to also critique the kinds of thinking which diminishes the suffering of some while ennobling others is really to play the fool. It is a deliberate ruse, which structures itself on a straw argument.
It goes something like this: there is a mysterious and nefarious ‘we’ who sits in judgment of those who turn their profiles blue, white and red for not getting the point, as if telling ‘them’ – people with real compassion, which issues we are to feel pain over.
In addition, this ‘we’ also invokes issues of race and identity for their own sake; after all, at least one poster was upset that people would highlight the differences in the races/ nationalities of who gets sustained coverage in such tragedies and who does not.
Her refusal to see how international media racialise and exclude was primarily a function of her presumed compassion, humanity and altruism; whereas those who questioned such practises were, clearly, the opposite – a kind of monster that refuses to see how ‘we are all connected’ and are, therefore, rightly deserving of ‘prayers of support’.
This is classic irony and also very nonsensical. Firstly, there is no ‘we’ who is sitting in judgment of those who convert their Profile Pictures into support of the French, through the three solid bars of that country’s national flag emblazoned on their Facebook accounts.
Secondly, who we feel support for is entirely our purview which, hopefully, is an automatic part of our humane response to crisis.
And, thirdly, how we demonstrate this awareness ought not to fall into categorised and pre-packaged responses. Tragedy is tragedy, whether in France, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria or Kenya. All of us bleed red. All lives matter.
Still, we cannot blind our eyes to reality. For we are also, well aware that Western attitudes about race are often cloaked inside discursive practises which imply that ‘normal’ means white; and that, because of such thinking, certain bodies, peoples and lives are not given equivalent attention because they are NOT normal – in effect, a lesser class of humans, animals, even.
What we make our focus determines what we consider important. To suggest, therefore, that, ‘we’ are invoking race and geo-politics for their own sake is really to gloss over the gravity of the concerns about how media tell stories about what is ‘normative’ and how those issues impact collective emotions of what is pain and towards whom we are to, legitimately, direct such emotions.
In this context then, the dispute – such as it is, highlights and, perhaps more importantly, calls out the biases which create these enabling circumstances which also lead to tragedy. ALL lives matter, whether in the West or in Africa or parts of the ‘Arab World’.
But, how we act and, surely, in the context of WORLD coverage we could reasonably be left to feel that the world begins and ends inside the West. That is an attitude which comes straight out of Enlightenment thinking which believes that only some lives were/ are valid, whereas others were/ are not. How much has the world changed since then?
That is a real question and one well worth asking, even now as we mourn with our brothers and sisters in France and Lebanon and elsewhere.
…We stand in solidarity with Paris. We also stand with Kenya; with Pakistan; with Lebanon; with Nigeria, as well as, with the thousands of nameless, faceless, voiceless others around the world who are eliminated from view with similar ferocity and for all kinds of reasons.
And yet, despite this, no one changes the colours of their profile pictures, to reflect their national flags, or speak up on social media about it. Nor are similar opportunities presented to us through social media, like Facebook to make the appropriate colour-coordinated displays of support.
It is hard to achieve equity. But at least we could make the effort.
Deafening our ears to critique is to purposefully and deliberately miss this point. Ignorance is NOT bliss!
…We stand with Paris; we stand with the World!