Who we choose to stand with says a lot about ourselves.
Right now, the world aches. Grief hangs heavy over France, Lebanon, Nigeria, Mexico and Missouri — to name a few. Solidarity has become a buzzword, sometimes spoken honestly and at other times a temporary relief of guilt or pain difficult to reconcile. We all mourn, searching for solutions in our sorrows, but why is certain pain given priority?
After the horrific terrorist acts by ISIS in Paris on Nov. 13 that left at least 129 dead and over 350 wounded, the world was shocked. How could such appalling violence hit one of the most cosmopolitan cities? Nowhere was safe, not even the presumed fortresses of the West.
Just a day before the atrocities in Paris, ISIS killed 43 people in a double suicide bombing in Beirut.
Naturally the United States, like other nations, responded with overwhelming solidarity with France. Americans saw themselves in the French, but found it difficult to identify with the Lebanese in the same way.
The deaths in Beirut drew significantly less attention. There was media coverage, but nowhere near the around-the-clock news coverage on the Parisian attacks. Leaders around the globe did not condemn the violence. There was no hashtag on Twitter. There was no option to filter your profile picture with the Lebanese flag, nor was it projected against famous monuments across the world.
Selective grief is a moral and ethical issue. What we grieve about and what we pay attention to makes a statement about who we are. So when we mourn Parisian lives at the expense of Lebanese lives, or force black students to prove they are being marginalized on universities, we are reinforcing the notion — no matter how implicit — that people of color don’t matter.
Black students across the country are challenging racism in higher education. While their activism is bringing about incredible change, like the resignation of President Timothy Wolfe at the University of Missouri, these feats are the result of years of struggle where students of color are forced to do the job of their administrators.
At UC Santa Cruz, black students had to organize a day of campus life interruptions to make their demands heard. Even so, their experiences are examined under a microscope and the validity dissected, as if it’s up for debate.
This is not surprising. The world does not regard violence against black and brown bodies with much weight. Rather, the frequency of reports of violence in countries like the Middle East normalizes bombings and mass killings. It’s precisely that indifference that should be appalling.
Here in America, the narrative encircling people of color fixes them as impossible to please, always playing the “race card,” making it difficult to truly have their voices heard and see results. The students at Mizzou, Yale and everywhere else in this country are not entitled for asking for safer spaces. They are not misguided for calling for student, staff and faculty accountability. Advocating for a safer space means an end to systemic racism, which hampers their pursuit of an education through a lack or resources and a compromising of their physical safety .
The prioritization of Western bodies dehumanizes people of color and enables selective grief. It allows us to be rattled when dozens die in Paris, but detach when 147 die at a Kenyan University in an attack by Boko Haram.
“When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning,” wrote Lebanese doctor Elie Fares on his blog. “Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”
We should grieve with France. What happened in Paris is horrifying and tragic, and our hearts go out to all those mourning a loss. But we must be thinking critically about what our grief — and our solidarity — looks like.
Solidarity with France is important. But so is solidarity with Lebanon, Nigeria and all other countries whose people experience unspeakable violence.
Alexa Lomberg and Montse Reyes