When I heard the news about Paris, a hollow formed in my gut. My insides started twisting around the opening, alternately rejecting and trying to cushion me against the knowledge of horrific loss.
It’s the appropriate response, I think, to acts of violence and terror. But I started to think, when is the last time I felt this ripping? I thought, how much have I been paying attention to acts terror in other parts of the world? In the last week, have I opened the links about terrorism in Beirut, have I reposted articles about the violent threats being issued to black university students here in the United States? What holds me back from entering that holy state of grief? Have I numbed out? Have I begun to associate people of color with loss of life, has their continued and continual slaughter become a normal fact of life?
Part of it is that I’ve stopped seeking out the news. But news of France is seeking me out. It’s all over my newsfeed. It’s being packaged and marketed by every major news site. Facebook is offering to superimpose the French flag over my profile picture. Youtube has the French flag as a backdrop to its logo. Google has placed a black ribbon under its search bar. What I’m saying is that our social systems filter and spin the news we consume. It is appropriate that our hearts should stop, that we should draw together and grieve when human lives are lost. And yet we have stopped taking note, or never noticed in the first place, as black and brown people are murdered in horrific acts of terror, nearly every day.
I am hesitating as I type. People are traumatized and grieving about what happened in France. It is not the opportune time to push a political agenda. Their grief is justified, and actually, I share it. But then, I imagine what it feels like to watch the world respond to Paris when you live in Gaza. I imagine how it feels when your people are regularly profiled and murdered by the police in the United States, and you have to fight for publicity, or you have to fight the kind of publicity that blames the victims.
I’m not changing my profile picture, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you shouldn’t. What I would say is that we should pay attention to which flags Facebook offers to superimpose on our pictures, and we should ask why. As we consume the news about France, as we take comfort in the aching community that has risen up around this tragedy, we should remember the many people who are grieving acts of unpublicized violence, people whose lives are less noticeable to us, and again, we should ask why. Andrea Gibson has a wonderful poem called “A Letter to White Queers, A Letter to Myself.” In the poem she says, “I am writing to tell you I have been spending a lot of time thinking, who are my people? What determines whose death will storm my chest, will flood my eyes, will make me want to burn down a fucking city and pray, with every ounce of my winded grace, that more than the smoke will rise?”