Unlike a lot of my fellow Millenials I am not one to post about politics or show my solidarity with this or that cause on Facebook (except for Kony 2012 of course, but I was like 15 and stupid so I think I deserve a pass on that one). I do this for 3 reasons. 1. Facebook for me is a place to talk to family, post photos and occasionally rant about exciting things in my life. 2. I am not a fan of shoving my political/social/religious opinions in everyone’s faces. 3. As someone who eventually wants to be a journalist, I believe in keeping a bias-free image (of course, no one is truly bias-free, but I do my best). All that being said, I have been on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media basically non stop since Friday to see what is being said about the attacks in Paris and this time I felt compelled to join in and show my support for Paris. That’s right, I changed my profile photo to look like the French flag.
Of course, to me it made sense to change my picture. I live in Paris; this tragedy affected the place I am calling home at the moment and my personal sense of safety. It affected my friends, some of which live right by Le Bataclan and Le Petit Cambodge and had to stay in a hotel that night because they were too afraid to go home. Some of which were sitting at restaurants close to the cafes that were attacked and had to watch as people ran away from the chaos and tried to hide in these establishments. Some of which are flying back to the states early because they can’t stop thinking “what if I get shot today?” So yes, I changed my picture as did my fellow NYU students and people from New York, Austin, and all over the world to show our support of France. It felt nice, really, to see so many people’s pictures changed to the beautiful red white an blue stripes of the French flag. It felt nice that people cared and wanted to show they cared. But of course, people can’t let a good deed go unpunished.
Almost as soon as people started changing their profile pictures and writing a few words of support a whole other group of people started bashing their actions. Without missing a beat, Social Justice Warriors felt the need to demonize support for Paris given that so many other places were also being tormented by violence. You couldn’t even finish typing out the word Paris before statuses of people admonishing the lack of support for Beirut, Japan, and Mexico flooded your newsfeed. At one point people even started posting an article about a massacre in Kenya claiming that Paris was stealing the spotlight from this horrific event, which actually happened to take place in April (but you know, we should stop focusing on Paris). Perhaps the worst part is that people made this about race (because of course everything is about race) and started saying that people who showed solidarity with France were actually racist because they only cared about white pain. Give me a break.
I was embarrassed for humanity. Not only are we screwed because we keep killing each other left and right (that’s right Social Justice Warriors, I’m acknowledging death of all colors) but you know there is something disturbingly wrong when we can’t even let someone mourn without feeling the need to one up them on their misery. It’s honestly fucking ridiculous that in the world we live in, a country and its allies aren’t even allowed to mourn for one day, or even a few hours before someone feels the need to point out all the other death that is being “ignored”. In this day and age you’re a monster if you have an actual connection to just one place. That won’t do. You have to be constantly supporting every death of every country of every day-or you’re an insensitive racist fuck.
I wasn’t shocked by this reaction from the general Facebook populace. This happens all the time, every tragedy is automatically turned into a commodity or thwarted to fit the rhetoric of every political movement on the face of the planet. It’s not new, but it doesn’t make it right. I don’t understand what people get from hijacking a tragedy to fit their agenda, it generally doesn’t do anything to help their cause and it just makes them look like jerks. The whole “my horrible suicide bombing is worse than your horrible suicide bombing” argument is unproductive, idiotic, and such a slap in the face to the people that actually die in these events and their families. All terrorism is horrible and tragic and it doesn’t need to be made worse by people trying to fit it onto some imaginary scale to get their point across.
What’s more, all this arguing over what country has it worse and how racist white people are for “not caring” about death in other countries is distracting from the one thing people should be able to do without judgment-mourn the loss of life. People should be allowed to mourn or simply to respond to something that shocks them without fearing that by doing so they’ll be insensitive to someone else. Everyone has their own tragedies and their own ways to deal with them and having someone yelling over their Facebook loudspeaker “but do you cry over the children in Africa?!” is robbing people of their freedom to feel their grief. There is nothing more disgusting to me than someone forbidding someone their own emotions.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Beirut, Japan or Kenya (and I definitely don’t have anything against Mexico). I don’t think that the deaths that happened there are deserved. I don’t think that any death is deserved, especially deaths caused by ignorance and hatred. When I pray at night I pray for everyone in this world because we’re all living in an awful place. But I don’t live in Beirut, I live in Paris. I’ve always wanted to live in Paris, I have French host parents, I have been struggling to learn French for years-I have a relationship with Paris. I can’t say the same thing about Beirut. So when a terrorist attack happens in Beirut around the same time that one happens in Paris, I’m going to be sadder about Paris, not even sadder, just more attentive, because I have a connection with Paris. And you know what? That’s ok. Or at least, it should be. I should be able to write poems and cry and pray and do whatever it is that is comforting to me and be sad about whomever I am sad about because these are all natural responses to loss. I shouldn’t have to apologize for the way I grieve or who I grieve for.
I know that changing my profile picture on an online social network does nothing to end terrorism or return the killed to their families or end all wars but reminding people of this fact also does nothing to better the world. It gives me comfort to go on Facebook and scroll through a sea of tri-colored photos and if that doesn’t give someone else comfort that’s fine too. You don’t have to care about the attacks on Paris, you can be racist yourself and not care about the loss of white lives, you can think what I am doing to grieve for something that is important to me is stupid-that’s ok too. But don’t you dare make me feel bad for doing what gives me comfort. Don’t you dare qualify my own grief against the grief of others. Most of all, don’t you dare make me apologize for mourning over something that is dear to me.