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a watchful eye of creative complexity
Attacks in Paris happened today—terrible, hateful attacks that took many lives. It is very sad and unfortunate. I am crying. I am crying and I find it hard to stop. But it is not for Paris. I am crying for the silence—for the silence that fills the air and the internet day after day; the silence that proves to me whose lives are valued and whose lives might as well be dirt on the floor we sweep away into a garbage bin never to be seen again.
I’m so tired. Every day, the life of my people (broad usage here: all brown people, all Muslim people, etc.) does not matter. No one cares. Every day, they face violence, hatred. Every day. Some days they are able to escape, but those days seem few. Do you know what it is like to see family after family from non-Western countries die in terrorist attacks, whether it’s from groups like ISIS or countries like the U.S.A., and hear silence; then later, you witness an outpouring of sadness and an abundance of opinions and outrage when an attack hits a Western city, a city that you were told was worth seeing, that had some value?
Why do you believe that people living in your favorite tourist destination are more important than those living in the city you know nothing about? What makes you think that the other city isn’t worth seeing, that the culture is not important, or the people have no value? What exactly makes you think that it is okay if people die in other countries because you have nothing to do with it? Why do you not care about the people your own country murders? Why do you not care about the global terrorism committed by your own country?
Perhaps you think that violence in the middle east and elsewhere has been going on for so long that it doesn’t matter any more. Perhaps you think that there is nothing you can do about violence “over there” and amongst “those people.” Do you not think violence has roots? Do you think the average brown person wakes up and says, “Hey, I think today is a great day to kill some people”? You are mind-boggling. If you are American, you can do something to stop violence. The U.S. is the biggest perpetrator of violence; and this violence breeds violence from others. You can do something; you just have to care first.
When violent attacks in a western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. a barrage of prayers and solidarity hashtags and 2. racism, hatred, and threats of violence. When violent attacks in a non-western place occur, I log on to social media and see two things: 1. some of my friends expressing sadness and outrage and 2. silence from most.
Dear social media friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whathaveyou:
My life does not matter to you. If my life does matter to you, does it matter to you because you know me? If I lived in another country, on the other side of the world, my life would not matter to you. I believe my life would not matter to you. I would be dead in a terrorist attack and you would be okay with that. If somehow I left my home from that side of the world to find a safer, and more promising place in the West, you would still not care about me. I would be dead in a terrorist attack, and oh look, suddenly I matter to you. Oh wait, I probably live in a refugee camp because I cannot afford a place to live, so you would still not care about me. In fact, you would harm me. You would blame me for the violence I, myself, fled. You would blame me and then you would burn me. You would burn me. And you would burn me every single day after that. You would also burn my family, my friends, and anyone who looks like me. And then you would go back to not caring about me, my family, my friends, or anyone who looks like me. Or believes like me.
It hurts to know that a majority of people don’t give a crap about your life because you’re not the type of person people want to care about. They don’t even know you, so why should they?
When we cannot find empathy—when we refuse to listen, see, or understand anything outside of our own lives, there will never be justice and there will never be peace. Ever.
Expand your empathy and erase your exceptionalism.
When we take a look at all of the maps we see that the poorest areas and least diverse areas of Chicago are where most of the murders take place. These areas of Chicago are where a majority of people of color live, mainly black people and Latinos. Chicago is not simply segregated in terms of people, but resources, as well. It is no mistake that the people on the south side and west side have little opportunities in life, whether it is education, jobs, or a place for children to play. People on both sides of the political spectrum call on gun control laws as the reason for the violence in Chicago; some say that gun laws are too strict and that if they were not other people would be able to defend themselves and there would be less incentive to pull a trigger; others say that the city needs to do more to limit the access of guns because if all of the guns were not so easily available people would not be murdered left and right. The availability of guns is an issue, but a lot of these folks do not even buy their guns from places that legally sell guns. The most logical reasons—and what I think are the primary reasons—for the excessive violence is poverty and lack of opportunities available to the people living on the south and west sides of the city, as well as unjust laws embedded into our criminal “justice” system. Yes, institutional racism is a thing. No, we are not beyond that. It has merely been disguised. Yes, there are certain, cleverly written laws that disproportionately affect specific populations (read The New Jim Crow). One look into a prison should tell you everything, but that is another topic.