I first heard this phrase in an X-Men television show wherein Hank McCoy aka “Beast” asks a captor this question. The only reason for his captivity was the fact that he was a mutant; different from his captors.This quote often flits through my mind when there are acts of extreme violence committed. I fail to understand why we must be violent to one another. These repeated acts of violence rob us of our collected humanity and only divide us along artificial and arbitrary boundaries.
We cannot be satisfied with #PrayforParis and #jesuisParis. These are the hashtags being used to highlight the recent tragedy the media has become absorbed by. But the way the media covered the attack in Paris, it would be hard for anyone to know that there had been other attacks and disasters that very day that had claimed many more lives than the attacks in Paris. The names of these places are not on our tongues yet they should be: Beirut, Baghdad, and Kenya all faced brutal attacks. And this says nothing about the festering problems in Syria, Palestine and Israel.
Maybe we focus on Paris because, as Americans, France has been historically our oldest ally nation. More likely, we prioritize the attacks in Paris because Paris is more “like” us. Paris is a developed Western democracy with a larger and more privileged white population that quite frankly feels more real to many Americans. In our privilege we are able to stand by in relative safety and be shocked that something could happen to a city so like one of America’s cities. Without looking, did you know how many were killed in Kenya? (147) In Baghdad? (approximately 26) Beirut? (at least 41).
The pernicious legacy of discrimination, prejudice and racism are in full force in our utter erasure of the struggles affecting parts of the world that are not Western in their outlook. It is easy to fall back and think that because Beirut and Baghdad are easy to ignore because they are, to most Westerners, always going to have conflict and danger because of their place in the Middle East. Kenya is an African nation where Boko Haram has had a presence. Japan and Mexico’s natural disasters are likewise ignored because these are incidents that don’t affect us; don’t affect people like us.
At the end of the day, the West as an institution, has a hard time valuing people of color and a hard time valuing the lives of non-Western people. This is reflected even in our common vernacular. When read, the term “West” or Western” is easily defined and understood by most, but there is no corollary to people not covered under this term. It is Wester and Other. And this represents a problem for us as humans and as fellow beings on this planet. our inability to look beyond our Western Exceptionalism causes us to ignore the losses being incurred around the world and makes it incredibly easy to scapegoat groups in order to assuage our fears.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Paris, people began to attack everyone from students in Missouri (who had been threatened with violence) to all Muslims everywhere. Which is just rank idiocy. There is no connection between the students in Missouri and the attackers in Paris. And the fact that these men purportedly are Muslims does not indict the faith of Islam and more than the Westboro Baptist Church, KKK, or those bombing abortion clinics represent all Christianity.
Instead of attacking those already dealing with immense grief and loss, it is incumbent on each of us as humans to understand the loss that has occurred and to strive to understand that all humanity is worthy; all humanity is worth valuing and worth grieving when they are taken from us is acts of unspeakable violence. Desmond Tutu’s quote, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together” is a prescient reminder that we are all in this together; we are all being on this planet that have the power to harm and to heal. Harm has been done, so let us now heal. For no matter where you are from, when pricked, you still bleed.