Paris is not all white people (and other reasons not to feel guilty for using a French flag filter)

On Friday, a terrible thing happened.

Another terrible thing.

When I heard what happened in Paris, my heart broke.  When I saw the French flag filter Facebook put up I thought ‘What Paris–and France–could use right now is some support.  It’s not much, but I want to say to the French and to the world is that I’m standing beside them in the wake of this horrible tragedy.’

Apparently I’m an impostor for caring.  Apparently such compassion is worthy of outrage.  And I’m kind of racist for showing support, as shown in this meme:

This is just one example of the compassion shaming I’ve seen all over Facebook.  The implication that we shouldn’t be talking about Paris.  The posts from 7 months ago about a different tragedy in response to posts about Paris.  How dare I care about Paris when something terrible happened elsewhere?  I mean, first world problems.

That is a bit hyperbolic.  Most of the people posting these things are well reasoned and intelligent people (I’m quite selective with my facebook friends).  The general question is one that needs to be asked.  But maybe, you know, not right at this very moment.  And maybe not by saying that those who show compassion to others are cruel and neglectful.  Because compassion is always, always, always a good thing.  We need to cultivate compassion, not shame it.  But while I would classify myself as really damn liberal (I still think there are some ideas to admire in the Communist Manifesto), for the first time I see what conservatives mean when they say liberals can be…self righteous, shall we say.  Donkeys’ butts might be another, to be polite about it.  People shouldn’t be made to feel bad for trying to do good.

Also, the sentiment that caring about Paris equates to ignoring other nations is misguided and faking a cause, and here’s why:

  • Starting with the meme above–Paris is not just white people.  Nor is France.  Far from it.  There are many neighborhoods in Paris which have immigrants from all over the world.  Moreover, there is a large Muslim population which is often marginalised.  Overlooking these French people and pretending the entire country is whitewashed exacerbates a different problem altogether.
  • It is possible to care about Paris *and* include other tragedies in the world.  Observe Trevor Noah’s comments on the Daily Show (and a link for American audiences), which were compassionate and elegantly said, still paying heed to the fact that tragedies exist all over the world.
  • Just because something is popular it is not therefore meaningless.  My choice to use the tricouleur overlay was a very conscious one because Paris has played an important role in my life.  It is the city I fell in love with, and seeing the people there attacked is as shocking as when New York was attacked on September 11th.
  • On that note, a kind word can go a long way.  Paris is not in need of a lot of material things.  I could try to raise money for them, but what would it go to?  However, kind words can have a bigger impact than people know.  When my father died, I got cards from people I never expected, and to know that they were thinking of me and my family because they had met my Dad once was an enormous comfort.  Moreover, in the wake of 9/11, when I was bewildered with grief and I couldn’t comprehend such powerful hatred, the outpouring of love and support from the world was a huge balm.  It went a long way to helping me heal.  After that initial shock, the French started asking a lot of important and critical questions, much to some people’s anger (freedom fries, anyone?).  I admired them for it. But the key was that they waited.  The timing was everything.  In the days and even weeks after 9/11 they showed nothing but support.
  • The news is not evil for not reporting all this horror.  It’s not even really racist.  It’s following the princples of news–what gets reported on is what’s close to home, what’s prominent, and what’s unusual.  The last one is key.  Last Friday was a peaceful night in Paris, full of football and music and food.  And then–it wasn’t.  And that was shocking, so we turned our heads.  It is indeed shocking that many almost expect violence in the Middle East.  That should not ever be.  But it is, and it was the same where plenty of white people lived.  I grew up in America and knew the IRA was kind of a thing.  That was the extent of my knowledge.  I did not know the systematic terror the IRA put people under for decades until I moved to England and heard stories, read poems.  Yes, my awareness should have been higher.  But even my English husband says that eventually those tragic attacks stopped being huge news because they were the norm.  So what we have here are two separate issues: first, that Paris has suffered a shock and a horror, and that deserves our attention.  Second, many other places suffer a daily horror and we need to focus more attention on helping them.  Both equally important.  One does not cancel out the other.

To that end, we should build on the compassion and goodwill.  Instead of decrying people for caring about a very real tragedy, we should be banding together and building on our compassion, and letting the fact that we all care unite rather than divide us.  Never judge someone for caring for others.

In response to the Daily Post : The Great Pretender