My professor took us through an exercise at the end of our once-a-week class following the Paris Attacks. Our characteristically hyper and enthusiastic professor, who fuses #relatable topics and academic knowledge into our lessons, was oddly subdued when he posted four bubbles on the board. Number One: far right, Beirut. Two: middle bottom, Mizzou. Three: far left, Baghdad. Four: middle top, Paris.
He then asked us to name everything we knew about each place and their events the previous week, starting with Baghdad. By the end of the quick discussion, the Baghdad bubble was surrounded by only five new lines, which each had only minimal amount of information attached to them.
Next, he moved on to Mizzou. There, the class rang off bits of information that we heard from the news and social media. Football team. Racism. Death Threats. Resigning president. After about 10 minutes, he asked if we knew any more information, even though half the board was already filled.
Then, he walked over to Baghdad. The class went quiet, and we ended up with a total of 3 branches: funeral bombing, military man, 26.
Finally, Paris. People who rarely talked started sprouting information about the casualties, gunmen, bombers, French government, and the rising fear of terrorism on a global scale. Before I knew it, the middle of the board was completely filled. It was as crowded as a metro station during rush hour. There wasn’t any room to breathe.
I couldn’t breathe.
I felt sad, frustrated, angry, and distraught. All of which were whirling inside of me, unable to find the closest exit. Is there a word for such intense hatred, such overwhelming and debilitating sadness?
As the silence that lingered, my heart was in free-fall to the depths of hell. I was at a loss for words when my professor asked us the simple question, “Why is it so unbalanced?” Obviously, people blamed the media and the fact that France is a US ally. It even went as far as pointing out the divide between the West and ‘the rest’.
But, it’s more than that.
It’s the idea that the middle of the board represented home and safety, and the outskirted bubbles are considered the ‘dangerous other’. Because of the Paris Attacks, our protected quarters have been violated by violence. We were now vulnerable.
But, there is still more to it.
What it really boils down to is this: We matter more. They matter less.
The fact that I am breathing as an American, educated, white woman weighs a higher importance than any number of deaths in Iraq or Lebanon. We blatantly have ignored the destruction of others because they are not us, which we can see by the media’s coverage ratio of the week’s events. While the media is to blame for many issues in the US, they are not the only guilty party.
Not only does this inequality plays out in the global sphere, it happens in our backyard. That is why Mizzou was an important topic; we felt betrayed that some of ‘us’ were being treated unfairly.
What’s even more unfortunate is that I knew that the disparities existed and did nothing about it. I knew that I was ignoring people’s stories to focus on others. I’ve spent the last 4 years of my life studying various aspects of our global world. Through that, I was constantly reminded of my biases and privilege everyday. That’s why I originally fell in love with learning; I loved breaking down existing barriers and replenishing them with new and more inclusive paradigms.
And, yet. I still didn’t know that a bomb was denoted in Iraq, killing 26 people. More importantly, I didn’t even care enough to look it up. When I was listening to the news over that weekend, and I thought to myself, “Where is the news on Beruit and Baghdad?” I ultimately didn’t seek out the information on it because it wasn’t on my automatic feed. I did not take those extra seconds to honor the lives of those who were lost outside of Paris. I focused on ‘those who were important.’ Although, in reality, they died for the same reason: they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I want to be clear. I am not trying to undermine what happened in Paris. I mourn for those who I did not know and for the living friends and family who are facing an incomprehensible amount of grief. Like most, I watched the news that night with a heavy heart. 130 people have stop breathing for no other reason besides to terrify those who still live. What I’m saying is, we need to expand past the middle of the board and honor all deaths relating to terrorism that week, this past year, and throughout our history regardless of their nationality. Our borders shouldn’t define who is important and who is not .
I am extremely grateful that my professor took us through this powerful lesson. It is he to whom this article is accredited. My professor ended it with a potent sentence. He said, “No one is created equal.”
I disagree. I think we are too stupid to see that we are.