By: Terrence A. Merkerson
I will preface this post by extending my deepest, most sincere condolences to EVERYONE affected by acts of Terrorism in Beirut (The Capital of Lebanon) and in Paris (The Capital of France). <– (Do you see what I did there?)
Obviously, there is a significant gap in empathy shown by the world towards Paris and Beirut. Is it because the tragedy in Beirut just happened to occur a few hours before that of the one in Paris? Is it because more people died and were injured in Paris than in Beirut? Is it because as Americans, we more readily identify with Paris and the people of France because it is more familiar? Or is it because of our (often misguided) perceptions of the eastern world and the people in it? All of these can be and most likely are contributors as to why the world stopped for Paris, but casually glanced by Beirut. This is not exceptional by any means. We are all somewhat aware of the “Western Bias”, even if that awareness is unconscious. We care most about things that affect people that resemble us, our lifestyle and our way of thinking. The problem lies in the fact that while some biases are natural (which IS NOT a reasonable justification), there is a “troubling tribal, or racial component to familiarity.”
Those who subscribe to a reasonable and rational school of thought (should) acknowledge that no human life is any more or less valuable than any other. Of course we place more social and/or economic value on the lives of exceptional individuals, but to quote my late uncle, “bullets and bombs don’t care who or what you are. They have one job and they usually do their job pretty well.” The same idea holds true here, or at least it should, but somehow it does not. That’s a problem. If you ask someone if they care that 43 innocent civilians lost their lives due to an act of terrorism, of course they’ll say they care and they actually probably do to some degree. But before the tragedy in Beirut became a juxtaposing topic in relation to is Parisian counterpart, most (including myself) would not have even known that 43 innocent people were killed due to an act of terrorism. Most of us became aware of the events that happened in Beirut because of the strength of the outcry regarding the disparity in the lack of coverage between the two cities. This speaks very loudly and very directly.
Facebook offered users the option to change their profile pictures to feature a watermark of the French Flag as a show of support and solidarity. Major landmarks and buildings across the world brazenly illuminated the colors of the French Flag. That’s pretty dope. But what about those who would like to show support for Lebanon? What about those who would like to see the world stand with Beirut? What about those who would want to show their support for both? No option given. Media coverage has been dominated by Paris. We know very little about Beirut. What I find to be most ironic is that a lot of the people so quick to parade the slogan “All Lives Matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” campaign are the same ones who seem to be completely ignoring the 43 non-American, non-white, non-Western lives lost in Beirut (but that’s conversation for another day). We saw the SAME THING HAPPEN in April when 147 students were killed in Kenya and we heard very little about it. I believe that most people care, the issue is that most people don’t know and don’t understand. The larger questions are why don’t we know and why don’t we understand. There is an agenda. Politics and economics aside, the relationship that Americans and other Western Nations have with France and Lebanon is very, VERY different. It’s “Us” and “The Other”. Paris is one of “us”, Beirut is not.
We should care about what’s going on in Paris, deeply. But we should also care about what’s going on in Beirut, Kenya, Syria, Chicago, New Orleans, Missouri and everywhere else. I am not attacking anyone that has made a post, comment, changed their profile picture, written or shared an article about what’s happening in Paris. We have very little control about the messages and news we receive from our most prominent outlets. We all have to make a conscious effort to not surrender to our biases and to avoid the comfort of familiarity. We need to see the world in its entirety for exactly what it is, full of people who love, live and die just like the rest of us.
Oh, and to “THOSE PEOPLE”… we are all (well some of us) smart, multi-dimensional, functioning thinkers and feelers. It is completely within all of our capacity to care about MORE THAN ONE THING at a time. Shocking, I know.
Terrence Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.