The horrendous terrorist attacks in the French capital last week brought the whole world to a stand-still. Yet similar violence elsewhere has not attracted comparable outrage and sympathy. What’s more, the daily deaths of impoverished people condemned to a sub-human existence by White supremacist ideologies hardly make the news.
I was in the midst of a lovely concert at the Stade Mamadou Konate organized and sponsored by Orange (a French telecom provider) here in one of France’s former colonies, Mali, when the news of the Paris attacks surfaced. I was trying to share a video from the concert on my social media page and asking for translations, when the singer on stage sang "Franci...."( a Bambara word for France) going on to say something else I couldn't decipher. I asked my Malian friend what was being said, wondering, is the singer hailing and praising the former colonial master? Is she singing, “I want to go to France”? What could she be saying? Is she saying all of these things because the event was organized by a French company and she felt pressured? After all, whoever feeds you controls you, right?
These were random thoughts going through my head when I stumbled upon the news on my timeline about the horrendous act that took place in Paris. At first, I read 30 deaths, the numbers escalated as time went by and so did the plethora of information and condolences coming from all over the world. It seemed like the world was at a standstill. It felt almost like when the 9/11 attacks occurred, a similar eerie feeling. Like something evil to the whole of humanity had happened, almost like an alien attack from Mars or something. To my mind that had been fixated on chilling on a Friday night, it did not make sense; it did not add up, it had not sunk in yet. I was still confused as to what exactly happened. Thus I was really in a hurry to go home and see what made the Paris attacks so unique, so horrific, so disturbing, so shocking, so relevant, so painful, so unimaginable, so pathetic, so ruthless, so VISIBLE.
On my way home I decided to stop at a local bar for food (maybe it’s the shock that made me very hungry. Had dooms day arrived?) I was astonished to see a room full of handsome men, a few women, mostly drinking and chatting, some smoking and some old school hip-hop playing in the background. I was digging the vibes despite being a bit uneasy at the lusty yet smile-coated gazes that were undressing my womanhood. It was in an effort to avoid the male gaze that I looked up, and that was when when my eyes landed on the flat screen TV. It was showing live coverage of the Paris attacks! That astonishing rare circumstance caught my eyes! It was bewildering. I have noticed that clubs and bars usually play a backdrop of music videos on their plasma screens but never in my nightlife experience have I seen the news at night being shown in a bar/restaurant. After all, aren’t those places where one tries to escape the gruesome realties of life, particularly the news and the pain of this world and find solace in music and heal oneself in the complete sense of temporary freedom? At any rate, all I wanted to do was to go home as soon as possible, charge my phone and dig deeper, unravel the truth of the matter at hand and deconstruct the doom that had occurred against humanity.
What on earth had happened in Paris? What was the most defining factor? What made it capture this amount of attention? Why was it any different? What had happened that seemed to unify the world in mourning? Was my suspicion true: was humanity under threat? Why did the aliens choose the ‘romantic’ city of Paris, of all places in the whole wide world?
Adding to my curiosity, on my way home trying to calm my nerves by the reggae music playing in my friend’s car and the night breeze of Bamako, I passed through a neighbourhood where people were glued to their Canal plus (a French satellite dish company) TVs outside of their houses (I guess people chill outside because of the heat inside) watching live coverage by perhaps France 24 of again this mysterious Paris attacks or what seemed like an invasion from Mars against the human race.
I got home, dropped my bag and keys on the floor, threw away my sandals and sat on the sofa charging my phone and started doing my research. WHAT HAPPENED IN PARIS? Well, to my surprise my search engine informed me that no alien invasion had occurred! Phew, thank the gods. Terrorist bombings had killed a number of people and wounded others; just like a terrorist attack a day earlier had killed and wounded people in Beirut. Terrorist attacks similar to those have happened in Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria and here in Mali where I live (a week latter Mali was to see a terror attack of its own in its capital Bamako.)
I was glad to learn we were not under an alien attack or that it wasn’t the end of the world. But I also learnt a gruesome, deeper disturbing reality. The loss of lives in Paris and the reaction to it has a lot to do with the West - its white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism and power. People were not necessarily mourning the loss of innocent lives but the loss of power, which they looked up to, admired, wished they had. The pain was in the media’s deliberate sensationalism and portrayal of the defeat of good by evil and people watching felt defeated, hurt at a loss. And the French flag that was bombarding Facebook capitalized on the hegemony of French power. Western media of course depicting the French government as force of good, using its power to save humanity, whereas in reality it is the opposite.
A lot of Africans have a crush on Paris’s hegemony. They adore its might, its ‘sexy language’, it’s "romantic " Eiffel Tower and it’s exotic cuisine. When Paris was angered, shocked in a total hot mess and announced a state of emergency and vowed to punish those responsible in merciless vengeance, the Africans panicked. After all Paris in this particular case and the West in general represent unchecked power, which perhaps the African finds alluring! This is the same Paris that was one of the most treacherous colonizers ravaging countless African nations; the same Paris that destabilizes its former colonies and controls the economy of the CFA zone; the same Paris that profits from the sale of arms both in the Middle East and Africa; the same Paris with over 4,000 troops in northern Mali.
The outrage has nothing to do with the innocent people whose lives were lost. If that were the case those same people that show compassion for Paris will also show compassion for the disempowered who die everyday in our own backyards if they truly care about justice, that is. In other words, the sadness, the outrage, the sympathy, the love, the showing of affection, the helplessness is not for those innocent lives but for the same forces that perpetuate these wars and their unchecked power.
It goes without saying that one of the most powerful social media outlets, Facebook, has shown once again it is nothing but a tool for white supremacist ideologies. Of course I know Facebook is by the West for the West but we must call out Facebook on its hypocrisy and double standards. (I am aware of Facebook’s attempt to rectify its wrongdoings after an online uproar by its users but it does very little to appease me; the damage is done). I will however use Facebook till Africa has its own “Facebook” to promote my agenda, my agenda being justice for all. But when and if I feel Facebook does not serve my propose, I will not shy away from boycotting it. The most self-revealing part of Facebook’s decision to have provisions like changing ones profile picture, marking ones safety is in that it did not solely sympathize with America (where Facebook originated) but with whiteness. Facebook did not give a rat’s ass where this thing was happening as long as in happened in a white nation and affected mostly white lives. I don’t expect much from Facebook and Western media. After all, they are there to promote their agenda, interest and cause. Western media (new media, social media included) is a tool for Western imperialism. I cannot support these imperial power structures that loot my continent, I am not attracted to its power when the rape, devastation, agony, blood and tears of my people make up its power. There must be a clear distinction between forces of the state apparatus and the people. The same power created by the control, dehumanization and oppression of the African and our resources. The white world lives off Africa, profits from our deaths so our lives mean very little to them. But have we forgotten our own lives? Does our death mean nothing to our own selves? In fact, we are conditioned to believe that our lives mean very little; so do our deaths.
All of this goes back to the mentality of the slave. We see ourselves as less than human. The years and years of dehumanization by slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, western education, western media, western production of knowledge and worldviews and the African’s own sense of not staying alert have made us devalue our bodies both alive and dead. The forces of transnational white supremacist capitalist patriarchy exploit, dehumanize and erase a people but so does our ignorance.
White lives matter more than our own. I am not here for selective empathy! Looking at my timeline on all of my social media pages it becomes apparent that a lot of us still don't get it and that makes me very sad. How can we exclude ourselves from the compassion we seem to show? HOW! The media is part of the lie? How can we not stay alert/awake?! We are dying and we don't seem to care. How can we extend a show of solidarity when our narrative is this narrow and self-excluding! I get the media's role and the self-hating tendencies.
But terrorism has many faces: there's the terrorism of Western capitalist imperialism, terrorism of sexism and patriarchy, terrorism of greed and war, terrorism of white supremacy, terrorism of totalitarianism and corruption, terrorism of the lies and single story narrative of the media, terrorism of state sponsored violence, terrorism of religion, terrorism of politics and economics, terrorism of oppression, exploitation, manipulation and the utter violence in our silence or partiality!
All of it is interconnected. Selective responses and shows of compassion or empathy are part of the terrorism! What happened in Paris is selective memory, the humanization of one people and the complete erasure of the rest of us. What happened is selective justice, partial outrage. The reaction to what happened in Paris is selective humanity.
As an anti-imperialist/neo-colonialist justice seeker, I agitate for justice for Africa, in Ethiopia for the jailed journalists, and bloggers, Oromo students or the displaced indigenous peoples in Gambella. I seek justice for the agony and pain of the Chibok girls in Nigeria, in the innocent Malian lives lost everyday, in the Middle East, in the death and cries of the kids in Gaza, in the killing of the Rohyinga Muslims in Myanmar, with women’s bodies being a weapon of war in DRC and for the people from Somalia to Syria, to Afghanistan and Pakistan where death is nothing but a daily occurrence, to the people of Burundi and Burkina Faso where the quest for power has blinded the African dictator, to the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa. I seek justice wherever it's non-existent. I am so tired with western hypocrisy and double standards and don’t expect much from it, but the hypocrisy, cowardice and ignorance of the African irks me and must be challenged. My justice is not selective nor is it partial; it is intersectional.
I find the so called lets pray for the whole world narrative infuriating. Has the world suddenly become full of problems or were we fucking numb to it, does it have to take a white life in a white land for mankind both black and white to be sensitive to the atrocities of the world? Let’s not close out eyes too long praying to a white Jesus while we are dying
We are invisible up until the hyper-visibility of white lives manifest.
Hyper-consumption of black bodies and the centrality of whiteness in all narratives has made the black lives invisible. The French flag all of a sudden became fashionable. Some Muslims felt they had to put on the flag on Facebook to reaffirm their rebuttal of terrorism. They were expected to defy terrorism by showing support for a terrorist nation. They were coerced indirectly to show they are the good guys, the good Muslim.
You see whiteness works in such a way that for blackness to have any sort of meaning, value, humanity, and existence it must align itself to whiteness. Simply put, its like a rat saying to a cat: I am an animal too, and the cat laughs at the rat and says: You are just my food. But if and when the rat recognizes its value without its service to the cat, then maybe it will be free. We are not saying we are human too. We are saying we are human. We are not asking for permission here; we are not trying to appeal to the moral values of the oppressor. WE ARE SAYING: OUR BLACK LIVES MATTER!
* Zemdena Abebe is an activist and writer working as a Marketing and Research Assistant at the African Academy Of Languages (ACALAN). As a Pan-Africanist -womanist she has a strong commitment to amplify the voice of black women in all arenas of life. Follow her on twitter @Afrowomanist
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