The sickening events that unfolded in Paris on Friday, November 13 2015 left many including myself stumbling for reasons why humanity has succumbed to the variance of violence in the most appallingly grim fashion.
It didn’t take long for social media to become ablaze with earth-shattering headlines and heart wrending images depicting the horrific aftermath of the attacks.
The global response made me wonder what it would’ve been like if we had the tools of today back when the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground in response to the direct hit from planes that were transformed into missiles.
But that was 2001 and this is 2015 and the landscape of media has evolved accordingly. We are treated to up-to-date notifications, jarring first-person relays accompanied with raw footage bravely captured on iPhones. It is almost like we were there ourselves — running for our lives amidst gun shots and utter chaos.
But most of us were not in Paris during the reign of terror that lasted way too long and destroyed so many lives.
We can only imagine the indescribable and be humanly affected by it, which was demonstrated in the plea of solidarity that users displayed with messages of condolences, testimonies of why Paris will prevail and the changing of the guard — with profile pics suddenly switching to reflect the French Flag.
Once I was prompted by Facebook to consider drenching my likeness with the colors populating my timeline at rapid speed, I could feel the quiet rage boiling inside of me. Why was I so irritated at my friends who were doing what they thought was a fair recognition of the tragedy that befell such a compelling city?
Then it hit me. I wasn’t annoyed at the reasoning behind their actions — I was angered by the fact that this same sentiment doesn’t carry over to other equally disastrous events both at home and abroad.
About a year ago — when racial discord hit an all time high with back to back episodes of black victims, young and old, being senselessly gunned down by law enforcement officers — it was quite revealing that the only friends that littered my page with their pain and anger were mostly black. Virtually none of my white “friends” had anything to say about the nightmare that was blatantly holding the nation hostage.
It was almost as if we were living in different countries. I was weathering the battle wounds amassed from race wars and they were continuing their lives without batting an eyelid.
This brings me back to the present. Paris was just dealt a devastating blow and of course it deserves to be acknowledged publicly. And the profile pictures that are currently honoring the colors of the French flag along with temporary tattoos stars like Emma Stone are donning are all sweet gestures but they also reveal a very sad revelation.
We are inherently programmed to think that certain tragedies warrant our attention more than others. Paris, the City of Light and the epicenter of romance and decadence is struck down by terrorists and the response from empathizers is swift and plenty.
Facebook is moved enough to initiate its Safety Check geared towards helping users track down their loved ones unexpectedly caught up in areas that have been disabled due to terrorist attack.
When asked why Paris and not Beirut a country that has been recently ravaged by catastrophic attack by extremists — Alex Shultz the vice president of growth basically explained that the feature could only be reserved for civilized countries that are privileged enough not to experience “terrible things happening with distressing frequency”.
In other words, places like Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, my country Nigeria, and other “parts of the world where violence is more common” have to contend with being lost in the shuffle when it comes to human decency and compassion because the state of affairs in those areas will most likely never change so why bother investing the time and effort.
This is evidently the way most of us think. But thankfully some of us are not willing to choose which flag stands above the rest. Maybe my resonance comes from being a product of two very diverse backgrounds. Being born in America and eventually raised in Nigeria during the turbulent eighties has definitely allowed me the wisdom and insight into what it means to be both free and enslaved in every capacity.
I grew up reading magazines that spurned my continued interest in world affairs. I knew when Anwar Sadat was murdered and when Pope John Paul II was shot. I recognized who Brezhnev and Walesa were and I understood at a very young age that the world at large was just an extension of the very basis of our existence.
We are truly one and very much the same but hate and the need for power and dominance kicks us off course and forces us to decide which flags belonging to certain territories that are heated with pain and suffering demand our attention above all the others that are suffering just as much.
I find this attitude is quite prevalent in the U.S. and this is because most Americans truly don’t have much need to concern themselves with what is happening outside of their peripheral vision. This society is self-indulgent and dependent on whatever is fed through the tube of social media. Nobody really bothers to think for themselves — to formulate their own opinion because that job is already being done by a system that is quite frankly flawed.
So when Facebook selects the flag of the moment — you go ahead and click on it and carry on with your day. You have truly made the world a better place by highlighting your grief for the country that is trending — for now anyway.
But it took a blogger from India, Karuna Ezara to compose a poem which she posted on Facebook, Intagram, and Twitter that went viral for people to understand how incredibly vile it is to calculate which countries to pray for and which are beyond saving.
What happened in Paris was awful but we also can’t ignore the calamities in other countries far and wide that have been suffocating under the weight of terrorism with no end in sight.
Boko Haram has kept Nigeria under siege since 2009 and it was only when #BringBackOurGirls started trending that the world took notice and movie stars held the signs as they paraded the red carpet at Cannes with huge smiles on their faces and supermodels posed nude with splashes of the words splattered on their skin.
We can’t become the exact opposite of what it means to be human beings by succumbing to the machinery of trends and all things viral.
We have to care — truly care for each other without bias and without fail. The world is in dire need of healing and it begins with going out of your way to equip yourself with the knowledge of what is happening thousands of miles away. You will be amazed at what you discover and how so very similar we really are.
So if you need a visual representation to capture ongoing events — instead of a flag — choose the globe.
It’s bigger, better and in it — we ALL belong.