Je Suis Human: Thoughts About Suffering, Humanity, and Paris

For the past couple of days, I've been heavily distracted and dismayed by current events. For the first half of the week, I closely followed the protests at Yale, Mizzou, and colleges across the nation, watching black and brown students stand up for their rights and humanity in the midst of death threats from people who don't want to recognize our voices, our suffering, and our humaneness. On Thursday, I posted about twin suicide bombings in Lebanon that killed 40 innocent people. The day after, attacks in Paris killed 100+ innocent people, and was the deadliest act of violence in the city since World War II. Needless to say, it's been a long week. But the outpouring of support for Paris from world leaders, celebrities, news outlets, social media, and society at large in the midst of the same, or even worse, atrocities being committed in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Baghdad, North Korea, Nigeria, and even here against black and brown people in the United States, is the most concrete evidence of the pervasiveness of Western imperialism and selective humanity that exacerbates and sustains human suffering.

Every day we see black and brown people, here in our own country, losing their lives to senseless acts of violence, precipitated by the belief that some groups of humans are inherently better than others. Every day our phones light up with notifications from CNN, BBC News, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times telling us that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people in foreign nations have lost their lives to senseless violence. But we don't really care. We think to ourselves "damn, that sucks," swipe away from our notifications, and continue on with our daily activities like nothing ever happened. We don't care because subconsciously, "those people" are not "us." We don't feel their pain because we don't live in the third world, we're "civilized." We think we're better than they are because we are the sole beneficiaries of Western imperialism.

Last night, President Obama declared the attacks on Paris an "attack on humanity," but was it not an attack on humanity when Dylann Roof walked into a prayer meeting and unloaded his bullets into 9 innocent black bodies? Was it not an attack on humanity when 43 students in Mexico were kidnapped and murdered? Was it not an attack on humanity when terrorists murdered 147 college students in Kenya earlier this year? Was it not an attack on humanity when 40+ Lebanese citizens were murdered the day before their Parisian counterparts?

I ask these questions not to demonize anyone who may be caught up in the frenzy of showing support for Paris or any other Western nation that suffers from senseless acts of violence and terror, but because I truly want us to think more deeply about the way we respond to human suffering. Moral exclusivity is literally killing us. Our ability to show empathy for others is not limited to Western nations, or quite frankly, white people. As humans, it's in our nature to form close bonds with other humans, and when those bonds are broken, via death, and in this case, senseless violence, we, as humans, suffer.

So as we all ‪#‎PrayForParis‬ and apply Facebook filters to our profile pictures, we cannot turn a blind eye to human suffering around the world just because "those people" are not "us." Yes, je suis Paris. But je suis the 43 killed in Lebanon two days ago. Je suis the 26 killed in a bombing at a funeral yesterday in Baghdad. Je suis the 4,000,000 refugees, larger than the population of Los Angeles, fleeing terror in Syria. Je suis the 1,000,000 civilians killed during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Je suis the 776 people killed by American police officers this year alone. Je suis the 224 people killed in the bombing of a Russian plane last week in Egypt. But most of all, je suis human, and until we all realize and fully embrace what it really means to be human, we'll continue to suffer for many millennia to come. In the words of Albert Einstein, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." We've been unsuccessfully bombing our way to peace for thousands of years now; it's time to try something new.