On Friday the 13th, a series of attacks in Paris claimed the lives of 130 people in what is being reported as an ISIS-orchestrated plot. The attacks in Paris have drawn the world’s attention and compassion, but there was another, stranger reaction to what happened this past Friday in France. Several commentators took to social media to heap scorn upon Americans who they felt should “learn something” from the Paris attacks. Upon witnessing these horrific acts, many conservative mouthpieces decided to use this tragedy as an opportunity to voice their disdain for what Black people have been doing in America.
“Now maybe the whining adolescents at our universities can concentrate on something other than their need for ‘safe’ spaces,” tweeted conservative journalist Judith Miller.
Former editor for The Blaze, Steve Krakauer wrote: “All the college students protesting around the U.S. need to find their way to a TV screen and watch what’s happening in Paris.”
“Someone wanna tell the Mizzou students what happened in Paris? They could use a lesson in what real oppression and hatred is,” tweeted author and conspiracy theorist Mark Dice.
It’s so telling that pundits immediately attacked the Mizzou protestors and Black Lives Matter in the wake of the Paris attacks. The need to dismiss Black people is pathological, so much so that a tragedy half a world away still triggered that kind of response. It suggests that White fear of brown faces—in this case, Muslim—has more merit than Black concerns about White supremacy. Terrorists with automatic weapons, executing people one-by-one are a terrible thought—but so are church burnings and police conspiring to murder.
What was it about the attacks in Paris that would make anyone even think about student protests in America? What’s supposed to be the “logic” here: that a tragedy happening in the world means that systematic oppression isn’t that big of a deal? So if the Missouri students that received death threats from hate groups this week had actually been murdered, then we could take their fears and concerns seriously?
When I saw what happened in Paris, I didn’t think about the University of Missouri. I didn’t think about Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Freddie Gray, either. I thought about Paris, France. And then I thought about Charleston, S.C., where a similarly demented and hateful terrorist went on a killing spree less than six months ago. I thought about what it must be like to sit in a room, watching people die and knowing that you are going to be next—for no reason other than the blind hate that lives within the heart of an individual. When the Charleston church killings occurred this past June, I saw an outpouring of grief from most of my peers and around the world. Much of that compassion soon faded, however, the minute we began to question the culture that created a Dylann Roof here in America.
And we’re told to fear these extremists. But how many horrific acts by white supremacists have occurred on American soil? The burning of Black Wall Street was a terrorist act committed by white supremacists in 1921, and so was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. One would think that would make it clear that the concerns of Black Americans are valid—after all, Black Americans have faced heinous acts of terrorism for centuries. So why am I supposed to be more afraid of ISIS than I am white supremacists?
In the summer of 2014, Jared and Amanda Miller went on a killing spree and ultimately murdered three people—two police officers and one armed civilian. They were white supremacists who’d been affiliated with both Cliven Bundy and the Tea Party. Why was there no “War on Cops” rhetoric aimed at the Tea Party or the extreme right? Why aren’t we supposed to fear those people? Black Lives Matter has been branded a “terrorist organization” by right wingers despite not having committed anything close to a violent act or promoted violence as a means to address social ills.
Black Americans are outspoken against acts of racism because they are acts of terrorism. Maybe White Americans can only empathize with White victims—or perhaps they only understand fear of brown people and can’t fathom why there is more justifiable fear for what White people will do whenever non-White people demand that they address racism. Black students in America had their lives threatened for doing what White people do all the time: use of available leverage to influence administrative policy and/or personnel. They have every right to be concerned about a safe space in every way possible. Black people very rarely have them. The fear that you will face harsh and extreme reactions for speaking up for yourself is rooted in history and current behaviors. If you can’t see how that fear is just as legitimate as any that you may have regarding ISIS, then it’s likely because you still haven’t been able to face the reality that White supremacy has been sustained by terrorism around the globe. And that kind of denial is precisely why Black Americans can’t be muted just because of what happened in France. Because we could be the next victims of another act of terrorism right here at home.