*takes halo off*
I thank God for ampersands, exclamation points and hashtags because quite frankly, sometimes I feel like cussing. I rarely do it but maaan…
And before some of y’all go in: yes, I’m still saved and no, it’s not the most Christian way to handle things. But there are just some things that tap on that one good, fleshly, human nerve of mine and make me want to scream. Or get real Christ-like and overturn some tables.
Things like 276 beautiful black girls being kidnapped from their school.
Things like when our ever-trustworthy and super-conscious media (sarcasm) spends two weeks “investigating” and exposing the recent yet totally unsurprising racist rant of a pro basketball team owner all while the stealing and trafficking of our baby girls is given a measly sentence on the news ticker running at the bottom of our screens.
I’m sorry but I can’t help but to think that if this story was slightly different…if, let’s say, instead of 276 black girls in Nigeria, it was 234 blond-haired, blue-eyed white girls in Iowa (or Canada or England) that were kidnapped from their school and sold to men for less than a dinner at Applebees, the media would have shut the Sterling story down and run what would surely have been called an “atrocity” as breaking news. The outrage would have been fierce. The demand for immediate action, swift.
But it wasn’t, was it?
Now check it: I’m certainly not saying that if it had been 200+ white girls that it would have been better. Nope. It would have been horrific. JUST as horrific and unimaginable as it is today. JUST AS…
They are ALL our children. All of them belong to all of us. I just wish that everyone saw it that way. I just wish that a black girl’s life was seen as just as valuable, just as worthy of the urgency, as that of others. I wish that political dancing and distorted perceptions of certain cultures and religions didn’t take such huge precedence over the frightened sixteen year old girl, likely sitting in some dusty room waiting for some man “they” call her husband to take her. TAKE HER.
But let me be all the way real here. Even if this were 276 girls stolen from a school in the wildest hood in North Philly, people would be taking to the streets demanding answers as to why something isn’t being done (see Hurricane Katrina). Our favorite African American pundits would be all on the 24-hour news networks screaming about the injustice of it all.
But that didn’t happen much either in this case, huh?
So on the one hand, we have issues of prejudice where the lives of black girls aren’t viewed the same or as significant to some who aren’t black. But on the other hand, there’s this insidious individualism, this “well, it’s not my child,” permeating communities of color in America.
And I kind of get it. The truth is, I’m African American but in so many ways, my African-ness is way more foreign to me than my American-ness. It’s hard for me to get away from that. I was born and raised in the states. My culture, while heavily influenced by the African and Indigenous ancestry that runs through my veins, is still very much a result of my American lens. And that American lens is notoriously ethnocentric. Our news is the only news. Our problems are the only problems. Our beefs are the only beefs.
One of the things that fueled my anger and frustration over what happened to these girls and the world’s delayed response to it, was when I began to picture, not just 276 Nigerian girls, but 276 MaKaylas (my daughter). That’s when my rage boiled over. Yes, it’s great that I identify with this story as a mother who cannot even imagine what it must be like to be in those mothers’ shoes. My response is a human one but problematic nonetheless.
Something’s really wrong when I have to put my daughter’s face on the faces of these girls in order for my compassion to kick in enough for me to sign a petition or attend a rally. In order for me to move beyond my normal Facebook/Twitter activism.
Sidebar: Yes, social media is great for getting the word out about what’s going on, particularly when other media outlets choose not to. The rallies that were held in my area (Philadelphia) as well as other cities over the last week were fueled by the viral nature of social media. But it’s also way too easy to think that we are really doing something when we share or like a post about an issue. What we are actually doing is satiating our feelings of helplessness without taking any risks. It’s risky to sign your name to a petition. It’s risky to stand outside screaming “Black Girls Matter!” Or, like our mothers and fathers before us, it’s risky to put your life on the line for an issue.
It’s not risky to click like.
But back to the 276 MaKaylas…I mean…Nigerian girls. I had to ask myself, why do I need for it to feel personal in order to engage? When I do that, aren’t I doing what I accuse the media of doing? Prioritizing lives inappropriately.
As I said, some of that is human. Some of it is cultural. But much of it, too much of it, is learned. None of us were always this way. I think of my two year old daughter and how she is totally devastated when she sees a dead birdy in the street. She has no sense of it being “just a bird.” She doesn’t know about any cultural hierarchies when it comes to what she “should” feel compassion for and to what degree. All death and tragedy is heartbreaking to her.
Oh if only a child would lead us! Children often demonstrate to us our “original design.” The capacity to love and extend grace that God placed in all of us.
That being said, how do we get back to that? How do we become more compassionate toward everyone regardless of familiarity, locale, race, etc?
I honestly don’t know. I do see the source of our problems as being this individualism on steroids; this “I gotta get mine, you gotta get yours,” “Bump a village, it ain’t my child” mindset. For me, the truth I lean on…after I repent from ampersanding and hashtagging…comes from my faith:
“Let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” 1 John 3:18
* * *
This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
Photo credit: #BringBackOurGirls Facebook Page
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.