2014 was a challenging year across the globe. The massive human rights violations and minimizing of life from Palestine, Ferguson, Honduras, Hong Kong, to New York, was enough to make one lose hope in the prospect of a redeemed and reconciled world. In spite of the past year’s tragedies, and most likely because of, many people began 2015 anxious for a different reality.
And then Charlie Hebdo happened. 12 journalists in Paris, France were killed when terrorists opened fire at the newspaper’s headquarters. 11 others were injured, four of them severely. Since then, the attack has gained media coverage all over the world. Supporters from Paris to the Golden Globes, showing solidarity with the victims, have been crying out Je Suis Charlie (or I am Charlie).
While the world paid attention to the terrorist attacks in France, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram ravaged north-eastern Nigeria, precisely Born State. Boko Haram, the terrorist organization that was founded by Mohammed Yusuf began its sinister operations in 2009 and is said to have killed more than 10,000 civilians between 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately, very few in the West knew about Boko Haram until the kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls last April which generated a barrage of media coverage and the internet meme #BringBackOurGirls. According to Amnesty International, last week’s attacks were Boko Haram’s bloodiest. As many as 2,000 innocent men, women and children were believed to have been killed.
A day to the attack in France, an explosive device was detonated against the wall of the NAACP’s office in Colorado. While no one was hurt, the incident rose to the concern of many people in the black community due to the speculation that the attack is tied to the actions of a white supremacist group. This is nothing new; the organization has experienced various attacks from racist groups over a hundred-plus years.
What is common in these three situations across three different continents is that they are all experienced terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, this is where the commonalities end. In the eyes of many, the Paris attacks were deemed of the most significant media coverage. The Nigeria incident and the bombing of the NAACP office in the United States were both buried into oblivion. Perhaps this is because we live in a world where global media empires that cannot multitask.
More than likely, the inability to multitask or focus ones attention on multiple things at the same time, has nothing to do with it. More than likely, the media negligence here suggests that there is a pervasive mentality that assumes humanity, or the ability to be fully human, to be the territory of the Western civilization. More accurately stated, the privilege of humanity is solely ascribed to white men (to a lesser extent white women) within these civilizations. This mythical thinking of superiority influences white men to believe that it is their sole responsibility to defend their humanity by actively resisting, marginalizing, and killing everyone else lest they be forced to share their privileged status with someone else.
As terrible as the lack of media coverage of Nigeria’s situation is, what is even more terrible is the silence from the Nigerian President “His Fraudulency & His Accidency” Goodluck Jonathan. He was one of the first leaders to condemn the terrorist attacks in France, but he kept mute on the terrorist attacks in his own backyard. The ethical question is: How can the outcry of concerned people over the international media’s lack of coverage in Nigeria hold water when the Nigerian president has chosen to remain silent?
Jesse Owens, was an African-American who won four gold medals at the Germany Summer Olympics in 1936. At the event, Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand because he was black. When Owens was asked about the incident, he stated that he wasn’t perturbed by the fact that Hitler didn’t shake his hand; what bothered him was how he had been ignored back home in United States.
I can definitely relate to this. What Owens felt has been resurrected in me as a result of the indifference of the Nigerian president to the plight of his people. But is it really indifference, or rather that, Jonathan, like the rest of the world, recognizes and validates the humanity of white men over that of his black brothers and sisters. Has internalized racism and the effects of generations of colonialization, hardened his heart so much that he cannot even hear the cries of his own?
This is what racism does to all of us. It causes all of us to have this ungodly bent toward white people, valuing their life, valuing their experience, valuing their grief above everyone else in the world. The abundant media coverage about France, and the silence on the part of the media on Colorado, Nigeria, and every other incident where black and brown people are victimized proves this to be true. But for the sake of the world, we must wake up from this deadening slumber that racism has lured us in and start to value all. The fate of our children and our children’s children, should Christ tarry, lies on us undoing the scars that race, colonization, and dare I say, capitalism, has left on us all.