Stop the Oppression Olympics: We can grieve Paris and care about Black tragedies too

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Friday evening, as I headed home from the movies, I looked down at my phone and noticed a smattering of #PrayersForParis status updates on my timeline.

Thinking nothing of it, I did a quick Google search to see what was going on.

As I read the news stories and saw the videos of the gruesome and coordinated attacks, my blood ran cold. This all happened in Paris? Terrorists were murdering people all over the same Paris I’d planned to return to this month?

“That could’ve been me,” I whispered to myself with a heavy heart. If I hadn’t cancelled my trip due to another commitment, that could have very well been me. I rode the rest of the way home in a stunned silence.

As soon as I walked through the door, I turned on the news and watched everything I could. Parisians and fellow Americans alike spoke of their near death experiences in shocking detail. Several ex-pats waved to the screen, assuring their friends and family they’d made it out ok. That evening, my mother called me frantic, begging me to stay in the country and not travel abroad for a while.

I had been having a wonderful week up until then. But I went to bed covered in a blanket of sadness and relief acutely aware of how my postponed vacation may have saved my life.

The next morning, I logged onto Facebook to see what updates had surfaced. I expected words of love for the victims and intelligent think pieces reminding us all not to blame Muslims for the acts of an extreme minority. My timeline is super intelligent and socially conscious, so this is just par for the course when something really bad happens.

But instead, I was taken aback to see a barrage of angry posts condemning anyone mourning the terrorist attacks. Scrolled further down, more wagging fingers of condemnation. Went to Twitter, same thing.

“Why ya’ll tripping over Paris when we getting beat in Ferguson?” one post asked.

“So ya’ll don’t care about #Mizzou anymore just because a bunch of white people got attacked?”another mused.

“DISTRACTION! DISTRACTION! DISTRACTION!” someone else posted in cap locks I found so offensive, I unfollowed them on sight.

And without even thinking about it, I texted my friend, “Ok, so who peed in everyone’s Koolaid this morning?”

It seems like while I slept, 70% of my social media timeline had a secret town hall meeting where they all decided that Paris wasn’t a place that deserved our sympathy. Instead, it was apparently decreed that thanks to all the antics the French government has pulled over the centuries — and because many Americans associate that country with whiteness and privilege — if you showed any shred of human compassion to those murdered or traumatized in the Paris attacks, you were not just an idiot — but also not “woke.”

Immediately, I found myself annoyed and wishing I could throw my laptop out the window.

How could this many people be that narrow-minded?

It was like some sort of temporary insanity had taken over folks whose varied opinions and views I usually respected. And from what I heard from a few other weirded out friends, that sentiment was spreading all over the internet like a cold blooded chain letter, “If you don’t write at least three posts saying you don’t care about Paris — your black card and your American citizenship will be revoked. #Hotep #Pyramids #StayWoke”

If this is what “woke” looks like, I must be sound asleep then.

We do all know that it’s possible to be upset about multiple human tragedies at once, right? How did showing basic kindness turn into an affront to the black community?

For example, I can be sad about Paris, advocate for Black Lives Matter, and be annoyed the lady who does my eyebrows is off today… all at the same time. And I’m guessing most other folks can multi-task as well.

To those who got bitten by the anti-compassion virus this weekend, I have one question.

What is the true intention of all these Oppression Olympics posts where one set of tragedy victims is pitted against the other like a broke man’s rendition of ‘The Hunger Games’?

What exactly is your point? Assuming you all have one.

Because if there is anyone who knows about the disparities between how the world treats first world folks versus those of us from developing countries (i.e. “third world”) — it’s me. France very specifically did some super foul things to my people in Haiti. Deeply messed up things that we’re still paying for. My countrymen’s heartache at the hands of the French government is legendary. 

And yet I can still be like, “Damn, innocent humans dying is sad.”

There is no conflict of interest there. And be clear, there are a ton of black folks in Paris. So again — NO CONFLICT. If Black Lives Matter, I would hope that includes even the ones with foreign passports. Oui?

Now don’t get me wrong, I get where the general frustration stems from. There is a real inequity that needs to be addressed here. So if you want to side-eye the mainstream media for showing a clear tragedy bias, that’s justified.

There are many other less esteemed countries who experience bloodshed every day — who don’t get even half the coverage France has gotten the last 48 hours. There are places equally deserving of flag filters on Facebook and global outcry who are met with silence.

We can all agree that is wrong.

But attacking your timeline (you know — your friends) for acknowledging the loss of a human life doesn’t make you conscious. It just makes you look self-righteous and judgmental. We’re all adults here, and those snarky, “Let me tell you why we’re dumb for caring about France” posts are exhausting.

Ya’ll have made me good and tired this weekend!

If you want to share knowledge and provide historical and political context to this news story, that is wonderful and totally your right. However, as someone who was supposed to physically be in Paris this week — I don’t have the luxury of seeing this as just a “media distraction” that happened to an abstract enemy.

Had I stuck to my plans, I could have been injured over there, while people on Facebook tried to tell my loved ones that my trauma didn’t count because I wasn’t smart enough to get attacked on American soil.

I see no integrity in that stance.

Did any of you posting those scathing posts about the “sillyness” of our grief ever stop to think about what it would feel like if someone you cared about got blown up at a concert hall by extremists?

Probably not.

And in that glaring oversight lies the biggest flaw of playing Oppression Olympics; it ironically causes people who claim to want social justice and equality to create a counter caste system where the lives of all oppressed people are judged solely on the “weight” of their struggles — therefore marginalizing everyone even further.

Oppression Olympics, is a term used when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than each other. People who participate tend to ignore the fact that it’s possible for multiple groups to be oppressed, and necessary to address all those problems, without choosing a single group to get all the anti-oppression activism. Oppression Olympics also tends to ignore Intersectionality, except where the existence of multiple degrees of oppression can help an individual participant “win”. [Source]

The Oppression Olympics semi-finals usually sound like: 

Oh you’re a woman? That sucks. But not as bad as being a black woman though.

Oh you’re a black woman. That sucks. But not as bad as being a black lesbian though.

Oh you’re a black lesbian who witnessed a mass murder in Paris? That sucks.

Too bad it didn’t happen in Ferguson though.

When does it end?

When is the loss of a life allowed to universally be seen as a bad thing without us all clamoring to take away its merit? How is this different from what we complain about what white supremacists are doing? They think some lives matter more than others. And according to some of your posts — many of you are (perhaps unintentionally) implying the same thing.

The true irony of all this is: using #PrayersForParis and this moment of grief as an excuse to undermine that tragedy and talk about other stuff… isn’t that different from yelling “ALL Lives Matter,” during a “Black Lives Matter” rally.

The same argument applies. Making someone else’s tragedy about you is never a good look. Telling someone they don’t have the right to their pain is never a good look. Pitting victims against other victims just to win an argument (say it with me now) — IS NEVER A GOOD LOOK.

Be mad at the system. Be mad at corrupt governments, corporations, or even the media for their blatantly inequitable coverage.

But as people, real flesh and blood people dealing with the horror of the last few days, show some humanity and let them grieve.

Author’s Note: Putting things in perspective is not Oppression Olympics. For those who have done that — without casting judgment on others for showing compassion — I applaud you. To those who haven’t managed to show that level of restraint, I have a piece of advice: before you check anyone else, make sure you’re not mimicking the behavior of your oppressor.

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