Sitting in my living room or on my bed, I’ve heard and seen many awful stories recently. In the past week alone, I watched people trapped on a mountain top in Iraq rush a helicopter to get to safety. ‘But where are they going to go?’ I’d wondered aloud to no one but my cats. There was also some news about Ebola and some news about the Ukraine, how many people have died respectively because of the disease in west Africa or the fighting in eastern Ukraine. And there are people in Palestine who are trapped and terrorized. Oh yeah and another young, unarmed African American male was killed right here in the United States by a police officer and then protests began and police response to them was warlike.
And this was just what happened to be on the news in the past week. There are still undocumented, unaccompanied refugee children who are stuck in immigration processing centers. Remember them? And remember those girls in Nigeria who I promised to not forget? Yeah they are still missing.
That’s my major beef with the American media. We are inundated with stories and subsequent images of war and terror and then we forget about one story as it’s rapidly replaced with another. There is no follow up, there are no vigils, there are no reminders. In short, there is no humanity. So on the surface, we forget… but the horrors stay with us, even if buried deep within ourselves.
The Huffington Post recently featured an article in which a white man (Paul Brandeis Raushenbush) encouraged other white people to join and rally in support of the black community (which we should!) and he noted that our ability to switch from one story to the other, to forget or to choose to avoid the stories altogether is a luxury. And it is. It absolutely is. But like most luxuries (aka privileges), they come with consequences. I think that channel and internet surfing war and terror is traumatizing and numbing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that watching war from TV is comparable to experiencing it firsthand – hence, why the ability to channel surf terror is a privilege, and an especially f’d up one at that. But. To be exposed to horrific things and have no means to process them does take a toll.
That is probably one of my favorite quotes ever. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. That line speaks to me in a way I can’t quite articulate – and I also think it is really, really hard to get used to violence. When we feel we’re “so used to” the violence, I think what we mean is that we are numb and disconnected. And that is very different than being accustomed to violence.
To never look away. And never, never, to forget. That’s the other piece of this quote that is so key to life and hearing stories about the world’s happenings. Raushenbush encourages us to focus less on these issues that are further from us and more on the issues happening within the US. At least, that’s what I took away from it. And maybe we should but here’s the thing. How do we define what is closer to us? I mean unaccompanied children are now living in my community, in our community. And I have a lot of ties to Central America. So as a white person, supporting the Latino community, as best as I’m able and listening to them for guidance before taking any action is also really important and is also here. And I have many friends and family who are Jewish and Israel is immensely important to them. Heck, I have family in Israel and I’ve been there to visit them. So while Palestine and Israel are very far away geographically, it is also local to me and to many Americans. Not to mention how much the US is all up in the IDF. And Palestine is important. As much as I understand why it’s important to have Israel and I support Israel, I also am devastated by the violence done to innocent Palestinians. The blockade is fucked up. The resources are completely one-sided and for Palestinians, the lesser of their two evils is Hamas, a group that is totally ruthless. I support both Palestine (the people of it, not Hamas) and Israel and it’s important to me to understand why and how I can do that and to know that it is possible. Not to mention that the United States is home to many immigrants – undocumented or documented, refugee or asylum seeker. So people whose home countries are Ukraine or Iraq are our neighbors and share our communities. And even if they were not, they are human beings, all worthy of respect, concern and care. The bottom line for me is that I am not a “take care of our own first” kind of person – a view Fox News has recently claimed to hold (though let’s face it, they sure as hell do not).
So yes, absolutely white Americans have a role in Ferguson and the countless other tragedies similar to it. But that does not mean that the other issues are insignificant or that we can’t be involved in them in an equally compassionate way. We don’t want to traumatize ourselves further by inundating ourselves. Self-care is essential and sometimes turning off our TVs and computers is necessary. But I think that caring about and following up on the stories that would otherwise just be a short blip on our radars as they splash across the front pages and news feeds is also self-care. When done in moderation, I believe staying connected to the stories and people connects us to our humanity, decreases isolation and minimizes the trauma we sustain from these issues that are inherently traumatic.
So check out other news outlets like BBC that are better about following up on stories. Seek out the positive follow up stories on these issues, which can be found on American media outlets, after a little bit of digging. Listen to the people the stories impact most. Take action when you can and in a way that is informed by the voices of the oppressed. And remember that we really can’t forget. We don’t get used to violence. We only find ways to cope and if we’re not mindful, these coping methods, like numbing and denial will do more harm in the long run than good. Stay connected and fight the disconnect. Keep the humanity in ourselves, in others and in our worldviews.