A Brief Look Back
A Few Words Before:
This essay is a re-print from a 2015 piece written following the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris four years ago. We all remember that one, right? Of course we do. Twenty people were killed during that horrific spasm of violence.
You also remember, of course, that during that same week, over 2,000 Nigerians were killed during a terrorist attack by Boko Haram, right? Of course your don’t.
And that’s the point of this re-print — to remind us how little black lives actually matter, especially when compared and contrasted with competing traumas experienced by white people. This phenomenon is all too familiar to black people worldwide: media coverage of white atrocity anywhere on earth is given saturation coverage. Yet black death, black pain, black suffering even on an industrial-sized scale is hardly noticed, let alone addressed with a view toward ending such horrors.
The point, then, is that white supremacy / white racism is a global phenomenon which operates automatically, systematically….like clockwork — a clock which has been ticking since at least that ill-fated year of 1492. Or is white supremacy/white racism really a time bomb whose fuse will soon burn through and ignite its deadly explosive?
In a searing and cogent piece entitled “ Thousands of Black Lives Mattered in Nigeria, but the World Didn’t Pay Attention,” the Root ‘s Kirsten West Savali compares and contrasts the West’s response to the terror killings of almost 20 mostly white folks (including the gunmen) in Paris to the contemporaneous wholesale slaughter of ten times that number of blacks in Africa’s most populous nation-state, Nigeria.
This time the hypocrisy is blatant, obvious, palpable. And “willful,” says Savali.
“From a bombed NAACP office in Colorado to the decimated town of Baga, Nigeria, acts of terrorism against black people and institutions have failed to generate much attention in the United States this past week,” begins Savali.
The “satirical” magazine Charlie Hebdo, of course, was the target of an al-Qaida-inspired terrorist attack last week which murdered 12, while a separate and connected attack claimed the lives of four hostages and the killer at a kosher supermarket.
As Savali points out, the response of the Western world to the Paris attacks has been eerily similar to bygone and contemporary civil rights marches in the US against America’s past and ongoing systemic racial apartheid as practiced against its black citizenry.
Indeed, this show of Western unity in the face of “terrorism” included even Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ( who’d been asked by French President Francois Hollande not to show up) marching alongside Europe’s top leaders and, amazingly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
These leaders served as the intrepid vanguard of an estimated 3.7 million people as they moved through Paris’ streets and past Charlie’s offices — “a magazine whose Islamophobic bent has been largely underplayed in a broader debate about free speech,” writes Savali.
Savali then gets to the meat of the matter, noting the “ well- documented “ hypocrisy of many of these leaders as to suppression of free speech in their home countries while sanctimoniously bleating about its unquestionable necessity for Europeans and North Americans. “[T]he relative silence surrounding the horrific, nearly contemporaneous attack that took place in Baga [Nigeria] has been deafening,” she declares.
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The estimated 2,000 dead in Baga were overwhelmingly elderly, women and children ruthlessly slain at the hands of hundreds of Boko Haram “soldiers,” the same holier-than-thou terrorists who kidnapped over 200 still missing Nigerian schoolgirls last April. Reports indicate that the 2,000 were systematically killed (“ like insects “), after which whole villages and towns were burned to the ground, rendering 30,000 survivors homeless.
Savali then turns her spotlight on America: “After months of social and racial unrest sparked by the state-sanctioned killings of unarmed African Americans across the country, so-called liberal allies had a chance to proclaim that ‘ Black Lives Matter’ at the Golden Globe Awards…. Instead, Hollywood heavyweights from George Clooney to Kathy Bates proclaimed, ‘ Je suis Charlie,’ choosing instead to show solidarity with a wildly offensive satirical magazine halfway across the world.”
It was only hip-hop musician, actor, and activist Common who dared to even broach the touchy subject of police misconduct vis-a-vis black folks. But, as Savali points out, even “his remarks were framed as ‘all lives matter,’ when the loud silence on black deaths both in America and abroad shows the very opposite to be true.”
Over at Fox News the never-ending trope of black criminality proved irresistible in the face of another “Islamofascist” attack. Correspondent Shannon Bream dropped all pretense and just said it out loud: Because the bad guys during the Charlie Hebdo attacks wore full face masks and completely covering dark clothing, it became impossible to discern who the “bad guys” are when you “ can’t see what color they are.”
This very old “all black people look alike” canard was on full display in the treatment of would-be hero Lassana Bathily, the black Muslim who actually shielded several white shoppers when Amedy Coulibaly took over the Parisian kosher market. Bathily, however, “was not hailed as the hero he is; in fact, he was initially considered a suspect because of his skin color,” writes Savali.
“They told me, ‘Get down on the ground, hands over your head,’” he told BFMTV. “They cuffed me and held me for an hour and a half, as if I was with them.”
This kind of treatment is often par for the course and meted out routinely to black men across the US — even out-of-uniform black cops (“good guys”) — when confronted by fellow white (and/or of color but white-supremacist imbibing) officers.
But Fox is certainly not alone in the constant denigration of black life; it is just the most open purveyor of the “black men-as-thugs” meme and mantra. Indeed, none other than the venerable Washington Post said of the Kouachi brothers (who carried out the Charlie attack) that “… radical Islam simmered in the 19th arrondissement. Its skyline was crowded with the sort of high-rises the Associated Press described as ‘public housing slums that breed violence and crime.’ … [Cherif] drank, smoked pot, slept with his girlfriend and delivered pizzas for a living … and spent a lot of time listening to rap music.”
The nexus between rap music and criminality is in-your-face obvious, right? There is indeed a YouTube video of Kouachi rapping, which is all the evidence needed to make the Post ‘s point.
Finally, Savali drives the thing home:
There has been an almost instinctive need to contextualize these crimes through a white supremacist lens, raising the specter of blackness as a terroristic threat to society. Meanwhile, the brutal killing of thousands of Nigerians largely goes ignored.
Whatever else is said, this I know for sure: While the world holds its arms out in sympathy for Charlie Hebdo, we who believe in freedom must seek justice for black people around the world — including for the victims of Boko Haram. We must continue to say that All Black Lives Matter, even when the world refuses to see it.
Originally published at https://www.laprogressive.com on January 15, 2015.