Pausing to consider the statement: "I am a Christian" I also know the troubled history that has been carried out for centuries in the name of my religion. When the attack on Paris happened Friday before even knowing the details I knew what was going to explode in subsequent discussions: anti-Muslim sentiment.
Of course it did, but it spurred me to want to step back and understand why. Why do these terror groups form? Why do we keep going through cycles of this? Why does it seem to always be juxtaposed with a civil rights issue we may be going through at the same time in our own country? Why do we start to split amongst ourselves as Americans being able to show solidarity for #prayforparis but fail to achieve mainstream support for #blacklivesmatter? Some of the same people who were upset about the hijacking of #blacklivesmatter into #alllivesmatter are the same ones calling that #prayfortheworld be used instead of #prayforparis. What's been especially conflicting for me is the diversity of those I've seen making both sides of that argument.
As someone who's studied cultural psychology, I understand the concept of in groups and out groups, and I understand that just because we support one cause doesn't mean we don't necessarily support another. I also understand that you can't force someone to feel a certain way about a topic or force them to show empathy (and this video on empathy is a must-watch). You can respectfully enlighten and educate as I had to do when I pointed out flawed logic on a post expressing that groups not used to acts of terrorism are more deserving of sympathy vs. those who aren't as though there is some master measuring stick of "being used to terror."
As I shared on my personal Facebook wall when discussing the attack in Paris, I understand it's not just about armchair activism via social media and changing one's profile picture to a flag (if by all means that's what you feel compelled to do, then do it). However, what social media has the power to do is bring awareness in a very mass way to certain issues. Without #prayforparis many would not have known about Garissa although that happened all the way back in April.
Additionally what social media does is acts a barometer of sorts. What it's done is given people a platform to express what's in their hearts. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's come across a Facebook friend's viewpoint on a topic and thought "I had no idea they felt that way" sometimes in a heartening way and other times in a disheartening way. This is also why I think it's important to realize people really do get keyboard courage and that one must step from behind the computer screen and have face-to-face dialogue.
For those of you who have come up to me in person, talked to me on the phone, sent texts and emails about these issues in the past few days, please know that I appreciate you and your willingness to have meaningful discussions.
Beyond seeing the role of religion and social media, I've also been considering the role of the white majority in our country and I keep coming back to this Louis C.K. video (warning: very strong language) where he discusses how great it is being a white man. While his piece is quite humorous, on a serious note I appreciate his willingness to see his privilege. From this place of privilege is the ability to have empathy, the ability to change things and the ability to be willing to understand the role that the history of this position of power has played in what's unfolded worldwide.
While we look ahead towards peace, we cannot ignore the violent history that is in our past and how it colors what is happening now. From the cries for black people to "get over it already!" or calls from some Christians to blindly respond with Bible verses and "Jesus is the answer" without seeing how people acting in the name Christianity has caused so much pain worldwide, historical context cannot be abandoned.
Yes, it would be fantastic to simply say, "We're all human" and get on with it, however there have been constructs put in place that simply won't dissolve overnight.
So what do we do?
Again I think it goes back to how you're personally compelled.
Empathy definitely has a role to play, and as a black, Christian woman for me that means being aware of my history in each of those groups I'm a part of and how that colors my desire and ability to create a more peaceful world. In regards to what just happened in Paris, it's made me realize how little I know of Middle Eastern history and Islam and to make a dedicated effort to learn more.
It's a start.