After Paris, seeing red — and blue and white and black and green

French flag

Bleu, blanc et rouge

A thoughtful friend on Facebook reminded me today of my cultural blindness.

Yesterday terrorists claimed by the Islamic State committed an act of war in Paris: eight known attackers, seven bombs, five locations, and a storm of bullets.

The death toll is currently at 127, with 300 more hospitalized, 80 in critical condition. It’s incalculably tragic. My eyes well up when I think of the bullet holes, the shattered glass, the chaos, the lives cut short, the families damaged beyond repair, a nation terrorized yet again.

Friends of mine posted messages of support on Instagram and Facebook yesterday. I myself changed my Facebook profile picture to a beautiful photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up bleu, blanc et rouge. It was a gesture so simple as to be nearly meaningless, but it made me feel good for a minute.

This morning, dozens more have added transparent overlays to their photos, blue, blanc et rouge. It’s a move familiar to us, whether it’s the purple of anti-bullying or the rainbow of marriage equality. Simple gestures of support. Facebook makes it easy to show we care.

I don’t remember a similar outpouring when 147 were killed and scores more were injured in April at Garissa University College attack in KenyaIt could have happened, and I missed it. It’s not likely I would have seen it. I count myself among the culturally blind. In fact, I’m sure it happened, but among people I don’t know. Other people. People somewhere else. Over there somewhere.

A friend today posted a link to an old BBC News story about the attack. There were no words of chastisement. He didn’t appear to be outraged by the inégalité underlying our best intentions. It was just a link, a simple reminder: Incalculable tragedy strikes everywhere.

Nous sommes tous américains.

Nous sommes tous Français.

Nous sommes tous au Kenya.

I wonder: Who among my friends knows the colors of the Kenyan flag? Did Facebook give us the option on April 2, 2015, to change our profile pictures in support of the students murdered in Garissa.

Kenyan flag

Black, red and green

I am not a scold. No one should be be made to feel bad for changing their profile picture in support of France. Certainly Paris is deserving of our support, however we want to show it. I don’t think it’s an outrage that we (I) don’t know what the Kenyan flag looks like. (I had to look it up.) People like me may feel more culturally close to a country like France than Kenya — whether it’s true or not. (Kenya was colonized by the British just as America was.) But I am grateful for the subtle, yet loud-and-clear, reminder from those who do not forget.

The colors are black, red and green. Black for the people, red for the blood shed for independence, and green for the countryside, with white stripes to symbolize peace and honesty.

We could do worse than keep peace and honesty in our hearts as we mourn. It you pray, don’t pray for Paris. Don’t pray for Kenya. Pray for peace everywhere. And pray that we stay honest about our own blindness.


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