On Monday, the world mourned as it heard the news about Notre Dame going up in flames. The tragedy of losing centuries worth of religious history was shocking for everyone. On the same day, at almost the same time, the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was also on fire. There was far less coverage on the mosque and far fewer posts on my social feeds spoke about that tragedy. But none of this was a surprise.
Media bias is nothing new. The selective mourning of Americans is something I have felt my entire life.
Members of western civilization mourn for white deaths more than deaths of people of color. In 2015, we saw Facebook feeds covered with the French flag. People showed solidarity for the six horrendous terror attacks that killed over a hundred people that fall. While the events were heartbreaking, we rarely see profile pictures with flags of other countries when similar events occur, despite us knowing about multiple atrocities across the world.
In 2016, a devastating suicide bombing in Brussels left people terrified. It was the worst bombing in Belgium’s history. Almost double the number of people were killed for similar reasons just five days later in Lahore, Pakistan, but there was close to no coverage of this tragedy in Western media.
Currently, Uighur Muslims are being held in “re-education centers” in China. Barely anyone seems to notice or care. But if even one American was being held in a similar way, we would notice and we would feel outrage.
Within our own nation, we don’t pay attention to the people in Flint, Michigan who have been without clean water for five years. But people happily raised millions of dollars to “build a wall” because they think violence in America comes from the outside. This money could go toward cleaning the water in Flint or be used to help victims of tragic events, but in America, our attention is drawn toward painting someone else as the enemy.
When there are mass shootings in the United States, we label white terrorists as “mentally ill.” We try to justify the actions. When the perpetrator of a crime is another race, we talk about their race, their religion or anything else that makes them the “other.” We saw this illustrated in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombings. The focus then was on the perpetrators’ faith as Muslims, rather than on the perpetrators’ personal lives or the potentiality of an unchecked mental illness.
When we give our focus to white lives over the lives of people of color, we take a harmful stance. We portray black and brown people as criminals — as if they represent their whole race. On the other hand, we view dangerous white people as “lone wolves.”
It is OK and normal to mourn over tragedies that happen in the Western world, but it is important to also pay attention to the deaths and injustices outside it. When we do not educate ourselves about horrible events happening outside the United States and Europe, we encourage the development of xenophobic attitudes. We allow bigots to ignore the horrendous tragedies that occur, and our implicit biases toward people of color and discrimination against minorities continue.