After hearing the devastating news of the university massacre in Garissa and reports on the amounting death toll, I opened up Facebook to see the reaction; I expected to find some additional articles I hadn’t read, accompanied by sorrowed or outraged posts similar to those I found after the Charlie Hebdo attack three months ago. I scanned my news feed for 45 minutes – yes, 45 minutes – and only saw a single mention of Kenya throughout that entire duration. Instead, I found the usual menagerie of content: a Full House spinoff, a video of a cat fighting an alligator, the usual baby pictures and boyfriend pictures and pet pictures, and of course your standard conglomeration of articles covering everything from the new Furious movie to how to make a cookie waffle. And that one mention of the massacre in Kenya, by the way? It was from a Facebook friend who is originally FROM Africa.
I’m not sure why I even expected to see an outrage on my newsfeed that would be comparable to something like Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were killed. I should have learned my lesson from that same week when somewhere between 150 and 2000 – that’s not a typo, two thousand – were feared slaughtered in Nigeria. And no one felt like talking about that either. So this is the second time in three months in which the point has been made: our society does not value African lives as they value western lives.
In case you haven’t even heard the details on the happenings in Garissa, Kenya on April 2nd, let me sum that up for you. Al-Shabab militants stormed Garissa University College on Thursday morning and spent 13 hours murdering students and battling troops and police before the massacre ended. As the terror unfolded, 148 people were killed: three policemen, three soldiers, and 142 students. The wounded currently number 104. The attack by al-Shabab was reportedly in response to Kenya’s ground troops in neighboring Somalia that are fighting al-Shabab extremists.
Garissa University College has their slogan written on one of their walls outside: “Oasis for Innovation”. And an education institution should be just that – an oasis. A place for knowledge, for learning, and a place for empowerment. In no way do I condone the Charlie Hebdo shooting; the difference between these two events, however (beside the death tolls), is that the Charlie Hebdo staff was aware of the controversy and risk associated with their work. These Kenyan students were innocent in the purest sense; students who were working diligently to better their minds and their lives, and students who should never be subjected to learn in fear.
Can you imagine what would happen if one hundred and forty-two students were murdered at a college campus in the United States? The outrage would continue for months. Scholarships would be set up in their names in just a few hours. Facebook profile pictures around the nation would be changed to an image that represented anti-terrorism and solidarity with the victims and their families.
And yet, when something like this happens in Africa – or any other foreign place to which most of society feels it cannot relate – we turn our heads. We say, “Oh, that’s so sad,” because yes, it is. But that’s where we leave it, because to many people this event is just another happening in Africa… in “poor”, “dark” Africa where “that stuff happens all the time.” Which begs me to ask you, do these lives not matter?
But by ignoring these events, along with ongoing (nearly, and debatably, genocidal) deaths in places such as Central African Republic and western Myanmar, we are answering that question with a, “Well… not as much.” And that is unacceptable. That attitude – which the bulk of our society shares – is an insult to our shared humanity. It’s time we start responding to things and people and events that are not in our social circles.
I know there is a lot going on in the world; there is a lot to be afraid of. It’s overwhelming. On top of al-Shabab you have ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and not to mention the non-terrorist threats that plague thousands of poor communities around the world every day in the form of preventable diseases and hunger. Our world is so over-saturated with messed-up pain that it’s difficult to keep track of it all, and how can our heart and energy be put into so many places at once? But the minute we start valuing some lives over others and turn our heads at such massacres, we give into those with the power-hungry, manipulative ideologies that are preying upon our lack of empathy for non-western lives.
I’m not asking you to save the world. I’m not asking you to come up with some crazy solution to stop terrorism or massacres like this. I’m just asking you to talk about them. Because where you were born shouldn’t determine whether you live, and we have to start the conversation somewhere.