Pray For Paris: The Confusing Politics of Native People Mourning Tragedies

Gyasi Ross

“When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he'd say, "What's the matter boss, we sick?" His master's pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself.” - Malcolm X

Honestly, I get confused. 

In the days since the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, there has been a mix of reactions. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know—the news has been on a constant loop of more terrorist threats, outrage, grief, outrage over the grief, policy promises.  Of course never to be outdone, Donald Trump had the policy idea that he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS”; under normal circumstances that might sound crazy as hell, but given the brutality of the terrorist attacks, heck, the Donald actually made some damn sense.   I see my friends—mainly Native people—on Facebook and other social media expressing deep and profound sympathy for Paris.  We’re compassionate people—we know tragic loss. We’re intimately familiar with tragic loss. We hate to see other people dealing with tragic loss because we’re so close to that feeling at all times. 

It really doesn’t matter what color the people were who got killed; the violence was evil.  And unnecessary. The sign of reprobate minds.

But then there’s another view. And it actually also makes a lot of sense.  Some folks say, “Well why is everyone paying attention to Paris? BROWN and BLACK folks die around the world every single day and it didn’t get a special Facebook status photo setting. BROWN and BLACK folks die are killed in unnecessary and evil violence all the time both within the United States and in other nations…no one seems to be praying for Lebanon.”

And it’s true—there definitely seems to be different scale for tragedies depending upon where they happen and who they happen to. Obviously September 11th is a watershed moment within American history and the attacks on Paris are kinda like France’s version of September 11th.  The New York Times quoted Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor as saying, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag. When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

It seems like we’re comfortable with the deaths of brown and black people. It happens. It’s not a big deal.

I’m not sure that there is proper or a wrong way to mourn. I mean, I get the politics—Native people have definitely been on the Lebanese side of national mourning; it seems like no one ever cares when we die.  And that makes me stingy with my mourning—honestly, I tend to save it for when my folks die because I know that nobody else seems to care about it.

But I don’t know if that’s right either. I mean, when a child loses her/his parents because of some unnecessary and evil act, it’s terrible. The color doesn’t matter. When a child gets killed for whatever reason, of any color, it should hurt everybody’s spirit. It’s easy to simply act militant without much thought, “Screw them! Our people were killed and nobody cared so I’m not gonna care about anybody either!” You know the rhetoric.

But that’s stupid.  And dishonest.  At some point, we’re all just humans. And that’s cool. Because Native people show, by virtue of everything from our exemplary service in the military to our continued participation in this system that continues to give us the shaft that we’re willing to be part of a larger team. 

America. To see everyone as human beings. Justice for all.

There is no wrong way to mourn these tragedies—please don’t let anybody shame you into thinking that you have to mourn all tragedies equally. You don’t. None of us do. As compassionate human beings, it’s beautiful when we feel empathy for people outside of our tribe. That’s what Natives do—that’s why the first European immigrants to this country were able to survive here. Yet to simply always come to the aid of hurting and sick without there ever being any reciprocation to see if we’re hurting or sick seems masochistic.

Or confusing.  

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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WVCherokee's picture
Submitted by WVCherokee on
I mourn for the entire world everyday. For all the futile greed for things (land, power, money) you can only hold onto for at the most your mortal life which is but an eye blink in your entire spiritual life. I don't let it consume my Earthly life but it pains me to think that we could all have everything in this world to use and enjoy while we are here and peacefully leave it for others when we have passed instead of stained with the pain and blood of others and condemning our own souls for eternity. With all of the knowledge that has been amassed over the centuries why can man not see the most simple fact of life that would end all strife and struggle, and that is the old adage: "You can't take it with you".

Sammy7's picture
Submitted by Sammy7 on
We Indians do morn all lives lost to violence. Knowing however that Christian America, even after the deaths of one hundred million of our Peoples, still believes in American Exceptionalism, and is still killing millions in the name of that belief, should give us serious pause. Do we Indians really want to serve in a military that has killed estimates between 1.4 million and 4.5 million million Middle Eastern and Aftican Peoples, for the clear purpose of American Empire and world dominion? I say no.

soundstep's picture
Submitted by soundstep on
We need to grow a conscience, PEOPLE OF CONSCIENCE. “People of color” whenever bad things happen to us but when it happens to others on other side of the world, we act like cave-dwelling troglodytes raising flags when, god forbid, others react to imperialist occupations. Did we not react to colonization? Did they not retaliate by committing genocide? As filmmaker Quentin Tarantino stated at a recent NYC rally, “Hey, ... I’m doing here because I am a human being with a conscience.” Correct. We are a people of conscience. And we need to grow some.

Yolanda A Barton
Yolanda A Barton
Submitted by Yolanda A Barton on
The reason people don't mourn the tragic loss of Black and Brown lives is because The senseless, tragic and strategic murdering of Black and Brown people is as American as apple pie. The foundation of this nation is the oppression, colonization, segregation, and genocide of brown and black people.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
If there was ever a LEGITIMATE time to complain or sympathize to the plight (exclusive) my tribal ppls. (Dine'), it should have been in the very early generations (2nd or 3rd), i.e. my cheiis and nahlees, parents. I am 4th generation. Never once did I hear or grow up hearing such utter 'pessimistic' nonsensical beliefs in articles such as the writer espouses. These narcissistic attitudes dont carry well for the future considering a great many, such as the writer, have taken and used American opportunities to get established. Why do you use the opportunities for achievement and then turn around and suggest American way of life is.....wrong?

SarahMcG's picture
Submitted by SarahMcG on
I live in France and I don't understand your article. Plenty of "black and brown" people were among the dead on Friday 13 in Paris. France isn't an exclusively white country, you know.