In an NBC spot for a Hurricane Katrina relief and fundraising concert in 2006, Mike Meyers is reading solemnly from cue cards. Next to Meyers is Kanye, looking and sounding torn and defeated. After highlighting the disproportionate effects of Katrina on African-Americans, Kanye goes off-script. First, he says, “They’ve given them [U.S soldiers] permission to go down and shoot us”. Meyers turns his head towards Kanye as if to remind him about something, but continues from his cue. Then, Kanye drops it. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Meyers turns once again to Kanye, and the camera quickly cuts away to Chris Tucker.
Borno state is not the city of Paris. Nigeria is not France. 2,000 people is more than 17 people. A ten-year old female suicide bomber is infinitely more tragic and soul-wrenching than three armed gunman. #jesuischarlie is trending, #bringbackourgirls was trending. Both are fleeting moments of sentimentality, broader than they are deep. Scott Gilmore dryly said, “
#JeSuisCharlie so please #BringBackOurGirls because #Kony2012 taught us hashtag slacktivism is very useful to resolve things like #GamerGate”. Social media has failed to close the distance between immediacy and death. The tyranny of distance reigns.
But, do we really not care about black people because of a distance that is both geographical and sociocultural? In other words, is distance racist?
I am Baga, which can mean “foolish”. I am slow to learn and understand. We are Baga. We are human, and our grief can only travel certain distances. It travels along paths that are familiar, guided by a sociocultural GPS. In 100 metres, turn left down Rue Nicolas Appert. Or, take an alternate route, turning right at the next intersection towards Baga, Borno.
Broken pencils and broken lives are what I am left with; a deep sense of ambiguity over where to feel. Attempting to attribute more value to one tragedy than the other seems absurd. We are forced to make such cold calculations, our GPS guiding the way. Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter, but not all lives can be located. The number of media articles and trending hashtags is not a measure of compassion or apathy. But, it is a compass of our moral tacking. We are lost.
In order to adjust our bearings and reduce the distance, I’ve listed a select number of articles regarding recent events in northeastern Nigeria. A small effort to reduce the tyranny of distance.
“The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy.” – Unmournable Bodies. New Yorker
Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre': 2,000 feared dead in Nigeria. Guardian
Terrorists Killed 2,000 People in Nigeria Last Week. So Why Doesn’t the World Care? World.Mic
Why did the world ignore Boko Haram’s Baga attacks? Guardian
I am Charlie, but I am Baga too: On Nigeria’s forgotten massacre. Daily Maverick
Boko Haram Massacre: Baga survivors narrate ordeal. Premium Times
Je Suis Nigeria. African Arguments
Boko Haram’s massacre in Nigeria: what happened and why. Vox
Nigeria’s military says 150 killed in Boko Haram clashes in Baga. Reuters
Dispatches: What Really Happened in Baga, Nigeria? Human Rights Watch
(Map from the BBC).
‘“It’s a little girl,” said the hospital official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of his position. “The body is beyond recognition, but from the face you can see it’s a young person. A young pretty girl.”’ – In Nigeria, New Boko Haram Suicide Bomber Tactic: ‘It’s a Little Girl’. New York Times
Boko Haram Uses Girls As Suicide Bombers, Reports Say. NPR
Nigeria’s Horror in Paris’s Shadow. The Atlantic
Boko Haram and the little girl whose name we will never know. Kindle
Female suicide bombers kill 39 in Potiskum, Maiduguri markets. Vanguard
Boko Haram, Borno state and Nigeria
“Tucked away in the remote north-eastern corner of Nigeria, Borno is one of its most mismanaged states, which is saying something. Its literacy rate is two-thirds lower than in Lagos, the southern business hub. Fewer than 5% of women in parts of Borno can read or write. Income per head is 50% lower than in the south, school attendance 75% lower. In the past the state government has been a byword for corruption. Elections have been noted for their thuggishness and dishonesty.” – “Nigeria’s crisis: A threat to the entire country.” The Economist
Boko Haram: The Other Islamic State. New York Times
Boko Haram crisis: Nigerian archbishop accuses West. BBC
Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram. New York Times
‘Boko Haram’ doesn’t really mean ‘Western education is a sin’. Christian Science Monitor
Boko Haram crisis: Why it is hard to know the truth in Nigeria. BBC
Nigeria ‘needs same support as France’ after Boko Haram attacks -archbishop. Mail & Guardian Africa
Featured image is from a protest in New York City. Photo by Michael Fleshman.