analysis is not solidarity. lessons from the boston marathon bombing.

April 16, 2013

Analysis Is Not Solidarity. Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.

By: Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 4 years now, but Boston will always be my home. My parents live close to the marathon route. Marathon day is a state holiday (we call it Patriot’s Day), and every year we’d walk down and watch the marathon. We’d bring water and cups to hand to the runners. It was the only day we were allowed to eat fried dough. To this day it’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

I had the poor timing to be at home in Boston for rehearsals of a play this year. On my way home from rehearsals I passed the marathon route and thought “I should walk down and watch the marathon tomorrow.” I got up and decided I should be a responsible adult and finish my taxes first instead of racing to get them done by midnight. It was 2 by the time I was done. By the time I’d make it to the marathon most of the fun would be over. So I stayed home. My skin still crawls at the thought of that.

I was closer than I’d like to be, but far enough that I heard no explosions. Not even a siren. I heard about the bombing of the Boston marathon the way most people did: the internet. Twitter became a switchboard. The hive mind did our best to parse what little information we had, share resources and contacts, and generally keep tabs on anyone we knew who might have been downtown. But the wonderful spirit of co-operation and solidarity that inspires rapturous op-eds about Twitter as the future of journalism, activism, and community organizing has it’s ugly side too.

(Pictured: The illuninator projecting messages of peace on the Brooklyn Academy of Music)

The predictable reactions came in on cue. With no suspects, leads, or information, a host of familiar faces were eager to point out that the bombing fits their narrative. Racist warmonger extraordinaire Pamela Geller accused “Jihadis” within the hour. Right wing commentator Erik Rush just straight up advocated anti-Arab genocide. 9/11 conspiracy enthusiast Alex Jones declared it an inside job. Fox News and the NY Post announced that a Saudi national had been taken into custody despite the fact that it didn’t happen. NRA supporters declared this as definitive proof that we need more guns. Bloomberg, who has never encountered a problem whose solution wasn’t “we need more cops!” beefed up security throughout NYC. And it almost goes without saying that Westboro Baptist Church blamed the gays.

On the flipside, people who I generally respect got it just as wrong. My atheist friends roundly criticized the calls to “pray for Boston,” reminding folks that prayer doesn’t help someone who is bleeding from shrapnel. While that is true, people around the country watching feel powerless right now. They’re trying to help and don’t know what else they can do. Now’s not the time to play superior humanist. (OK, I admit, I made a comment along those lines too, and I kind of regret it…) Boots Riley, one of my favorite musicians on the planet and someone for whom I have almost infinite respect, responded by posting a link about the US Bombing of an Afghani wedding 10 years ago. Yes. America has done and continues to do some fucked up shit. Who does pointing that out at this exact moment
help? Your point is well taken, but a message of sympathy would have meant a lot more.

Other activist friends of mine went on tirades about the bombings the same day in Iraq that caused some 40 deaths and 300 injuries. Their posts contained a theme of “who cares about 2 dead Americans compared to deaths elsewhere?” And I get it, you’re frustrated that these tragic deaths overseas that you’re incredibly personally invested in stopping are getting little to no attention in the press. You’re frustrated by the implication that the deaths in Boston are somehow more significant than the victims of US-spawned sectarian violence in Iraq or American drones in Pakistan. Protip: all death is tragic. No- one’s grief is more valid than anyone else’s. And moreover, empathy is not a zero-sum game. Having empathy for the victims of the bombing in Boston doesn’t mean you can’t have empathy for the victims of bombs in Iraq.

So here’s a tip: if your first reaction to a tragedy is “how can I use this to advance my pre-established narrative about the world?” just stop. Take a breath. Put down your phone, laptop, or tablet. If you personally know someone who may have been affected by that tragedy, text them (don’t call, it uses more bandwidth in our already over-taxed cell networks). Make sure they’re OK. Take a minute to remind them that you care about them. The time for analysis can come later. When the information comes about who did it and why, we can talk about what that means and how to respond. But in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, don’t be the guy on an internet forum who yells “first!” with nothing meaningful to contribute to the conversation. Or worse, the disaster-capitalist who looks immediately for a way to profit off a tragedy. Now is not the time to sell your book, even if it’s tangentially relevant. Now is the time to advocate calm, unity, and compassion.

If the person who did it turns out to be a Muslim, remember that there were quite a few Muslims running the marathon. Hell, 94 countries were represented in the Boston marathon. Muslims were just as hurt by this attack as non-Muslims. It’s just as likely that the perpetrator of this attack is an anti- tax militia type. Or someone else entirely. But whoever did it, and whyever they did it, they acted as individuals and not as representatives of their race, religion, or ideology.

Seek justice, not revenge. Look for how it could have been prevented, but not at the expense of civil liberties. Engage in thoughtful conversation about America’s complicity in atrocities, but don’t diminish the suffering of anyone. Be respectful. Be supportive. But most importantly, before you go shooting your mouth off, ask someone you know who was affected “what do you need? What can I do to help?”