Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Should I Think About 3 Deaths in Boston?

I came home last week to see Colin, tucked in to bed his head in the newsp... his phone.  He looked up at me gravely and said enigmatically "Did you hear?  There are 14 dead."

Shit. Really?  14?  I thought it was only 3. I suppose this ups the ante. Ups the panic. Ups the response. Ups the tragedy.

"Colin, I thought there were only 3 dead at the Boston marathon, and a bunch more injured."

"No Kim.  The 14 dead are in Bungoma.  They died violent deaths at the hands of thieves. Apparently there is a gang in the area."

Bungoma is a town about 90 minutes from here.  IPA has an office there.  We have friends there.

I can't totally describe the shift in my emotions when I learned that the innocent dead were here in Kenya and not back in our old city of Boston.  I certainly wasn't relieved.  Probably differently horrified.  The tragedy was closer but also farther away. It happened in a town where we know people, and the deaths were no less random and terror-inducing than those in Boston.  But the Boston deaths took place in America.  And we're Americans. The fallout would affect us - if only in the Zeitgeist.

But the media affects the Zeitgiest, and the reaction of our politicians (I'm looking at you: decade-long trillion- dollar fiasco in Iraq) affects us all. So, the Boston deaths all felt bigger somehow than the many more deaths much closer to our current home. And that felt wrong.

The media's reaction to the Boston marathon attack was immediate and pervasive. Support and condolences blanketed my facebook page and details of the event and then the pursuit of the bombers clogged the newsmedia.  They crowded out other deaths from other corners of the earth.  There was no room for the mounting death toll in Syria, little for the hundreds dead in a Chinese earthquake, barely mention of the near 100 killed in Northern Nigeria, and not a whisper for the 14 killed in Bungoma.

This is not a revelation. The disproportionate coverage of American tragedy is well covered ground. It is explained: America is a superpower, the largest player on the global scene in terms of military might and largest exporter of economic ideas and pop cultural.  And Americans don't expect tragedy. Anyway, American media with American audiences should focus more on American deaths.

Fine, fine fine.  Still, all this does is reinforce our feeling of exceptionalism and that we should be somehow insulated from the rare tragedy.  All this does is make those other deaths somehow more distant, more "other," less relateable,... I'll say it.. less important.

But the 14 dead in Bungoma did not expect this tragedy.  They left shocked and grieving family members.  It was just as random.  Just as terrorizing, maybe more so.  And there were MORE souls lost.  

I don't want to minimize the terror people felt in Boston. And I know we don't collectively have a well of compassion large enough for all the tragedy around the world.  There's too much of it, so we have to selectively pay attention.

Still, I want to leave some space for mourning the people who don't have a powerful nation and a media juggernaut collectively at their funeral.  Maybe if we could all leave some space for that, we'd feel more apart of and act more a part of a global community.  Maybe, if we could truly mourn the deaths of people who live far away from us, look different than us, speak different languages than us, worship different gods, then just maybe there'd be less death to mourn.

9 comments:

  1. I completely understand, and partially-to-mostly agree with you. But, i think the difference is that in Boston it was a bomb. Bomb vs Civilian is still pretty rare internationally, and it is VERY rare in the US. So, its not so much the # of dead from the Marathon Bombings, but the means used to kill that makes it so big (media-wise).

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    1. That's a good point, and certainly responsible for some of the disproportionate media coverage. But it brings me to another point - if this guy is going to be tried under "using a weapon of mass destruction" why oh WHY can't we classify the kind of gun Adam Lanza used to gun down 26 school children as a "weapon of mass destruction." (of course I understand the answer is largely political, but it still rankles!!) Anyway, look who I"m asking!? : )

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  2. I think people are also freaked out about the POTENTIAL damage in Boston. It's not only the three dead people - it's the more than 200 that were injured. The death toll in Boston could have been so much higher.

    That being said, I do agree with you. I made similar remarks around the time of the Newtown shooting. On the same day, there was a mass stabbing at a school in, I believe, China. Fewer deaths, but many injuries, and a great deal of fear experienced by little children. And it got barely a mention.

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    1. You're right of course about the potential damage. And it is, as the commenter said above, a categorically different form of violence. And really, there would have been a lot more dead if they were far from world class medical care. I do get that the media mainly gives Americans what we want and for the most part Americans want to hear about their own people. But still, I listen to the BBC all the time here in Kenya and there is a more global perspective, which I think has a social good attached to it. (makes a more informed citizenry, which is CRUCIAL in a democracy). But I believe the BBC is subsidized (run?) by the gov't and less beholden to the whims of consumers.

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  3. I think you are right about distance being a big part of why it impacts us more or less. I also think it is a lot to do with not expecting something like this to happen at such a treasured, community-focused event- one that is so charity based.

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    1. You're right - there's something about this happening at a community focused event, and an event so off the radar in terms of a national target. (you'd expect it more at a govt building or something) I've read a lot of moving posts from runners who note that no race will ever be the same after this...

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  4. Of course what you saying is pointing in the direction of how we 'should' feel. We, should all be outraged, and appalled at any and all death. But as you also stated we epicenter of culture, freedom, military might and opportunity.

    Then something muddies that crystal clear picture of streets paved with gold, and endless prosperity, it shakes people beliefs. As opposed to a country that isn't the template of wealth and power. Where the value of that country (based on their economic contribution) is merely weighed by how much coffee they export.

    The fact of the matter in simpler terms is, who would you be more interested in finding out about losing 95% of their wealth? Bill Gates or 100,000 other people distinct in there own loss? Sure we should have compassion for all 100,001 but thats not our global culture. It's capitalism, which is what removes our humanity, compassion, and environmental awareness.

    I have faith that people will remember their wiser self, as Natives used to be, as did all indigenous peoples. I feel humanity is evolving toward oneness again, slow as it evolution tends to be. We see the tyranny that religion, matriarchal egos, and tribalism brings and collectively condemn it. Im starting to babble on now... but thanks Kim

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    1. DJ, This is a really great comment. It does seem that people do want to hear more from/about Americans simply bc of our prominence (military economic etc...) on the world stage. Still, I think the media exacerbates this problem. I wish I had your faith that people will remember their "wiser selves." : )

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  5. I previously commented on your point about the media attention, but this comment is about the whole "feeling" part of it. I don't feel any sense of loss for the 3 victims of the boston bombings (or for the 100+ people who died in the Texas fertilizer plant explosions), and I live in boston, have a young son, went to BU as a grad student, and live one town over from the other bombing victim. So, certainly, one could see me as similar to some of the victims. Of course it is not acceptable for people to be murdered. And as a chemical engineer, with friends who work in chemical plants, I certainly want industry to be safe. BUT, didn't know any of these deceased people. I'd never met them; their personal tragedy doesn't effect me. I would be upset if i knew them, but i don't. so i don't feel obligated to shed any tears for them or act sad. I am interested in the stories (bomb, fertilizer explosion) for professional, academic, prevention, and policy/legal/regulatory reasons. That is why I assume people want and watch the media coverage. Not because they are sad about the victims.

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