Je Suis Charlie Ain’t For Me But Nigeria Is

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Last night I was about to go to bed when I noticed the image above posted on a friend’s Facebook page. I had just finished watching the Golden Globes for three hours and heard more white people evoke the clarion call of the moment “Je suis Charlie” than I heard them even so much as imply that “Black Lives Matter.” The latter is the prevailing topic of our days and “Je suis Charlie” just came into our consciousness about a week ago. It seemed to me that this would have been a key moment for this group to show their solidarity but instead they showed that they are more concerned about ensuring the right to free speech even when it borders on being racist and offensive to their fellow brothers and sisters than they are in protecting the lives of those same brothers and sisters. So last night the fight for freedom of speech and expression won over making true the allegedly self-evident truth, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I’ve yet to post “Je suis Charlie” anywhere for a variety of reasons not limited to being unsure that the campaign is one I need to get behind before I pump my fist more powerfully in the direction of fighting for the rights of my own who are slaughtered daily. I don’t feel compelled to say, “Je suis Charlie” because it feels like the call of those who’ve always known the privilege of freedom, such as the freedom to draw potentially racist and offensive pictures and call it entertainment. I don’t know that freedom. I know more about what it means to be the satirical cartoonist’s subject than I do to be the cartoonist. I am not free to draw. It is for that reason that I cannot, with any sense of confidence, say “Je suis Charlie.” I cannot say “Je suis Charlie” in the midst of the injustices taking place in my own backyard that are based on the harsh, unjust lived experience of being black in America. And surely I can’t part my lips to say “Je suis Charlie” when just this weekend Nigeria experienced its deadliest massacre at the hands of Boko Haram. 2,000 innocent children, women, and elderly people were allegedly massacred and now there is news of children being used as suicide bombers by the organization. Nigeria, where over 200 girls were kidnapped last year and we still don’t have them all back. How can I get behind #jesuischarlie when #bringbackourgirls and #blacklivesmatter are still at large? My brothers and sisters cannot decide not be black one day but the cartoonist and the writer can decide to use their gift differently. This is why “Je suis Charlie” ain’t for me.

My responsibility is to my people. This is not to dismiss of the importance of the lives lost in Paris or those putting themselves on the front lines to protest for a freedom–not freedom but one kind of freedom, but I acknowledge that the fight for fundamental freedom in my own backyard weighs more heavily upon me. Boiled down this is about the pen versus personhood, and even though I’m a writer my blackness compels me to the fight that I see as more essential to ensure more of my people live to see another day.

I am more Naija than I am Charlie.

I am more captive than I am free.

I am more subject of derision than I am master.

I am not Charlie.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

As for me and my house, I will be praying for Nigeria. 

#prayforNigeria

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Comments

  1. Definitely a lot going on here, Nicole! I love hearing your perspective. I think what you said about the “Je suis Charlie” statement is poignant; it’s not as clear just exactly where the “campaign” (Is there one?) is going. What I recognized in your words is that I posted “Je suis Charlie” in a move of compassion for my brothers and sisters in France, as opposed to an endorsement of the magazine itself. Still, I am troubled by the content of Charlie Hebdo, and question if I really want to align myself with the “Je suis Charlie” statement. My question is: Should I be standing up for freedom of the press, even when those words and images are racist and oppressive? Should I still be supporting free speech then? How is it that free speech can be defended “at any cost,” and not the lives of black fellow human beings? (Though I think you’ve covered this – far better than I could). If you have any thoughts to add to my questions, feel free. I’ve definitely been ruminating on this for a bit and am continuing to question my support of free speech/freedom of the press. Where is “the line”?

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    • Alyce, I feel challenged to question what it is that we as people of faith support when we talk about supporting free speech. I dare say that it is not our responsibility to support anything that tears down instead of that which builds up–even when the former is being done for entertainment purposes only. I am willing to draw a hardline in what is expedient for our society.

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  2. Reblogged this on Random rantings of a beautiful mind and commented:
    A truly outstanding opinion which I proudly #cosign.

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