Butler and mourning some but not others

Butler’s piece of mourning and grief emphasizes how some bodies are mourned while others are not. We can see this immediately in how some victims of terrorist attacks–French people in Paris–who fit a model of victimhood as white and innocent that other, equally suffering victims do not fit. During the week of the Paris attacks, terrorist violence afflicted many across the globe. For example, extremists took 170 captives in Bamako recently and killed about 27 people. While white bodies dominate the media reportage of terrorism, a car bomb and shooting resulted in 12 deaths in Mogadishi, Somalia in November as well; a suicide bombing killed 5 in Lebanon one week and another bomb killed 43 the following week; bombings and shootings in Bagdad killed 12 and injured 15, and many more. Many of these attacks have been overshadowed by violence against white people, partly because they are unjustly seen as ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ aspects of ‘non-western’ spaces. In addition, in the US, police violence against black and brown bodies remains underreported in mainstream media, with mainly ‘alternative’ or black news outlets reporting the deaths of black and brown American citizens at the hands of would-be protectors. Something that Butler’s article raised for me was not only the discriminating grief over certain peoples’ deaths, but also the discriminating criminalization of particular perpetrators. I see a lot in the media–both internationally and nationally–about black and brown killers or terrorists. Yet when a white man kills students, the disabled, police, or patients at a clinic, the language shifts. By refusing to label equally horrific acts of violence as terrorism, the narrative perpetuates the idea of white innocence and permissibility: it seems more ok for white people to kill than others. All violence and murder is horrible and hateful, but we must understand that a hatred of violence does not produce justice: we need to analyze our hatreds of murderers to see the discrepancies into which we fall by categorizing brown violence as terror and white violence as just regular crime. Justice would be to hold all murderers equally accountable for the same crimes, and black and brown deaths as equally grievable as white victims of shootings.

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