On the Violence in Paris: Stop the Grief Shaming

I’m saddened by some of the posts I’m seeing on social media, chastising those who are expressing love and solidarity in the wake of last week’s violence in France. Moments of great empathy are not a social failing. If anything, they are an opportunity to build better and expand our collective compassion. Posts that more or less amount to, “if you care about this, but didn’t post about [insert tragedy here], I’m judging you” help nothing and heal nothing. When people living in a desensitized society have opened their hearts to grieve the suffering of others, there is a potential for a widening dialogue that shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of social media angst.

This should certainly be a moment of greater realization. It should be a moment of understanding the connectivity of violence and certainly a moment to reflect on what society may have averted its eyes from over time – and of realizing that the recent attacks in Paris, and the violence of imperialism and colonialism, are really all part of the same tragedy. And while we should challenge one another to recognize the connectedness of international violence, and to extend our grief to encompass that which is less familiar, and often unseen within the scope of popular media, spite and vitriol will never build the bonds that will help reshape the course of history for the better.

As a Native woman, I understand the pain of erasure. I know it well. And when I am hurt by it, my anger and sadness are certainly valid. People should be paying attention to the police killings, rampant suicides and ongoing displacement of my people. It’s more than reasonable for people whose pain and loss are invisibilized to express grief and anger that their suffering goes unseen. But for those who would endeavor to lift up those issues in our names, or to speak on behalf of others whose struggles they have not experienced, I think it’s fair to expect a more thoughtful and nuanced approach than I have seen from many this past weekend.

The work of swaying those who don’t understand or agree with you is much more difficult than simply demanding an attitude adjustment. It’s a matter of social transformation, and the work of transformation must be nuanced and constructive. It can at times be fueled by anger. I feel that anger myself, but I do my best to not to allow those feelings to isolate me from people who I believe have the potential to understand and work with me. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed in holding back my anger, but for those who are not directly affected by these oppressions, the path of discourse is a much simpler one: broadening empathy.

We know that racism, uneven media coverage, and the seeming constancy of some violence play into a larger failure to react, in many instances, but all of this can be overcome, and it won’t be overcome by judgement or snark. It could, however, be overcome by mourning for those lost in Paris, not all of whom were white, as some posts seem to suggest, and opening our hearts a little further to mourn all that we may not have let in. It’s crucial that we see the connections between the violence in Iraq, Beirut, Paris and elsewhere, breathe in the feelings that come with it all, and then build forward in a way that holds us all accountable for what our media covers and what we do to interact with these tragedies.

If that’s the path that people take now, I don’t care about what they didn’t post on Facebook last week. I care about us all opening our eyes a little wider and doing better in the coming week.

You’re not wrong for grieving the harm done in Paris. The answer is more compassion, not less. And vigilance, because we know that this is how the cycle of violence continues, and if we don’t stand in the way of endless war and Islamophobia, there will be more moments of extraordinary violence the world over, and we will have had a hand in each of them, because our country drops the very bombs that radicalize those who would carry out attacks like those of last week.

So watch the backs of those who will be treated as scapegoats in the coming days, and make the connections people need to see about what’s happening, on a larger scale. Demand an end to our ongoing wars, and advocate for those harmed and displaced by those conflicts. And extend love, rather than judgment to those who are hurting, because their hearts are open right now, and that’s an opportunity for us all.

That’s the real work at hand, friends. So let’s handle ourselves accordingly.


  1. Grief shaming? Really? It is interesting that what some may view as grief shaming others see as pointing out discrepancies, dismissals, and omissions that we ALL need to examine. Why is it that the clarion for world peace is deafening only after something horrible happens to folks we can readily identify with? That identification can be by religion, ethnicity, gender, social status, nationality etc. But that is the problem. You write that you don’t care about what was not posted on FB last week, and that attitude is a lot of the problem. Maybe if more folks cared about what has happened and continues to happen to other people such horrors may not have been visited upon France. It shouldn’t be of highest priority to create world peace only after tragedy has struck people you can identify with, and that is what those messages on FB– that you label “grief shaming”– are pointing out. Nobody is denying you your grief and your feelings about what happened in France, but if YOU and others feel some shame around your feelings, that’s not coming from FB memes that’s coming from INSIDE YOU and may be well worth self-examination.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. “You write that you don’t care about what was not posted on FB last week, and that attitude is a lot of the problem.”

      I care what people do now. And I don’t find lecturing people who are ready to build forward and do the right thing about their past failings terribly useful in doing so. Most people with politics that resemble my own once had very different politics, and so did I. I welcome change and find no use in punitive lectures when people are ready to get it right.

      “Nobody is denying you your grief and your feelings about what happened in France, but if YOU and others feel some shame around your feelings, that’s not coming from FB memes that’s coming from INSIDE YOU and may be well worth self-examination.”

      I feel no shame, and your apparent anger is misplaced. I am not someone who has neglected other issues or focused solely on white death. I am not white, and I generally discuss the plight of non white people. As for self examination, I think we could all do with a bit of that, most of the time.

      As for others, I appreciate my friends who are presenting nuanced perspectives and calling on people to widen their sense of empathy to include those who have been invisiblized by the media and by a cultural tendency to grieve for what most resembles our own society. (The plight of my own people, here in the states, has been treated much the same way.) I think that is a responsible course of action at this time. But there’s also a lot of venting going on that I don’t find productive at all. A lot of people are spitting vitriol at those who have been moved by a tragedy, when we could be using this moment as an opportunity to widen our collective understanding of the very harms you speak of. I am against nationalism and the romanticizing of white cultures, but I do think there is an opportunity to reach out to people right now, to get them to see the bigger picture, and I don’t think that spite is the way to do it.

      I am sorry if you are conflating spite with nuanced dialogue, but I’m not. So thanks for your thoughts, and good day.

      Liked by 3 people

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