Let’s get something straight: Unless you’re Parisian, French, or live(d) there, no, you are not Paris. To be Parisian — to be from anywhere, really — is to understand the cultural complexities of that identity that cannot be subsumed or learned with a pithy solidarity meme on social media, and the only way to even begin to understand another culture is by living there.
That said, there are many cultural purists who would argue that even long-term residency doesn’t have the power to make you actually from somewhere else. And unlike what many like to pretend, having been somewhere on holiday doesn’t count towards shaping your identity vis a vis another place: you’ve only grazed the surface of another culture and its people, if hitting tourist spots counts. The same goes for any place there’s a tragedy. You are not them, unless you were there, are from there, or possibly once lived there.
Further, if you’ve never experienced a violent attack in person, you have no idea what it’s like. The horror. The screaming. The smell of gunsmoke and bombs. How hot freshly spilled blood is when it lands on your body. The all-encompassing fear and post-traumatic stress that will be your companion for the rest of your life. You are not those survivors unless you’ve survived something similar.
But since the “I am” memes are an unfortunate thing now in the wake of attacks and disasters, let’s talk about something else: Where were the “I Am Ankara”, “I am Istanbul”, “I am Lahore”, and “I Am Baghdad” graphics? All four cities — and many others — have had devastating attacks and disasters in the past weeks. Why were you only Brussels and Paris, not Istanbul or Lahore? Why didn’t you change your profile picture with a flag overlay? Why was there no hashtag for survivors? Why are you not them, too?
Is it because you don’t know where these places are? Pro tip: There’s this handy little thing called the World Wide Web where you can find any number of maps, profiles, and even street views to putter around.
Do you not realize that the same kinds of people have been victimized and/or survived in Lahore, Istanbul, Baghdad as attacks in Paris or Brussels? Innocent women, children, men, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, colleagues, human beings whose lives are now shaped into the before and after that comes with violent trauma. Why are their lives not important to you, too?
It’s not enough that brown lives are marginalized and stereotyped in film and television, our stories relegated to the fringes or wholly absent — has anyone else noticed the complete erasure of South Asians from dystopian and post-apocalyptic narratives? — but we also get the public slap-in-the-face reminder that some tragedies are more important than others. At least, that’s the message sent when saying “I Am Paris” and not “I Am Lahore.”
The irony is that “I Am” meme-ers have been outspoken about the Republican frontrunner’s repugnant comments on Muslims, and yet when it comes time to actually show concrete solidarity with horrors taking place in predominantly-Muslim countries, all we hear are crickets.
And why does the Black Lives Movement not extend to Africans? On February 1, 2016 Boko Haram burned 86 people alive in the Nigerian town of Dalori, most of them children. Where were the “I Am Dalori” memes? Do some black lives matter more than others?
Here’s the thing: Thanks to the Internet, the entire world is watching everything everyone does. This is why public shaming is also a thing these days. The people you ignore are now able to see who expresses solidarity and when. Your silence is as resounding as your support, and tells its own complicated story. It also helps feed the radicals who believe the West hates them and gives them more anger and emotional ammunition for future terror attacks. It gives groups like Boko Haram further license for their brutality because you’re publicly demonstrating how little you care about the people under their militant control.
There are better ways to show your support post-tragedy than a social media meme anyway, like donating to the Red Cross and other on-the-ground aid groups, volunteering at a refugee/asylum center, cultivating empathy, educating the ignorant, challenging misinformation both on and offline, and much more.
So, enough with the “I am” memes already, unless you’re willing to dedicate each day’s status update to reflect whatever new tragedy unfolded overnight. If you don’t have anything globally inclusive to say after an incident, don’t say anything at all. Please, and thank you.
This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post Politics in April 2016.