By Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D.,
Every day, for the past two weeks, I have been scouring news outlets for more information concerning the Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok, Borno State. The first few days of media coverage were only from international news sources, with wildly varying figures as to the numbers of girls who had been abducted by gunpoint from their school and how many had managed to escape. Even now, two weeks after this horrific abduction, we still don’t know the exact number: but some 150-200 girls were forcibly removed from the safety of their school and their anguished parents continue to search, wait, petition, and demand more information about their daughters.
I’ve been walking around in a fog trying to figure out why the American news media has been so silent about this act of terrorism. When 33 Chilean miners were trapped and subsequently rescued, there was 24/7 American coverage of the story, including the “amusing” details of both wives and mistresses showing up to support the trapped miners. The kidnapping of a 7 year old British girl, while vacationing with her parents in Portugal, is a regular American news item many, many years after her disappearance. American media regularly covers all manner of international disasters, human interest stories, and news from abroad. Every local media outlet I’ve read over the past two weeks has devoted prime space to covering the Britain royal family’s tour to Australia, down to the detail of the color of Prince George’s socks.
And yet, 200 or more kidnapped schoolgirls from Nigeria barely registers in the American mind. When I tell people about this act of terrorism and ask them why it hasn’t received more coverage, I have inevitably received two responses: a) “this kind of stuff happens all of the time in Africa” or b) “what can we do? Those girls have probably already been sold into slavery or trafficked.” The only think that breaks my heart more than the story of this kidnapping is this level of indifference and disregard for these black girls. I am left to wonder time and time again: do black girls matter in this world?
Africa, as a continent, has more than its fair share of suffering, but that does not diminish the pain, anguish, and heartbreak experienced by the parents of these 200 or more Nigerian girls. We cannot become so indifferent to the violence in any country or any community or neighborhood, that we are willing to dismiss the fact that an individual family grieves when a loved one is in pain or killed or kidnapped. There is a father in Chibok who plans to dance at his daughter’s wedding; there is a mother in Chibok who cries as she cooks her daughter’s favorite meal. Their pain is singular and cannot be dismissed because of the collective violence one group or nation may experience.
Secondly, it breaks me to see the easy acceptance on the part of some concerning the possible fate of these girls. While sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and slavery are all too real, we cannot and should not accept that as inevitable. Where is the military response in Nigeria against this terrorist group? Where is the pressure from human rights organizations? Why isn’t there, two weeks after the fact, an accurate count of who is missing? In other words, are our daughters so disposable that we can merely shrug and count it as a loss when they are violently kidnapped from the safety of their schools? Are black girls such a cheap commodity that their lives can be quickly erased from the human balance sheet? We cannot shrug our collective shoulders and simply proclaim “there’s nothing we can do.” The forces of evil always win if we yield defeat before even stepping into the fray.
The lives of these young girls matter. The lives of young black girls matter. The grief and anguish of these parents is real. Black pain and suffering is real. We will be judged for our silence and our indifference to the pain of the “least of these.” Nigeria is our neighbor and these are also our daughters. Let us not rest until they are safely home.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies. She blogs @ Reflections of an Afro-Christian Scholar