Conspicuous Silence on Attack in Nairobi

Sam White

There’s no doubt that my time at Oberlin College has broadened my outlook on the world. I’m surrounded, for the most part, by people who care about what happens outside of their everyday lives — at least more than people at my insular, wealthy, suburban high school. I’ve caught on, often to the point where I’m the one in a given group of friends who knows what’s going on in the world; the one who explains the headlines to the others.

But one horrific event this past week has raised serious doubts for me in how engaged I really am.

I vividly remember the day when, last December, news broke of the mass-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I remember how I heard the news. I was in Slow Train, peacefully enjoying my latte while failing to stay focused on all the papers I had to write when the news stories showed up on my Facebook feed adorned with comments and shares from my friends. I remember the shock, the horror, the sinking feeling in my stomach that robbed me of my ability to focus on academics for the rest of the day. I remember feeling that, even though this tragedy was taking place hundreds of miles away, it affected me, too. Everywhere I looked, the screens of people’s MacBooks, blaring with the latest headlines from every conceivable news source, affirmed the terror. Everywhere I walked, I overheard hushed conversations echoing the same thoughts that plagued my mind.

I remember even more clearly the moment, four months later, when I found out about the bombings at the Boston Marathon: I was in Slow  Train, once again procrastinating on Facebook, when the story showed up in my news feed. Within minutes, the story was showing up on MacBook screens around me. Within hours, it was the talk of the town. The feeling was the same, with the added burden that this time it was my hometown, that people I knew were there, were present, were in harm’s way. I tried to be a worldly Obie and put the small, isolated bombing in perspective: elsewhere, this might be a daily reality. I couldn’t. I struggled to focus on my classes, I contacted friends and family at home incessantly, and the Boston headlines became my daily bread until I knew the danger had passed.

And I remember last Saturday. I wasn’t in Slow  Train when I found out. It wasn’t the first thing I saw in my Facebook news feed. It wasn’t until I walked back into my room in Afrikan Heritage House, and my roommate asked me, “Did you hear about what’s happening in Kenya?” that I knew what was happening in Kenya.

In all three tragedies, one thing has been true: that those of my friends and peers who are most directly affected are those who care the most. I’m guilty of this, as is most everyone else. We’re all human.

But after Newtown and after Boston, another thing was true: Everyone cared, regardless of whether they were personally affected. After Nairobi, I heard the same conversations, the same concerns, but only in one building on campus: my dorm. The A-House community came together to support those affected. At Soul Session that night, everyone present observed a moment of silence. Students sang the Kenyan national anthem. The unity was incredible and enduring.

Outside the dorm the hushed conversations are absent. The headlines are there, but they’re different; the impassioned, fiery op-eds are missing; the speculation is non-existent.

I know we all care about what happened in Kenya last weekend, but why aren’t we showing it?