Let me say first of all that suffering is not a competition. This is not the time to compare wound sizes, or to measure who has bled the most.
Very early Sunday morning, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 49 people were murdered and another 53 wounded in what is being described as the worst mass shooting in American history. Some are concerned that this was a horrible crime perpetrated against a group of people by a single hate-filled individual simply because his victims were gay. Others are worried that the suspect, Omar Mateen, will be used as a poster idiot to further disparage the entire Islamic religion and all its followers since Mateen claimed allegiance to the radical Islamic group known as ISIS.
More important than any of those concerns, however valid they may be, are the family and friends of those massacred, having only recently gotten the news that their son/brother/father/daughter/sister/mother is now dead for no sane reason at all. Their existence wiped off the face of the earth, leaving behind only memories, shadows, and so many words left unsaid.
Which is why I’m having a difficult time processing the enraged complaints I have been reading from a number of folks online, particularly on Facebook, that what occurred on Sunday morning was not actually the worst mass killing in history. As if this particular measurement is what we should all be focusing on right now. Most of these very heated complaints are then accompanied by a long list of earlier massacres from much further back in history when so many more African Americans or Native Americans were slaughtered. There is a demand that this continual repeating of a fabricated history by the news media be stopped, and that the truth be acknowledged of who has actually suffered more.
Except that what happened in Orlando was not reported as the worst mass killing in American history, but as the worst mass shooting in American history which, to the best of my knowledge and from what I understand, is true. And not that it should matter, but I think it’s worth noting that the majority of those murdered on Sunday morning were gay Hispanics and Latinos, which I wouldn’t exactly characterize as a privileged class anywhere in America.
Here’s the thing that I think needs to be recognized; there are no bonus points doled out to the racial or ethnic group who has suffered the most or endured the most cruelty by an unjust nation. Suffering is not a competition, because no one can possibly win. It should be OK to express sympathy and solidarity with the victims of such a horrible tragedy, even if those victims don’t look like us or have not endured as much tragedy as us. I get that we should never let the world forget what has been done to our people, and I support that. But refusing to let the world forget the anguish we have experienced throughout our very American journey should never mean we cannot afford to empathize with the suffering of others.
Because then what is the point? Is the point of our historic suffering as African Americans only to remind everyone else repeatedly of how bad it’s been? To prove that we have endured pain better than anyone else? Or is it to show that through it all, we are still here, still strong enough to endure and wrap our arms around the suffering of others at the same time.
Because we as a people are surely that strong.