Since November, just about everyone on Facebook has expressed an opinion about people changing their profile pictures to the French flag overlay. So far, at least with what I’ve observed, reactions seem to fall within five main camps.
1. “Why would you want the French flag on your profile pic? That’s un-American, dammit! I still think McDonalds should only serve Freedom Fries!”
I imagine this paraphrased quote to be accompanied by banjo music and the sound of someone getting their mullet buzzed before chasing a raccoon out of their tool shed.
2. “I never liked the country, but I’m going to display their flag anyway because I hate Muslims more than I hate France.”
This is not at all to say that everyone showing support to French survivors in the wake of the massacre hates Muslims. Rather, this is a very niche subset of people who would normally fit into Category No. 1. They see France as too intellectual, too artistic, too secular, and too gay-friendly for their liking and have regularly referred to the French as “gay pussies.” But all of a sudden their profile picture features a French flag…not because this is a tragedy that makes them feel genuine empathy for the people affected, but because it offers an opportunity to hate Muslims. This hate is usually based on racism, because while certainly not all Muslims are Middle Eastern, the average redneck associates the religion with brown skin and does not condemn fundamentalist Christianity for the social attitudes it shares with fundamentalist Islam. These are also the same bigots who were using the Paris shootings to trivialize the terror at Mizzou and to tell Black Americans that, “They don’t know what real oppression looks like.” Then, with no trace of self-awareness, they accuse Black activists of “trying to make this a contest.”
3. “Go ahead and be a keyboard slacktivist. Expressing an opinion online never changed anything.”
You mean…including this one?
4. “Anybody who changes their profile picture to the French flag is a xenophobic warmonger who hates Muslims and refuses to acknowledge the other atrocities in the world.”
While this is certainly true for some who are sporting the flag, it’s not true for everyone. Some changed their profile pic because they wanted to be progressive and they don’t equate ISIS to Islam. Some have the French flag as their profile picture but are also posting numerous articles decrying Islamophobia and publicizing the disasters that have taken place in Kenya, Lebanon, and Syria. Others don’t understand why they’re being told they’re “only supporting a White country,” because so many people living in France are not White. Including victims of the Paris shooting—and so calling it a “White country” could potentially disregard the non-White people there. Also, there are people of all races who have changed their profile pictures to the French flag, so it doesn’t make sense to say all those folks are White supremacist sympathizers.
5. “I think we should support the survivors of the shootings in Paris, but let’s also pay attention to the mass killings taking place in the non-Western world. Their crisis deserves attention and concern, and so do others.”
This is the camp I fall into. Many changed their profile pictures to the French flag on the day it happened because they heard about it before learning of the other atrocities. This is due to the fact that the media outlets were giving more coverage to the Paris attack, since even left-leaning American media is predominantly interested in Western events. It reflects the interests of its consumers. Experiences like these can expose our subconscious biases, which I have as well. I now see that I need to follow broader world news. It helps for all of us to be aware of that.