This past Monday, April 15, 2019, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France was damaged by a devastating fire. The 850-year-old building held a lot of history and it is no doubt a catastrophe that it lost its iconic spire and latticework wooden roof, even with many religious and cultural treasures being saved. While tragic, this event, along with most events, can still be unpacked using an intersectional feminist lens. My intention with this post is not to diminish what happened at the cathedral, but to provide a deeper and more thoughtful analysis of the situation as a whole.
In less than 2 days, 995 million dollars had already been raised to help rebuild the monument, despite the Catholic Church’s untaxed wealth being estimated at 10-15 billion dollars. This speaks volumes as to what affluent people around the world could do and change if they chose to. One man, Bernard Arnault, donated $226 million alone within 24 hours. In 2016, there were about 9 million people living below the poverty line in France and the groups most affected were children, single women, and foreigners without legal status. Imagine how far $200 million could go to helping citizens of France alone. Why aren’t the lives of citizens considered as urgent of a priority as a building, symbolic or not?
It’s not just individual people choosing to send their aid to a building rather than people. The U.S. Government has offered aid to rehabilitate the cathedral, despite the lack of relief for U.S. territory Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria and the fact that Flint, Michigan has been without clean water since April 25, 2014. In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that the residents of these places are majorly non-white with Puerto Rico being 80.5% made up of people with mostly Spanish origin and Flint being 54% African-American. Metropolitan France, on the other hand, was estimated to be about 85% white.
Race isn’t only a factor with who or what gets financial aid, it also determines who gets the media attention that potentially encourages these donations. It’s no coincidence that on the same day the American news media was overrun by news of the Notre Dame fire, very little media attention was paid to another religious fire happening the exact same day at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqua mosque. The mosque was also an important religious structure (in fact, the third holiest site in Islam) burning in a foreign country, the only difference is the religion and the non-white race associated with that religion.
The bottom line of this post is that white supremacy seeps into all issues of our life and ignoring it only furthers it’s power. We always have to keep in mind the intersections and powers of race, class, gender, etc. to truly understand the world.