Two weeks ago, on April 15, 2019, the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. The beautiful spire and a large portion of the roof were destroyed in the fire, causing black smoke to fall over the city of Paris. The aftermath of the fire was almost more miraculous an event that the tragedy itself: people all around the world mourning and sharing photos of their memorable trips to the historic cathedral.
As the thoughts and prayers flooded in commemorating the fallen structure, so too did the finances to rebuild it. The billionaires of the world rushed to revive the church with enormous sums of money in hand. French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault announced his family will donate 100 million euros, while fashion titan Bernard Arnault has pledged 200 million. The Bettencourt Meyers family quickly matched that pledge of 200 million euros, and Patrick Pouyanne offered up 112 million.
Not all of the support came from Europe, however; pledges of assistance also came from the U.S. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that the U.S. would offer “assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization.” In total, there has been over a billion dollars in pledged donations from people around the world. There are also a handful of billionaires who have offered assistance beyond that without specifying amounts.
The Notre-Dame de Paris is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. Construction of the building was completed in 1260 and it has been a treasured piece of the world’s history ever since. The Cathedral is a renowned symbol of France, and is almost as iconic as the Eiffel tower. It is understandable that people would want to preserve such an artifact. The problem is that this building is being valued over the lives of people suffering all over the world, the streets of Paris included. (For more commentary on this front, check out Alex Madaras’ recent blog Notre Dame Coverage Highlights Media Bias; Social Media to the Rescue.)
The pledge of these donations was met with a huge wave of backlash. Social media platforms flooded with criticism towards the affluent donors and the choices that they were making. Many people believed that the money should be going towards more worthy causes. Activists around the world pointed out that Flint, Michigan could have all of their pipes fixed for a mere $55 million, or that $122-$489 million could clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We should all acknowledge the behavior of these billionaires as the valuing of white tragedy over the world’s tragedy. Despite people of color, refugees, the earth, and the world’s animals needing financial support, these billionaires instead donate their money to rebuild an old Christian monument. In less than twenty-four hours, a church had hundreds of millions of dollars flying through its doors, while many people around the world suffer, not receiving a penny of these billionaires’ money.
With this money, the rich could be working to make the world a better place. Feeding the poor, cleaning the oceans, and helping the sick can and should take priority over a building, no matter how treasured.
Jade Tyra is an activist and aspiring journalist. She is the media director for NGP women’s caucus, a writer for both Next Gen Politics and Keep Growing OK, a member of Youth Enacting Change, and an OK Climate Strike Student Ambassador. Jade is a junior at Epic One to One Charter School in Oklahoma.