Thoughtful post by Africa Works on hypocrisy in reporting on American vs. African casualties

30 Apr

From Africa Works:

Dead Africans on Page One (again)

The New York Times yet again last week displayed a disquieting pattern of presenting dead Africans on the front page of its great newspaper, while refusing to present dead Americans in the same fashion. In the latest instance of what I call the pornography of African, Times editor prominently displayed on the top left corner of its April 24 front page “the burned body of a boy.” The disturbing photo might seem appropriate — unless one considers that the children killed by, for instance, American drone attacks in Yemen or Pakistan, never receive similar photographic display. So even on the narrow grounds of newsworthiness, the contradictions are evident and ample: for mysterious “reasons,” dead Africans can be displayed in lavish fashion — this photo of this dead boy was in color! — while death inflicted by Americans cannot be displayed. Neither are the deaths experienced by Americans in combat suitable for front page photographic treatment (or inside the paper either).


How does the paper justify reporting on “dead day in South Sudan” in such manner? Why do even the finest American journalists continue to depict African suffering in ways considered inappropriate for American victims?


I continue to ask these questions even though the answers are not on offer. This sort of Western bias against Africans remains unconscious, embedded in a set of corrosive meta-narratives that deserve critical engagement with a goal of, someday, replacing them with tropes that do not demean and diminish Africans under the guise of promoting sympathy for them.


However, there clearly is a difference between showing American casualties in American papers versus those of other nations. It may not be right, and I think it probably skews our understanding of global conflict in a pretty terrible way, but we voluntarily choose to value our own dead above those of other countries. To bring in The West Wing:

President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet: Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?
Will Bailey: I don’t know, sir, but it is.

Still, it is probably a paradigm well worth challenging.



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