Comedian and talk show host Trevor Noah’s saying it for many of us:
“I was shocked to see how many reporters around the world, by the way, seem to think that it’s more of a tragedy when white people have to flee their countries. Because, I guess, what, the ‘darkies’ were built for it?”
Six days and counting as the Russian invasion and war on Ukraine wages on. It’s terrible with an entire terrible history behind it
, downright reminiscent of how WWII started. Russia is a nuclear superpower and is not above disproportionate violence (of nuclear means) towards Ukraine or any country arming and supporting Ukraine. So of course huge swaths of the world are concerned, worried and supporting and praying for Ukraine. We are too.
One thing that has become very evident is how this war, as terrifying as it is, it’s also exposing (or rather confirming) how much white and Western hypocrisy there is in the media in how wars in various countries are covered and the evident racism in how refugees are too often treated.
Wars have been waged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria (oftentimes instigated by the U.S. or with arms being supplied by the U.S.). Occupations and persecutions in Palestine, Rohingya and China (against Ughyur Muslims) are ongoing. But so much of the coverage of the war in Ukraine is blatantly different then how many reporters and media outlets speak of non-European, non-white conflicts and refugees.
Consider this widely shared video in which a CBS reporter Charlie D’Agata called Ukraine “civilized” as opposed to Iraq or Afghanistan where conflict has been “raging for decades.”:
To which A.R. Chao, an educator and ustadh (scholar) based in Texas replied with the following breakdown on Instagram:
The examples of hypocrisy in coverage are so numerous. Al Jazeera has been reporting on these double standards
, calling out its own English presenter Peter Dobbie, who a few days ago described Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war; these are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa, they look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
As Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor for Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said in this tweet:
As thousands of Ukrainians flee to neighboring countries like Poland or Romania, there’s also reports of how those who are Black and Brown are being treated as second tier refugees or worse
. In this article from ABC News
, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said to journalists regarding Ukrainian refugees, “These people are intelligent, they are educated people. ... This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists… “In other words, there is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees.”
Let that sit with you. White refugees welcome. Other colors, not really.
We’ve always known that how the media frames its reporting matters so much in shaping public opinion. The words used matter. Occupation versus conflict. War versus invasion. Civilized versus uncivilized. Terrorist versus active shooter. Terrorism versus mass shooting. You get the point.
Nobody is turning their back on Ukraine. We do stand with the people of Ukraine. It is horrible what is happening. But the double standards in media coverage (especially) and swift worldwide support makes it hard to stay silent.
On Saturday, the “cold open” of Saturday Night Live was not the usual comedic sketch riffing on some recent news event, but instead it was an emotional performance of “A Prayer for Ukraine” by the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York, who were standing behind a dias with candles spelling the word “Kyiv.”
I was reading the comments under the posting of a video of the cold open on social media, and one young woman expressed her support for Ukraine while also asking – how come invasions, occupations and war in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Palestine don’t get this kind of attention?
She was roundly and immediately chastised.
Don’t engage in “whataboutism,” other commenters told her.
But here’s the thing: You can be fully supportive and outraged at what is happening to Ukraine and wonder where the outrage has been for invasions and brutal occupations of non-European countries. You can pray for Ukrainians desperately trying to cross the border into other countries and seethe at the treatment of Black and Brown refugees.
We are capable of multiple and complex thoughts. It’s not about engaging in “whataboutism.” It’s about holding all of us accountable and challenging ourselves to think deeper about these things. It’s about considering how and from where we consume our news, recognizing and calling out media biases, and holding ourselves to the highest standards of being compassionate, sympathetic and supportive of those being oppressed and resisting occupation and invasion in all parts of the world.