The Western Erasure of African Tragedy

This article was written by Hannah Giorgis and published on The Atlantic blog…parts of it will be highlighted in this post, however, for the original story, go on The Atlantic

According to a list shared by Ethiopian Airlines following the crash, these passengers hailed from 35 countries. Several nations suffered more than five casualties—among them, Kenya, Canada, Ethiopia, China, Italy, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. In the hours following initial reports, the corners of Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook frequented by African users were filled with shock and horror, mourning and disbelief. The crash seemed senseless, and its human toll devastating.

But in the aftermath of the tragedy, many Western media outlets reported the news with unevenly rationed compassion. Some stoked unfounded suspicions about the caliber of the airline itself. Others stripped their reporting of emphasis on Africa almost entirely, framing the tragedy chiefly in terms of its impact on non-African passengers and organizations.

Elsewhere, Western publications engaged in selective reporting about the deceased. The Washington Post, for example, led its homepage coverage Sunday with a headline that informed readers only that “Eight Americans among 157 people killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash.” (The Washington metropolitan area has the largest population of Ethiopian descent outside the country itself.) In a tweet about the national background of the deceased, the Associated Press listed eight nations affected by the crash. Not one of the countries mentioned in the AP’s list is populated by black Africans. This, despite the fact that Kenya topped the list of the deceased, with 32, and nine Ethiopians were on board. On CNN and BBC News, the presence of American and British nationals respectively is what drew narrative prominence. (In a brutal irony, the Nigerian writer Pius Adesanmi, author of You’re Not a Country, Africa, was among those on the flight.)

For a full reaction to this write up and more, listen to episode 4 of the Affickypodcast. On this episode, we talk Monsters and Representation, how certain groups are perceived in society and what effects this perception has on these groups on many levels. Also read Which deaths matter for a broader view of the discussion.

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