If anyone needed a reminder that racism isn’t solely an American issue, one need only watch media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You’ll find racism not only in the way reporters discuss the invasion but also in the treatment of Africans and other non-white people.
The media’s message was loud and clear: Wars don’t happen in nice, white countries. Wars are proprietary to what former President Donald Trump referred to as “s**thole countries.” It’s the international equivalent of “this is a safe neighborhood; crime doesn’t happen here.”
According to CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata, Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
Unfortunately, D’Agata wasn’t alone. Other journalists joined him in their disbelief that conflict could occur among Europeans.
“We’re not talking about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin,” Phillipe Corbe, a journalist for BFM TV in France, said. “We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like our cars to save their lives.”
Maybe if the refugees from other countries drove cars that looked like the ones Europeans drove, there would’ve been more compassion for them. How sad and shallow.
But wait, there’s more. The well of racism runs deep.
“Now the unthinkable has happened to them,” An ITV journalist from Poland said. “And this is not a developing, third world nation. This is Europe!”
A news anchor from Al Jazeera said, “Looking at them, the way they are dressed, these are prosperous … I’m loath to use the expression … middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees looking 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.”
War can’t happen in Europe because “They seem so like us,” Daniel Hannan of the Telegraph said. “This is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations.”
Classist and racist.
I would say I’m astounded but I’m not. I’m not surprised by the bigotry expressed by these reporters. This type of bigotry is present in so many newsrooms — especially if there aren’t Black people or other people of color represented in those newsrooms. It’s proof journalism schools need to do a better job and so do newsrooms. It shouldn’t take having the presence of someone from a marginalized group for those who aren’t marginalized to realize everyone should be treated like a human being.
The comments these journalists made is proof we need to do a much better job teaching history — world history in this instance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the ‘90s and early aughts were filled with conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Croatia and so on. And conflicts in Europe didn’t start in recent decades. Let’s not forget about the Hundred Years’ War. So, there’s a legacy to live up to.
Maybe if the reporters did a better job of being anti-racist, they would do a better job covering the racism Africans, many of whom are students, and people of color are facing. There have been widespread reports of abuse and violence directed at Africans and Indians as they try to flee to safety. Some leaders are explicit in their racism.
“Of course, we will take in refugees, if necessary,” Austria Chancellor Karl Nehammer said recently. A few months ago, Nehammer sang a different tune when those seeking refuge were Afghan. He was vehemently against them settling in Austria and didn’t think twice about sending them right back into the hands of the Taliban. “It’s different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan. We’re talking about neighborhood help.”
The apple (America) doesn’t fall far from the racist tree.