By Koffi Kouakou
Amid the confusion and war-torn chaos, the Ukraine crisis exposes uncomfortable truths, and among others, what I call a “hierarchy of selective racial compassion syndrome”.
In plain English, it means that some suffering, especially of the white race, deserves more appreciation and attention than others and must be ranked higher.
In other words, it is a form of preferential treatment for white pains elevated above other races. Agonising Ukrainian whites must be worthy of higher pity. So, says the media.
Astonishingly, much of the shocking expressions of public displays of hierarchical selective racial compassion syndromes are clumsily and shamelessly expressed by a long list of mainstream Western media journalists covering the crisis.
Lucy Watson, an ITV News correspondent, in an emotional outburst said: "The unthinkable has happened… this is not a developing, Third-World nation; this is Europe!"
Adding to the basket of racial prejudices, during a BBC interview, the Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze blurted: "It's very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed."
These are only a few misplaced racial biases.
Traditionally, the global media is over-saturated with depictions of cruelty, dramatic and shocking images of non-whites and African miseries.
“Violence and suffering remain the best-selling news,” the saying goes. This time, however, the hunt for dreadful pictures of white Ukrainians have not led to the stimulus of dramatic news consumption in the Western media. The contrary is happening. The Western media is overflowing with compassion for white Ukrainians.
The relationship between white-Ukrainians-only and compassionate-media reporting is governed by a racist ideology.
This dominant and persistent portrayal of whites as racially superior who deserve first-class compassion and preferential treatments is the most perverted Western media story that galvanises the global outrage of the racist coverage of the war in Ukraine.
Morally alert people across the world are angered by the Wrstern media’s racial favouritism and pity for whites.
“As a Black, African woman without the benefit of blue eyes or blonde hair, it's been equally emotional to see the number of racist and ignorant comments in the coverage on Ukraine that have passed unchallenged by the interviewers and media platforms that have aired them. CBS, Aljazeera, France's BFM TV and ITV have all reported the invasion in ways that illustrate deep bias, informed by a belief system that screams of an old-world. White-led, order,” said Moky Makura, the executive director of Africa No Filter.
She believes, like many of us do, that the global media is “complicit in perpetuating racist narratives, by not encouraging diversity in its newsrooms and giving an unrestricted platform to reporters and influential spokespeople with implicit biases that are left unchallenged”.
And more so, we must relook at the compass of compassion and the dismissal of non-white pains.
White reporters in Ukraine drive an emotional agenda that forces their audiences to see, feel and understand the war their way. They also construct a binary racial lens of a media that attempts to divide and delegitimise the pains of non-white while pouring compassion and pity on white misery. Their message is clear and simple: either you are white, and your pain matters or you are non-white and your pain counts less.
Moreover, the media weaponises white grief in Ukraine, and creates an unhealthy climate of racial biases to despicable and unacceptable tribal heights. Prejudicial media reporting may have fuelled rampant racism against 76 000 African, Chinese and Indian students fleeing to escape the travails of the war in Ukraine.
Black African student refugees were told they were not allowed to board rescuing trains. All this brings to mind the gruesome human rights abuses of spartheid South Africa where “Whites Only” signs determined the dignity of human beings.
In this battle cry and war for compassion, Susan Sontag, an American writer with universal compassion comes to mind.
In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag rails against the insensitive biases of elite media reporting about the pains of those who don’t look like them.
We must continue to question the flawed racial biases of the media. What is the purpose of privileging white pain over others in the Ukraine war? Why should the world care more for white plights? How does the spectacle of Ukrainian whites in the media affect us? Are we taking for granted the violence and cruelty to non-white people?
The answers to the rhetorical questions are self-evident. But most relevant, are there geopolitical implications for the media racism and selective compassion for white Ukrainians?
Oh yes, there are. The media’s subjective racial narratives that frame white paint as a priority for compassion, also influence the a worldview that prioritises resource allocations for refugees and those who desperately need help.
In these uncertain times, we need no more shameful displays of racial prejudices, hierarchical selective compassions and misplaced superstitions, but genuine help for all sufferers, in Ukraine and elsewhere.
*Kouakou is Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa-China, University of Johannesburg