Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives columnists wonder whether all refugees are treated equally
Over the last few years, I have started to notice some of the pervasive language used in western media to paint groups of people in a certain light.
This can be seen in recent media coverage on Ukraine and the examples of positive racial bias towards white refugees. I look at how as a nation, we have gone to the aid of Ukraine, rallied around making care packages, fund-raised, opened up our homes and, for some, even gone to war.
I wonder if the dedication to the cause has been largely influenced by the media’s portrayal of the situation.
There has been much alarm and dismay in the news coverage we have seen regarding both the proximity to the UK and their likeness to ‘us’. Ukrainian refugees have been described as intelligent, educated, civilised, prosperous, and middle class. Comments have been made on their clothing and appearance noting that some have blond hair and blue eyes and that they are Christians.
These characteristics were not mentioned during the coverage of Syria, for instance. Instead, some news reports directly compared the Ukrainian crisis to Syria, highlighting that this was different because it wasn’t taking place in the Middle East or Africa (CBS news: “This is not Iraq or Syria, this is a civilised and European country...”). Reports like this tell me that the expectation is that wars, mass killings and occupation of land are reserved for other parts of the world, where the population is predominantly of colour. The media reflects back to us European supremacy and devalues, Black and Brown people. There has been a lack of reports shown on Black people being denied entry at borders and the difficulties they are having finding refuge.
By expressing so much sympathy for Ukrainians and their suffering and the fact that millions have fled into neighbouring countries and mostly been received with open arms, the unspoken inference is that white refugees deserve more attention and support than refugees of other wars in Africa and the Middle East etc.
My point isn’t to devalue the Ukrainians’ suffering nor denigrate the generosity shown to them. However, there’s something about the lack of journalistic objectivity which has portrayed this Russian invasion as more horrific than their involvement in Syria or their invasion of Chechnya because the population is predominantly white.
There is a very obvious lack of journalists of colour and members of news crews and that, in turn, impacts the prism through which we, the public, are shown the news.
The media has huge power and they can and do perpetuate, influence and push forward a narrative that can either make or break a story, in this case, help or hinder everyone affected by the war in Ukraine. We would hope that journalists would give us an unfiltered view of the world and the hardships that people face and allow us the autonomy to make up our own minds, instead of perpetuating division and biases towards certain groups of people.
Media outlets need to be held accountable for pushing damaging narratives that then spill over into real life, as we see how these refugees of black and brown skin colour are being treated less than because they’re not the kind of refugees the media care for. Not only that, if that wasn’t bad enough, we are seeing distressing images showing the racism of the Ukrainian military, where they have pushed Black and Brown residents to the back of the queue to board refugee transport and this has only been briefly reported on by Western media outlets as though they can turn a blind eye in a crisis situation. For us to be working alongside Poland in the relief effort knowing they are refusing entry to people of colour with signs saying ‘No Blacks’ feels like some people’s suffering is more acceptable than others in the eyes of the media.
Being aware of this type of institutional racism is one thing, now it’s our job to challenge what we see and hear as this is the first step to producing balanced coverage and noticing our own blind spots and privileges. In addition, one of the best ways to ensure fairer reporting is to have more diverse news crews in all the major media outlets.
-- This month's column is by by Afrika Green, Jo Ellen Grzyb and Arisha Tagoe-Jaquez
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