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Western mainstream media perpetrates racism even amid pandemics

By John Ouma - Jun 6th 2022
Monkeypox has so far been confirmed in at least 20 countries. [iStockphoto]

Every time the world is faced with a health crisis of the extent of an epidemic or pandemic, the rest of the world, particularly the West and the North, gangs up against Africa even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

The first case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was reported in Wuhan, China. But that didn’t stop Western mainstream media from shifting the conversation to Africa and Africans living in Africa. If the media has the power to shape narratives, western mainstream media spun the conversation around Covid-19 in a manner that questioned why less Africans were dying of the disease. 

When Egypt reported the first case in January 2020, one Western news outlet used the word, “Covid-19 finally arrives in Africa”. When Africans were being discriminated against in Changzhou, China, on grounds that they were responsible for the spread of Covid-19, some Western news outlet misreported the situation while majority ignored the development altogether.

A medical worker collects a swab from a resident in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China. January 6, 2021. [Reuters]

The latest racialisation of disease by Western mainstream has been witnessed in the reportage of monkeypox, a type of orthopoxvirus that spreads from animals to humans. It has so far been confirmed in some 400 people across at least 20 countries in Europe and North America. However, with limited testing, it is difficult to estimate the size of the outbreak.

Western mainstream media chose to use images of Africans in their stories despite none having been confirmed to be infected. This blatant racialisation of disease brings to the attention the role that Western mainstream media plays in the perpetration of racism. 

It could be true that monkeypox was prevalent in West and Central Africa in the past, but, in the current wave of infections, no African country has confirmed a single case, which reminds us that if the world is a global village, then human health ought to receive global, non-racialised attention.

The massive amounts of negative media based around one race (particularly Black people), has divided the world into a predator versus prey society. Racial profiling is commonly known as an act of discrimination based upon one’s appearance, specifically race or ethnicity. Understanding how racism in the media creates a fearful and discriminatory society is therefore beneficial in recognising how media fuels racial profiling and increases internalised racism.

A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey that had been infected with monkeypox virus. [Reuters]

 

Criminalisation and stereotyping of Africans and people of colour generally by Western mainstream media promotes racist perceptions that paint the former as culturally and intellectually inferior. We live in a world where hate crimes and acceptable discrimination amongst people of colour is commonplace, thanks to the role that Western mainstream media has played in the same.

The lack of accurate and diverse representation in media has an effect on how Africans are perceived to be and how they interact with the rest of the world.

This type of racism then leads to internalised racism and forces many people of colour to feel the need to justify their identity or adjust it in a way that is comfortable or “non-threatening” to white society.

In other words, Western mainstream media focuses heavily on pushing stereotyped impressions and less on the positive image and roles of Black people compared to Whites.

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