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Black lives matter?

10 January 2015

In recent months there has been a Twitter hashtag #blacklivesmatter, with comments on police in the USA killing black teenagers, and not being charged with any offence.

I didn’t use that particular hashtag, not because I was unconcerned about the events it related to, but because I believe that all lives matter, and that police brutality is a bad thing, no matter who the victims are. So if I referred to those events on Twitter, I used the #policebrutality hashtag. After all, police brutality was directed at white teenagers too.

The events of this past week, however, have changed my mind. In the eyes of the Western media at least, black lives seem to matter far less than white lives.

Consider two events that occurred this past week:

  • Masked gunmen killed 12 people, mostly white, in an attack on a French publication, Charlie Hebdo
  • Boko Haram gunmen killed about 2000 mostly black people in Nigeria and destroyed several villages.

Which got the most coverage in the Western media?

The event in Paris got huge coverage. The event in Nigeria got hardly any coverage at all. And, in spite of the fact that both attacks were apparently carried out by Islamist gunmen, I learnt of the second from a source with Islamic connections, Al Jazeera. ‘Burned to the ground’: Boko Haram razes at least 16 Nigerian villages | Al Jazeera America:

Boko Haram razed at least 16 towns and villages in northern Nigeria and may have killed up to 2,000 people since the weekend, officials said Thursday.

After capturing a key military base in northeast Nigeria on Saturday, members of the feared armed group used crude bombs to level entire towns, according to local authorities.

District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on residents.


What is the difference?

Well in the one case those who were killed were for the most part white male adult journalists.

In the other case, most of the victims were children, women, and elderly non-journalists — and black.

Do black lives matter?

Not to the Western media, they don’t.

Charlie3I would also say that the event in Nigeria is of far more significance, in geopolitical terms, than the events in Paris. The killers in Paris were cornered and killed. They won’t be killing any more people, and their motivation and any political force behind them they will take to the grave. The people in Boko Haram live to fight, and kill, another day.

So the message to me seems clear. To the Western media white lives matter more than black lives, in the ratio of 2000:12. At a very rough calculation, it seems that one white life is worth about 167 black lives. One could perhaps do more accurate calculations involving column inches, TV time, number of talking heads etc, but I think the overall pattern is clear.

So I think that the Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram perhaps symbolises the way that the Western media tend to see black people — as benefit scroungers. I realise, as one commenter on another blog post of mine pointed out, that this may be a misinterpretation, based on ignorance of French culture and the milieu in which the cartoon was first published. I take the point. Foreigners seeing a South African cartoon showing our Prez with a shower in his head would be puzzled at best, and quite likely to misinterpret it. But the murderers have given the cartoons, if not the rest of the content of the journal, to the world, and the world may interpret them in entirely different ways.

One person who posted this cartoon on Facebook commented thus:

Before jumping the gun and declaring “Je suis Charlie” it would be a good idea to make sure you know just what kind of racist trash you’re deciding to identify with.

This cover depicts the young Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram not so long ago – you remember, ‪#‎bringbackourgirls‬? Here depicted as welfare queens, heavily pregnant with anchor babies, howling “Hands off our benefits check!”

This is absolutely vile. It should go without saying that the killings that happened yesterday were apalling and should be condemned, but that doesn’t mean this racist garbage magazine should be lionized. As a friend of mine said earlier, if David Duke were assassinated, it would be murder and a criminal act, but that doesn’t mean I’d begin declaring “I Am David.”

Both this commenter and I may be missing some of the cultural nuances there, but it seems to me that the apparent depiction of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram as benefit scroungers has something to say about the priorities of the Western media taken together, in their approach to black people and the value of black lives.

The important question is not so much whether people were killed (if they are black), but “will blacks riot?” If they will, then we’ll cover it.

PS: That last paragraph is satire, you know, like Charlie Hebdo is said to have published. So before you rip into me for saying it, remember Freedom of Expression and all that.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 January 2015 10:57 am

    I agree. There is a deep-set racial inequality in our culture that needs to be addressed. It’s even apparent when we move to something much more light-hearted than murder: the pop industry. Black artists who preceded Elvis Presley were doing much the same thing as him, but it wasn’t until the white guy came along that it became popular and culturally acceptable. OK, that was in the 50s, you might say. But in recent times, look at Eminem and the rap industry. As soon as the white guy started rapping he became the biggest rap star in a world that is made up of 99.9999% black people.

  2. 10 January 2015 11:42 am

    Good analysis and well said, Steve. I wasn’t aware of this Boko Haram massacre: thank you for highlighting it — words fail. As for the Charlie Hebdo journalists (if they can truly be called journalists), the truth, harsh though it be, is that they got what they’d been asking for. That doesn’t mean it was right, of course: utterly abhorrent; but those who use their freedom of speech to be needlessly offensive and deliberately provocative ought not to be surprised when those they provoke respond with violence.

  3. 9 April 2015 11:38 pm

    Very good article. It’s an aspect of black lives and how they are perceived, in the context of #BlackLivesMatter, that I had not considered. Not only are black lives devalued by American law enforcement, but American media demonstrates a cultural devaluation of black lives.


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