The New York Times yet again last week displayed a disquieting pattern of presenting dead Africans on the front page of its great newspaper, while refusing to present dead Americans in the same fashion. In the latest instance of what I call the pornography of African, Times editor prominently displayed on the top left corner of its April 24 front page “the burned body of a boy.” The disturbing photo might seem appropriate — unless one considers that the children killed by, for instance, American drone attacks in Yemen or Pakistan, never receive similar photographic display. So even on the narrow grounds of newsworthiness, the contradictions are evident and ample: for mysterious “reasons,” dead Africans can be displayed in lavish fashion — this photo of this dead boy was in color! — while death inflicted by Americans cannot be displayed. Neither are the deaths experienced by Americans in combat suitable for front page photographic treatment (or inside the paper either).
How does the paper justify reporting on “dead day in South Sudan” in such manner? Why do even the finest American journalists continue to depict African suffering in ways considered inappropriate for American victims?
I continue to ask these questions even though the answers are not on offer. This sort of Western bias against Africans remains unconscious, embedded in a set of corrosive meta-narratives that deserve critical engagement with a goal of, someday, replacing them with tropes that do not demean and diminish Africans under the guise of promoting sympathy for them.
I’ve been asked (most recently by Chanda Chisala of Lusaka, Zambia), Why do journalists seemingly evince a preference for African deaths over others?
Maybe out of habit.
Possibly journalists think such photos provoke sympathy.
Or perhaps images of dead Africans sell. Pornography is a form of entertainment, after all, so there is the same gain in reader interest that comes from, say, violence in movies. That’s why the photo is on front page after all and not on page 12.
Finally there’s sublimation. Editors really want to publish photos of dead people but Americans resist too powerfully so editors pick the weakest to exploit: the anonymous African