Earlier this month, UK-based researcher Mark Hay wrote about the press’ lack of interest in Boko Haram’s most recent massacre. But rather than being downright condemning, Hay wrote analytically. While acknowledging the influence of racism and Western views of Africa on this matter, the writer points out to a much larger lack of sympathy for those with whom we fail to identify. Hay explains that
to Westerners, the events at Baga seem distant, chaotic, and devoid of familiar faces. For many in the press, that murky and unresolved chaos was hard to pin down factually, or build a narrative around conceptually. And as for African leaders, it was deemed undesirable to draw attention to their own regional, military, and government failures, and so they also participated in muting these tragic events, restricting press access, and downplaying death tolls.
These are important points to remember. A government that attempts to silence the atrocities committed against its people is partly responsible for the lack of international attention. But it is also important to remember that, even though modern societies claim to care for human lives irrespectively of race, age, nationality, or sexual orientation, it is much harder to care for those (we think) we can’t relate to. This offers a new perspective on why readers and writers respond differently to, say, France and Nigeria. In the end, claims Hay,
the press knew how to conceive of and respond to Paris because we think we understand Paris. Accordingly, we wind up elevating the narrative (a neat, compact tale of civilizational clash) over necessary substance (the anonymous, yet massive, tragic, and significant massacre of thousands). That is part—beyond our general disengagement with Africa—of what leads us to care about life in the continent so selectively and sporadically, raging over the kidnapped girls from Chibok but barely making mention of the lost lives in Baga.
Hay’s analysis reminds us that caring for individuals—and particularly individuals we perceive as being similar to us—is easier than caring for larger groups. This has unequivocal effects on how readers and writers prioritize a gripping narrative in France over an important story in Baga.
— Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Associate Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.
Cover image appears in Mark Hay’s article with the following caption: Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram attacks last December in a Niger refugee camp. Photo by European Comission DG ECHO via Flickr