Opinionista Strato Copteros 8 April 2015

Black Death

If there’s a road to hell paved with good intentions, it’s also strewn with the bodies of Kenyan students, in images of cataclysmic carnage cyber circumnavigating the globe.

The anguish of parents that photographs of their children as corpses must elicit, is beyond my darkest imaginings. And even ignoring the various media codes of conduct relating to graphic imagery, just to spare the families the torment, those pictures shouldn’t have been publicised.

The internet, however, is a place of mass sharing by a public unaware of media law and ethics; and as wanton and cruel as that sharing may seem at times, I understand the motivation behind these postings. It seems to come from a deep-seated need to grab a world this time seemingly unmoved enough to “je suis” with righteous indignation – and drag it by the scruff of its neck to witness “the horror; the horror” we hear in Marlon Brando’s throaty whisper during Apocalypse Now. Sadly, it won’t work. It never has. And at a time where the “Rhodes must fall” campaign has cast a bright light on notions of Eurocentric privilege, I would argue that images of the fallen students in Kenya simply perpetuate it.

How many pictures of the bloodstained, bullet-riddled interior of the Charlie Hebdo offices did you see in the media? Exactly. And the fact that none of us have balked at the photos of lifeless Kenyan students on spattered floors – that Africans themselves are posting these – has simply confirmed that the inferred sub-text of Eurocentric privilege is ingrained in the communal soul of all humanity. The lack of a significant global reaction to 147 Kenyan killings compared to a dozen Parisian cartoonists, says enough about the unspoken horrific truth of whose lives seem to matter more on Earth. The images of Garissa University screaming for attention on my Facebook home page, just confirm this; while simultaneously piling on the trauma for those most directly affected by them.

Why is it acceptable for Africans to be scattered dead, dying or wounded before us? My God. My mother would have torn at her skin in grief if that was a picture of me. Everybody’s mother would. White moms, though, are spared the indignity. Indeed, ghastly imagery of “non-white” calamity is globally pervasive; speaking directly to the cataclysmic otherness of the “nons”, painfully perpetuated in public discourse by the portrayal of dead bodies that are never “white”.

The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,” said Steve Biko; and nothing proves the tragedy of that truth more than the Kenyan images of black death posted by Africans. Of course the cry stuck in most of our continent’s throat is that of “See the suffering. Witness the slaughter. Acknowledge our humanity, goddammit!” – which naturally results in the proliferation of images such as these. But they are seeds landing on the unfertile soil of Eurocentric apathy, merely resulting in the projection of a ubiquitous dehumanised caricature of unacknowledged humanness to a world that already doesn’t care. Yet. The conversations around white privilege are finally happening. They’ve just begun. We don’t need more photos dreadfully confirming that dignity in death is still denied to Frantz Fanon’s wretched of the Earth, as it quietly sits unphotographed on a “whites only” bench. DM

Strato is a freelance writer, speaker and communications consultant in Cape Town. He lectured Media Law & Ethics at the Rhodes University School of Journalism & Media Studies.

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