Vanessa Nakate, a 23-year-old climate activist from Uganda, called out alleged racism in journalism when she was cropped out of a photo featuring other young climate change campaigners, who had been present at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
On Friday, 24 January, Nakate was part of a news conference with climate campaigners, including Greta Thunberg, before a ‘Fridays for Future’ protest in the Swiss town. The event saw widespread coverage by a host of media agencies, including the Associated Press (AP).
Later, Nakate took to Twitter to point out that the AP article cropped her out of the header image, instead focusing on the other four campaigners beside her, all of whom were white.
I was cropped out of this photo!— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 24, 2020
According to Nakate, AP subsequently replaced their header image with another that featured her prominently in the center. She rejected the change, that she said was made “without any explanation,” adding that AP had “already caused the damage.”
“The Worst Thing I Have Ever Seen in My Life”
The original image, that featured Nakate with activists Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson, was posted by her later.
I come out the strongest. Thank you everyone for the support pic.twitter.com/OiCyW6oQjj— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 24, 2020
As reported by BuzzFeed News, Nakate said via Twitter DM that she felt sad on behalf of African people. “I cried because it was so sad not just that it was racist, I was sad because of the people from Africa. It showed how we are valued. It hurt me a lot. It is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.”
She also took to Twitter to assert that she was proud to be African, and that it is now "the time for the stories of African activists to be listened to.”
Twitter Outrage, AP Denies Ill Intent
Nakate’s response was met with a huge show of support on Twitter, including tweets by fellow activists Greta Thunberg and Isabelle Axelsson, who were part of the conference and the photo in question.
This is completely unacceptable. Period. https://t.co/gefmJ11b6C— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) January 24, 2020
We did a press conference today wrapping up the week at #WEF2020— Isabelle Axelsson (@isabelle_ax) January 24, 2020
It has come to my attention that more than one article has cut @vanessa_vash out of the photos. That is unacceptable, her voice is just as, if not more, valuable than ours in a place like this. #ClimateJustice pic.twitter.com/8kjkNVgVhU
As per Buzzfeed News, AP denied any intentional discrimination on their part, saying, “There was no ill intent. AP routinely publishes photos as they come in and when we received additional images from the field, we updated the story. AP has published a number of images of Vanessa Nakate.”
Other users, including 8-year-old climate campaigner Licypriya Kangujam, pointed out that Nakate did not even have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, adding that it was time to "stop underestimating Africans.”
“Erasing Our Voices Won’t Change Anything”: Nakate
In a more thorough response to the entire incident, Nakate uploaded at ten minute video on Twitter, talking about the sidelining of African nations in the discourse around climate change,
Share if you can— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 24, 2020
What it means to be removed from a photo! https://t.co/1dmcbyneYV
“We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis,” she said. “You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything.”
Nakate is the founder of the Rise Up Movement, that aims to mobilize the African movement against climate change, and has been a part of the international campaigns for the Amazon and Congo River ecosystems.
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