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Ally vs. Superhero: The Western Gaze in How We View News Coverage

2 May

by Queen Adesuyi

 As updates about the 200+ kidnapped Nigerian girls break out, hashtags such as “#SaveOurGirls” and “#SaveOurDaughters” flood my Facebook and Instagram timelines. There were common responses attached to each post with these hashtags and flyers that I saw:

“Why isn’t there more coverage?” “Why isn’t this headlining in the West?” “Why aren’t there any reports of this?” “Why haven’t we done anything?”

I even participated in these criticisms with my thought that if it were 200+ British girls who were kidnapped, the news’ outcry would be drastically different and those girls would have been found.

These criticisms and responses are well-intentioned and in many ways, necessary. Western media has been guilty of perpetrating stereotypes, ignoring important stories, and misconstruing the realities of many complex nations and cultures.

However, why is there an assumption that no one is reporting or taking action on this issue? Many of us are associating a story’s importance with how highlighted it is or is not in our [Western] media. Apparently, the gravity of the kidnappings cannot be legitimate until countries like the United States and the United Kingdom dominate in how it is covered in news. It’s as if Western media validates or legitimizes the narratives and actions of the “other” world. Victims of our own western gaze, many of us are also confusing news coverage with action. Obviously, what is more important here? Does what happens on the ground in Nigeria not count for something?

African media has been reporting this story from the very beginning. Nigerians, most importantly, Nigerian women have utilized their political agency as a response to the kidnappings. Nigerian women have mobilized and have started movements such as the “Million Women March.” Parents of the girls, local neighbors, and other Nigerian allies are raising money and rallying for the return of their daughters. Moves are being made. Yes, proper media coverage would be nice and ideal, but pleas for Western attention/help should not overshadow the fact that efforts made by Nigerians and other Africans are both legitimate and worthy with or without Western eyes.

Being an ally is always a positive. Who can object to sincere solidarity? However, the paternalistic nature of how we approach the “third world” is problematic in that it cultivates an elite, superhero mentality. This mentality deems efforts and actions taken by non-Western nations as inequipped and of no value. Just because the United States or the United Kingdom hasn’t headlined it (though they should) or it originally did not flood your timelines on social media, doesn’t mean that nothing or no one is working on the issue on the ground. Nigerians are taking stand. Nigerian women are taking stand.

We should all make sure to be aware of what happens in our global community, but we should also stop assuming that if our eyes are not watching then nothing is being done. We are not the end all, be all in feminism, the promotion of liberty, medicine, etc… though we like to think so.

The global community needs allies, not superheroes.