Systemic racism: insularity

15 May

I have hesitated to write this post for a while, mostly because I’ve been writing way too many angry rants lately. Also, because I’m going through some personal shit, which has already shortened my fuse quite a bit. Then I saw this headline and hit a wall, and you are getting hit with the results.

Advance apologies, as I fear some of my US readers will find what follows offensive. Read on at your own risk.

Back in September I blogged about the terrible earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985, and how almost thirty years later the memories of devastation and destruction still hit me so hard at times, despite being one of the very, very lucky ones.

The news of the earthquake in Nepal brought all that back. Not being particularly brave, I avoided the news as much as I could–the few headlines I saw were enough to make me rage silently.

Then there was the big aftershock a couple of days ago, which affected not only the people of Nepal, but those who so generously traveled there to help, and now I have to rage out loud.


Did you notice how many of the headlines in US online news outlets center on the few Americans who were in Nepal when the first earthquake hit, and later on, on the (probably white) Europeans missing?

There are probably tens of thousands of people dead, and at least twice as many injured to different degrees. The psychological damage is incalculable. Nepal’s economy, never buoyant, will be in the toilet for a couple of decades or more as part of the aftermath.

But apparently the only way to have the majority of the public in the US give a damn is to focus on the minuscule percentage of US citizens and other white people directly affected. Those brown people down there? Well now, the viewing public can’t relate to those people, can they? Let’s have all the white people with American accents do the talking for them.


This is so very similar to what happened with the 300 hundred black girls abducted by Boko Haram. A few weeks of headlines, many focused on #bringourgirlsback, and what the United States and international help would do to rescue them. It’s been a year–how many headlines are there about them now?³  Or about the tens of thousands of lives lost to civil unrest every year in Nigeria alone?

Why is it that so often natural disasters, civil wars, systematic misogyny, and so much more, are only visible if seen through the lens of the American savior, or the one (or two or three) American affected?

Why is it that being human is not enough to make neither their suffering nor their greatness real to us?


I don’t hate the United States nor its citizens. I chose to come here, and to raise my children here. As soon as immigration law allows it, I’ll become a naturalized citizen of the US. There are many things about this country that I admire, deeply (First Amendment, anyone?).

Admiration does not make me blind though. The internalized xenophobia, the carefully cultivated insularity, the institutional racism and misogyny, all these make me so sad.

Because I think this country and its people are capable of being so much more, so much better.


If one had to judge the state of the world by the major news outlets, something would become evident in a hurry: the only human lives that really matter are white lives, preferably white American lives.


Dozens of Americans Missing¹
American Filmmaker’s story
One Thousand Europeans Missing
American Doctor’s perspective²
American Rescue Team news


¹ Before I get my head handed back to me, I’m not saying those families don’t have every right to be worried sick. I am wondering though why that gets bigger headlines than the tens. of. thousands. of. missing Nepalese.

² I know, having been there, that the Nepalese appreciate every bit of help coming their way, no matter how big or small. What kills me is that the reporter is making the American doctor come off as the only heroic figure there–it is the doctor who mentions the heroic efforts of Nepalese doctors to save the lives of their countrymen.

³ Except, of course, for the ever popular pro-life assholes. (By the way, that piece? If you’ve made it this far and your head hasn’t exploded, go read it. It’s even worth the sneaky pop up ads.)

5 Responses to “Systemic racism: insularity”

  1. Deirdre Saoirse Moen 15/05/2015 at 7:28 AM #

    I remembered earlier this evening that I’d forgotten to finish my post about helping (in a small way) Nepal relief efforts. Tomorrow I hope.

    He US is so incredibly insular. We have only two major neighbors (excluding the smaller island neighbors), which is very unusual in the world.

  2. kristiej 15/05/2015 at 5:25 PM #

    AL: I understand your rant and I join you in it. Living in Canada I am constantly amazed at the media and the self nation absorption of our neighbours to the south. I have so many dear American friends, heck even my sister lives there now and I worry about insulting them too, but so many Americans are legends in their own minds. I completely boycotted the movie Argo with Ben Affleck as Canada was barely mentioned and *ggrrrrr* it was a Canadian – Ken Taylor who was the true hero along with other Canadians. But did Mr. Affleck give them the credit? Nope. From what I hear the Canadian role was barely mentioned.

    According to American media and Hollywood and so many other avenues, it’s the US that SAVES THE WORLD. SO not true. Look at the history of WWII as another example. The US were about the last country to enter and that wasn’t until after Pearl Harbor was bombed. So many other countries sent troops over to help Europe fight the Nazi’s but the US would have ignored the situation if not for that.

    I am offended too by the headline you pointed out. There are people and countries from all over the world who are helping out in this latest natural catastrophe but what does the article focus on?? American doctors of course. I wish Americans and the media would report that relief going to Nepal and other countries hit by such horrendous disasters comes from SO MANY MORE countries.

    I wish more Americans would get their noses out of their own navels and stop their incessant flag waving and realize they aren’t “just all that!” Neither is Canada ‘all that’. Neither is France ‘all that’. Neither is Australia ‘all that’. Neither is England ‘all that’.
    Neither is any individual country. ALL nations make up the world and ALL nations help out in one disaster or another when called upon. – Yep – even the so called enemies of the United States

  3. Lori 15/05/2015 at 8:08 PM #

    If you don’t like it you commie fascist liberal punk, go back to where you came from!

    OK, now seriously…you’re right. It’s amazing how America isn’t part of the global community but only a part of our own. There’s a real sense that we’re the only people that matter and everything else is largesse, all other people are well, just not Americans.

    And the sad thing is that so many other countries are doing things better than we are: taking care of their old and young, remaining healthier, living with so much less violence and instead of learning from them we’re just staying on our own path watching our country fail.

  4. Bona 16/05/2015 at 5:09 PM #

    The same happened here, they centered the news around the Spanish mountain climbers out there. Although I recognize that, now and then, the news told people how to hep, what NG organizations are working there.
    My personal angry rant was directed to those Westerners that survived and said something like ‘there was not enough water for us, and they just gave us a blanket to sleep’. What did they expect? It made me very angry ’cause Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, so I understand that giving 5-stars rooms to tourists was not precisely their priority at that moment. I understand people looking for adventure in far countries, but they have to accept that bad things happen and the government is not going to send help just for you.
    On the other hand, a familiar face in this kind of disasters can make you feel closer to the victims. The picture I’ve got in my mind about 1985 earthquake in Mexico, was Plácido Domingo. He lost members of his family and I think it was the face of that earthquake in Spain. It’s sad to say, but if something like that gets help to the people who is suffering, at least there’s something good in that stupid search for ‘national victims’.
    In this case I’m not sure if it’s xenophobia or plain nationalism.

  5. andarae 18/05/2015 at 2:11 AM #


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