The Realization

I also realised a few other things.

It became clear to me that what passed for “interesting” and “acceptable” methods of journalism in US media was almost always filtered through three keyframes: First, a commitment to the myths of Western liberalism; second, an unquestioned belief in US exceptionalism, and third, an unexamined conviction in the goodness and perfection of neoliberal capitalism.

The discourses of human rights, democracy, free speech, gender equality, and modernist development helped veil these three frames. Furthermore, they camouflaged these frames by using a sophisticated “writing technology”–the God trick, as Donna Haraway called it–whose neutral, grave, measured, and apolitical tone helped create the fantasy of objective and transparent journalism [Donna J. Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse™, Routledge, 1997:26]. This “God trick” was married to what J. M. Blaut has called the “coloniser’s model of the world,” where the European makes history and is its agent [J. M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History, The Guilford Press, 1993:5]. In contrast, the rest of the world is trapped in a “rockbound, timeless, changeless tradition.” They believed that cultural processes flow out of Europe towards the rest of the world and that “this is the natural, normal, logical, and ethical flow of culture, of innovation, of human causality”[Ibid:1]

In journalism’s Eurocentric gaze, (post)colonial worlds and their subjects become objects for documentation, analysis, concern, pity, judgment, and intervention, but never creators of stories, speakers of arguments, and deciders of action [Rose Jaji, “Essentialism and the making of African refugees,” AfricaIsACountry, April 2021]. They erased histories of Western imperialism and economic exploitation. They refused to recognise that “many of the most urgent [issues of the day]…are features of our current global landscape whose aetiologies are steeped in the colonial histories of which they have been, in some cases continue to be, a part…[and]…that many of these conditions are intimately tied to imperial effects and shaped by the distribution of demands, priorities, containments and coercions of imperial formations” [Ann Laura Stoler, Duress; Imperial Durabilities in Our Times, Duke University Press, 2016:3].

Western journalists operating in geographies of colonial and imperial aftermaths are oblivious to their colonial inheritance, their burden of responsibility, and the relationship of these histories to the “social issue” they are reporting [From a speech James Baldwin gave in the wake of the 1968 riots. The speech is available online here: (last accessed April 2021]. They operate with “a very willful ignorance” that makes them believe they stand outside history and are politically innocent. It becomes blatantly apparent when; for example, an American photojournalist can casually and callously pose a pregnant Sudanese rape victim in the nude in precisely the same way that colonial-era race “scientists” had posed tens of thousands of African women to “study” them and “categorise” them. [Suchitra Vijayan, “Misogyny and Racism as Spectacle and Performance: A Critique of Mahesh Shantaram’s ‘The African Portraits’ and ‘Forbidden Love,’” The Polis Project, February 11, 2019].

S/he is unaware that her “white saviour” projects are little more than “settler moves to innocence” designed to “reconcile settler guilt and complicity and rescue settler futurity.” [Tuck, Eve & Yang, K. Wayne, “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2012:1-40]. She is unaware, perhaps even unconcerned, about the ways her visual practice is a continuity of a history of exploitation and representation, the roots of which lie in racist denigration, exploitation, violence and death. S/he, a privileged child of centuries of Western colonial pillage, destruction, and theft, can feign innocence. S/he can pretend that the structural deprivations she has come to document as a “concerned photographer” are not connected to the social and economic power and privilege that enable her to to arrive and “represent.” [Julietta Singh, Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanisn and Decolonial Entanglements, Duke University Press, 2018:102–103].

Furthermore, journalists will avoid speaking about transnational forces, even though they often influence a country’s political, economic, and social development. The impact of trade agreements, structural adjustment programs, international human rights and NGO-industrial complex, military alliances, actual military occupations, and financial markets seemed to evade their writings about nations outside the West. Instead, they explain multilayered social, environmental, political, and economic issues through reductive, cultural, spiritual, and “developmentalism” frames. Journalists write stories about child labour in a South Asian country but not about the crippling structural adjustments program (SAP) imposed by the IMF that cut social spending and forced families to send their children to sweatshops.

They write about environmental degradation in North Africa but not about how the construction of massive beach-front hotel developments for European tourists required redirecting entire rivers and displacing entire villages. They write about African men migrating to Europe but not about unfair and exploitative trade agreements with the EU that allow European fishing trawlers to operate in local waters and destroy the regional fishing economy. They write about drug crime in cities along the US-Mexico border but not about the poverty and desperation created by trade agreements with the US. They write about sectarianism in a Middle Eastern country the US had invaded and occupied but erased how sectarianism was introduced into law by the US occupation administration.

Apparent interconnections and entanglements are erased, while others are intentionally displaced. The world is presented in neat little packages designed to lull us into thinking that our privileges here have nothing to do with their deprivations there.