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Image: Dennis Balibouse/Reuters

Why AP’s Erasure Of A Young African Activist From Group Photo Is Criminal


Vanessa Natake shares the sense of urgency that has heralded the mascot for climate change, 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, who has gained a massive following and worldwide attention for her fierce battle against powerful adults who are woefully negligent.

The Swedish-born activist’s no-nonsense approach has captivated legions of fans, young and old. And her popularity has been a source of contentiousness with shameless bullies like Donald Trump, who righteously accuses his impressive adversary of being the annoying bearer of bad news, with her “doomsday” mantra.

There’s no doubt that Greta Thunberg deserves the showering of accolades for her unrelenting quest to raise the alarm about the horrific consequences ahead if drastic measures aren’t in place to save a desperately ailing planet from extinction.

But she’s not the only young woman who is committed to the cause that’s dire enough to warrant all hands on deck, and the emphatic input of the much younger generation who are set to inherit the earth.

A 23-year-old Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate, is making headlines for reasons that aren’t fair when you consider her viable background and immense contribution to the task of raising awareness about the rising temperatures in her home country.

Nakate is a graduate of Makerere University Business School, which happens to be Uganda’s oldest institution, and her activism officially began in late 2018. Since then, she has formed a couple of initiatives, Youth For Future Africa, and the “Africa-based Rise Up Movement” as launching pads for her growing portfolio of climate-focused programs.

But before that, Vanessa Nakate took to the streets of Kampala and staged strikes and protests all by herself, including camping outside of the Parliament of Uganda, to loudly call out the inexcusable inaction when it comes to taking the glaring signs of climate change very seriously.

This young Ugandan woman’s utmost concern lies in the fear of how the burning temperatures will dangerously affect her country’s agriculture, particularly since it’s a key component to survival for a vulnerable population.

“My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture. So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food.

Natake does credit her more visible counterpart, Greta Thunberg for inspiring her decision to be the face of climate change in an African city, that’s embodied by the refusal to rise to the occasion, when it comes to exploring realistic options to combat the inevitable.

The burgeoning activist has been working hard to make notable strides in a broadening global issue, but she unfortunately became an overnight sensation due to the blatantly willful error by the so-called reputable Associated Press.

Vanessa Natake, Greta Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were recently in Davos to host a news conference, and we know that because the only who gets coverage, Thunberg, was prominently featured by multiple outlets, as she theatrically accommodated Trump’s archaic speech.

When the formalities were completed, the group of young women, also known as the “faces of tomorrow” happily gathered together for the mandated photo op, that was supposed to feature ALL the girls.

Interesting that such a prolific photo, perfectly capturing the splendor of young women from diverse backgrounds, coming together with the shared goals and dreams to lovingly preserve our planet, has turned into a pure nightmare for the only Black girl, who was criminally erased by a staffer at AP.

As it turns, out the expendability factor knows no bounds when it comes to anyone with Black skin, who happens to be just as qualified as her non-Black fellow crusaders, who matter more to the biased AP photographer. The gross discrepancy was pathetically blamed on time constraints, which inexplicably forced the staffer to crop the photo “purely on composition grounds.”

Bullshit! And even Thunberg had something to say about it.

But even more heartbreaking, is the broken spirit of Vanessa Nakate, an outspoken, intelligent, fearless, young Black woman, who is championing a cause that’s been a hard sell to the country she loves, and yet she’s never wavered in her mission to be the voice of reason and catalyst for much-needed change.

And while it’s obvious why Thunberg’s similar trajectory has proven to be more delectable on a broader scale, we can’t forgive the abhorrence of the AP photographer, who nonchalantly “cropped” out Vanessa Natake in favor of Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson, who are White enough for the honorable mention.

Nakate took to social media to express her despair upon discovering that she had been cruelly erased from the canvas of her activism, that apparently didn’t warrant her inclusion based on her Blackness, and how it was convenient to blame distracting “background objects” for the senseless decision.

The viral video of Natake, eloquently elaborating on her reasons for elevating the hot-button issue of climate change is a great introductory message for those who didn’t know she existed, especially news agencies that added to the chaos by confusing her with Zambian activist, Natasha Mwansa.

The double whammy of being an underserving victim of overt bigotry at the hands of a classless unprofessional, who saw only “white” and careless news organizations who assume “all Black girls look alike” was the shitfest that pushed Vanessa Natake to speak her truth with gusto, in the posted clip.

“We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis. You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything.”

Associated Press swiftly released a generic statement that was meant to compensate for the previous non-apology, that disgracefully deviated from taking full responsibility for the “mistake” that graphically devalued the worthy qualifications of a college graduate based on her race.

We regret publishing a photo this morning that cropped out Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, the only person of color in the photo. As a news organization, we care deeply about accurately representing the world that we cover. We train our journalists to be sensitive to issues of inclusion and omission. We have spoken internally with our journalists and we will learn from this error in judgment.

It’s a damn shame that it took the public outcry from stunned supporters of Nakate after she maximized her following by exposing the crime against her, before AP reluctantly made the call to formally acknowledge what should never have happened if only diversity in media was actually a thing.

Natake soberly admits that this terrible experience provided the realness of racism as a young Black woman, who will always have to work much harder than her white counterparts, and still expect the traitorousness of white supremacy to derail her efforts.

It’s gut-wrenching to consider the weighty repercussions that will haunt Natake for years to come, and it’s even more daunting to realize that she won’t be the last to suffer the scornfulness of white media.

We will continue to accommodate these harrowing ordeals unless newsrooms are populated with Black and Brown talents across the board, for the sake of avoiding embarrassing and hurtful episodes, that can be easily finessed by the those who are strategically positioned to provide the enlightenment that matters.

What happened to Vanessa Natake is unforgivable!

And for the benefit of securing her value above the messiness of her outing, please remember her name.

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Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say!

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