This week, the world’s attention will be focused on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Summit. Close to 140 heads of state will be coming together to discuss the international community’s progress on the eight goals meant to help eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. The meetings have the potential to affect the lives of billions of Brown people around the world, and yet—none of the Black publications that I read and love have written one single line about it.
As a UN Correspondent, the September Summit has been on my calendar for months. It represents one of the biggest news events of the season, and, in its tenth year, even the most jaded of observers will admit that it has the potential to be a historic moment for world diplomacy. And while nearly every mainstream publication will be covering it, the significance seems to be lost on publications targeting people of color. A search of the websites of Essence, Black Enterprise, Ebony, Jet, VIBE and UPTOWN magazines show not one single mention of the Summit.
I’d like to think that this is a blunder, an editorial oversight if you will. But as an avid reader of many of these publications, this latest omission represents just another example of Black media’s blatant disregard of international news.
Media meant for people of color has long given world stories the side eye and, on occasion, even worse, the cold shoulder. Last month, over 200 Black women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were raped over four days with UN peacekeepers stationed less than 18 miles away. The story ran in nearly every newspaper across this country and around the world. Now, I am not saying that Black media is responsible for reporting on the global afflictions of every person faintly tinted brown. But what I will say is that when the mass rapes of hundreds of Black women goes completely unmentioned in a magazine meant for women of color (not even a blog or a link out to a newswire, Essence?), it suggests we have a larger issue at hand.
I refuse to believe that our Black media’s aversion to international news reflects Black America’s lack of a world view, nor can I make the argument that all Black people share the same views on our country’s foreign policy. But what I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, is that we have reason to care. The floods in Pakistan may not seem worth running to an editor who is faced with a Kanye leak or pictures of Amerie’s new hair color. But for the thousands of brothers serving our country in Afghanistan, the security threats from the floods could affect whether or not they make it home. To suggest that international stories don’t affect a Black audience is not merely ignorance, it is woefully untrue.
To be fair, Black media has not shunned world events completely. Following the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, several publications led the way in running pieces that expressed the perspectives of Haitian-Americans and called for response to the humanitarian disaster. However, nearly all included in some way, shape, or form, a reference to that Fugee whose name I will not mention, suggesting that without a celebrity tie audiences would not be able to relate. But I think that the feelings of hopelessness and desperation are universal. I think that people whose homes got washed away in Pakistan have these feelings, that people facing mudslides in Guatemala have them, that our people standing on FEMA lines outside the superdome five years ago had them as well.
Not only is the unwillingness of Black publications to cover international stories inexcusable, the exclusivity of their content sits at odds with their increasingly multicultural audience. Though many of these publications were created expressly to fill a void for African-Americans, they are now read by beautiful women of all shades—of Ghanaian, Indian, Ethiopian, Trinidadian, Dominican, Jamaican and Haitian descent, just to name a few. As the application of “Black American” as a self-identifying label broadens, it seems that the range of our coverage should as well.
There are some who would suggest that Black media in this country is meant to connect with the African-American experience, that there is still a distinct legacy of prejudice within our own borders and that stories of injustice that must be told. I agree. But I suggest that, historically, some of the most celebrated African-American leaders reflected not only on the struggles of their communities, but showed empathy for the plights of others far outside those walls as well.
While we often uphold our civil rights icons for fighting for the rights of our people, many of our greatest community icons valued a deep connection to the plights of those halfway across the world. Shared informational exchange is beneficial to all. For proof of this point one only need to look at the relationship between King and Gandhi, and at the similarities of suppression in the Jim Crow South and Apartheid South Africa.
While geographically distant, the commonalities between the world’s impoverished people are undeniable. It is the reason why Black women in America share maternal mortality rates rivaling many developing nations. It is the reason why Black teens in this country get pregnant as much as girls from poor nations around the world. Most of the obstacles standing in the way of a better world are due to issues of access, representation, and resources. The issues that perpetuate cycles of decline, and generations without growth, are not exclusive to continent, nor to our borders. So why should they be relegated to a particular section of the news? There are no high-brow international issues—the stories of the world may not be exactly our experiences but they are not too foreign for us to understand.
The Black media has outlined a false delineation between our problems and theirs in its near refusal to cover international news. It is a misguided attempt to section off what concerns are ours, and ours alone. An attempt that, as a Black woman, I wholeheartedly reject. It is the reason I get up every morning, convinced that this news should matter enough to be written, that these stories matter enough to be told. The faces in the pages of the paper and in flashes of the evening news—they are mine, they are ours. They have voices, just like ours even though they may speak languages that we don’t.
We need to send a message to our publications that there’s nothing “foreign” about resiliency, about humanity, about pain. This world has so many struggles that pull us apart, but hearing each others’ stories can help us to face our shared challenges together.
This is a world where young girls in Tanzania have Rihanna/ Willow style shaved cuts, therefore I have to believe we share more than we may know.This is a world where Ethiopian women carry jerry cans miles to feed their families, therefore I have to believe there are sacrifices every woman understands. This is a world where Haitian children have made classrooms out of tents, therefore I have to believe even in the face of unfair tragedy there are things still worth learning, that there is more we should know.
And in a world where so much seems to stand in the way of overcoming, we might need to recall that, like Ms. Badu, we are higher than our walls.