This week has been very difficult for many in Ethiopia and across the world. The tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 to Nairobi has broken the hearts and devastated many. Families are grappling to deal with the tragedy of living a loved one or loved ones. Many of us were also heartbroken by the news as we have flown that route and that plane many times and it is by pure chance that it was not us.
When I heard the news I could not help myself but weep for all of those on board, passengers and crew who lost their lives. As more details emerge about the flight and bits of what was on the black box, it is difficult to hold back the tears. An anonymous source described the voice of Captain YaredGetachew to the New York Times as panicky while he was requesting clearance to return back to Bole Airport. As even more details become
A few things have happened since the accident that could serve as a reminder or a learning point for us all. The first is the way in which newspapers described the victims of accident. As an international carrier, there were over 35 nationalities on board the flight, and some nationalities were mentioned more than others on headlines naming casualties. Nationalities such as Americans, Germans, French, Canadians and Egyptians were among those who made the headlines designed to grab the attention of readers worldwide. While the majority of the victims were of African nationality, the western media focused on focusing on some at the expense of others, somewhat of a hierarchy of lives based on what passport one carries. This was particularly painful as even in death, we Africans, have to fight to be seen and humanized. A maddening and saddening reminder that our lives and our deaths are not equally important, if at all.
This trivializing of African flights was then followed by the shock of the impact the crash caused. When Ethiopia announced that it was grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8s until the cause of the accident was identified, the world watched as countries around the world, big and small, followed suit. The shock was not that they were following the sound evidence based decision by an airlined that the plane could have technical issues, rather that these countries and airlines were following steps taken by an African airline. Those who are unfamiliar with the record of Ethiopian airlines tried to insinuate, if not flat out challenge, factual records that indicate how good it was. And that is the other lesson here, had it been an airline from the west, these insinuation or challenges would not happen. It reminds me of an advice I once got that said, you have to be twice as good to be considered half as capable.
One of my favorite quote from Dr. Maya Angelou is “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time”. The “international” media is showing us who they are, and have been doing so consistently for years, why are failing to believe them? Why are we still consuming their news? Why are our media outlets not stepping up to the plate to tell stories from an Africa centric perspective?
I am currently reading a very interesting book that taught me acrucial lesson. The author asked: what is the difference between prejudice and racism? Her answer is: power. When is prejudiced, one simply has an opinion or a perception on a group of people and the impact on those people is minimal if not absent. However when one who has an opinion or perception on things is in a position to make life difficult or make those people against whom these perceptions are held miss opportunities and economically, socially or other, then that is racism. Journalists, like us other mere mortals, are entitled to prejudice, however when their editors and their stations sanction these prejudices to be broadcasted across the globe, it is racism.