Recent articles from Western media outlets using black people to report the Monkeypox outbreak have left Africans disturbed.
“Africa has been portrayed as the dark continent in need of civilizing, and its heathen peoples in need of enlightenment through enslavement and colonization.” writes Amy Biney for the Student Pulse Journal Quest. As a result of this historical lens, the African continent in Western media has suffered the same fate for centuries.
Unashamedly, Western media houses disseminate misinformation that creates negative stereotypes and connotations about Africa and its people. This practice reinforces the harmful images pandered as factual, ensuring that Africa is tainted.
This week there has been outrage from Africans and African organizations who have noticed that news outlets in the United Kingdom and America are using stock images of black Africans to report the new Monkeypox outbreak in these countries.
News of a Monkeypox outbreak broke at the beginning of May when a British national returned from a trip to Nigeria (Lagos and Delta State) displaying symptoms linked to the virus. In Nigeria, Monkeypox is endemic, meaning it is “constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs.”
It is not the first time Monkeypox has managed to make its way overseas. In June last year, the US reported a case from yet another Traveller coming in from Nigeria.
In an interview with The Conversation, virologist Oyewale Tomori stated that this was not necessarily a resurgence of the virus in Nigeria. There have only been 466 suspected cases between 2017 and 2021, and only 13 confirmed in 2021.
Currently, there are cases in Northeast and Southeast England, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Germany, Israel, Australia, and Switzerland. The outbreak is nowhere near Africa, yet several media houses from some of the countries mentioned above have used images of black bodies in their articles over the past few days.
On May 21, the Foreign Press Association, Africa (FPAA) released a statement on Twitter condemning this practice. “The Foreign Press Association, Africa registers its displeasure against media outlets using images of black people alongside stories of the monkeypox outbreak in North America and the United Kingdom.” the statement read.
“It is therefore disturbing for European and North American media outlets to use stock images bearing persons with dark/black and African skin complexion to depict an outbreak of the disease in the United Kingdom and North America.”
“We condemn the perpetuation of this negative stereotype that assigns calamity to the African race and privilege or immunity.” the FPAA added, furthermore asking the pressing question of whether the media is “preserving white purity” through “black criminality or culpability.” It would be naive to think this is not what these media houses aim to achieve by pushing such a misinformed agenda.
The West’s obsession with sanitizing its image and racism is a regular occurrence; headlines often reflect that. “Western news reporting, in general, is often portrayed as being neutral and impartial, and the journalist as a neutral and balanced arbiter.” Biney states, “There is still a popular misconception that anything written or seen on television is true.” Unfortunately, this is how many have been duped, further asserting this tool used by these media houses causes irreparable social damage. The more the general public trusts what the media presents at face value, the less inclined they are to believe that they’re being fed biased information.
It is highly irresponsible for large news outlets like NBC News to participate in this racially charged practice. Accurately reporting this outbreak should be of utmost importance to avoid the spread of ignorance and false information.