Things That Matter

She Was Cropped Out Of A Photo Featuring Her White Peers, Now This African Climate Change Activist Is Speaking Out

Racism and white privilege are front and center in the climate change battle thanks to a viral photo of five climate change activists that was cropped to remove the only woman of color. The ‘terrible mistake’ has sparked an outcry among the public and prompted soul-searching at the Associated Press – the organization responsible for erasing the only Black woman in the photo.

The incident highlights the erasure of people of color from activist circles and the silencing of their voices to elevate those of their white peers.

In a photo of five climate activists, the only Black activist was cropped out before publishing.

It all happened at the World Economic Forum in Davis, Switzerland, where the young climate activists were in attendance. A photographer with the Associated Press took a picture of the five activists, including the well-known climate superstar Greta Thunberg and Ugandan Vanessa Nakate. THe photographer cropped it Nakate and sent a photo of the four whit women with a scenic mountain backdrop to editors around the world.

The AP’s initial response to the criticism was that it was done to enable a close-up of Thunberg and to remove a possible distraction in the photo – a building behind Nakate.

Vanessa Nakate told BuzzFeed News she was heartbroken to see websites use a photo featuring four white activists but not her.

In a Twitter DM conversation with Buzzfeed News, Nakate said she was heartbroken when she realized what had been done. She went on to say “I cried because it was so sad not just that it was racist, I was sad because of the people from Africa. It showed how we are valued. It hurt me a lot. It is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.”

The young climate activist also took to Twitter to share her reaction in an emotional 10-minute-long video discussing her experience at the summit and how it felt being cropped from the photo. She says “it was the first time in my life that I understood the definition of the word ‘racism.'” She said she felt like her story had been erased.

“I don’t feel OK right now,” she said in the video posted on Twitter. “The world is so cruel.”

Thunberg supported her on social media, saying over the weekend that the picture was “totally unacceptable in so many ways. Like Vanessa said herself: ‘You didn’t just erase a photo. You erased a continent.’”

She’s also had to face backlash from people saying if she didn’t want to be cropped out, she should of stood in the middle of the group. Like what the…?

For real. People on Twitter were trying to tell this young African activist that she should of positioned herself in the middle of the photo if she didn’t want to be cropped out. What is wrong with people? How are you going to tell a person of color to be mindful of where they stand simply out of fear of being cropped? That’s not how it should work.

The AP originally said it was done to allow a close-up shot of Greta Thunberg but has since apologized for the incident.

The initial responde from the AP was definitely tone deaf, saying that it was done with the intention to remove a distraction in the photo’s background. Even if that were true, in doing so, you’re literally erasing the only person of color (and her experience) from the photo, the summit, and the cause. That’s not OK.

Recognizing the error in their response, the AP changed course by the weekend.

“My hope is that we can learn from this and be a better news organization going forward,” Sally Buzbee, the news service’s executive editor and senior vice president, said Monday. “I realize I need to make clear from the very top, from me, that diversity and inclusion needs to be one of our highest priorities.”

“This is a very important issue for the AP, and it’s bigger than a bad mistake on one photo,” said Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of the AP, who attended the first meeting. “Our values are to cover the world — not the white world, but the whole world. And we need to do it.”

Being erased from a major moment has led Nakate to lead a mission to fight for more inclusivity in the environmental justice movement.

Speaking up catapulted Nakate into an unfamiliar territory of social activism: calling out anti-black discrimination and racism. After experiencing “the definition of the word” for the first time in her life, she received messages of support. She said she now felt a greater responsibility to “amplify their voices”.

Nakate, an activist since 2018, was inspired by Thunberg to start her own climate movement in Uganda and began a solitary strike against inaction on the climate crisis in January 2019.

She’s made it a point to highlight the climate change issues that affect minority and vulnerable populations around the world. She hopes to remind people, that climate change is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations already. That for many communities around the world, especially in her native Uganda, there is no time to wait for action.

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