was inevitable that when brown-skinned Afghan refugees fleeing war
European borders over the past few years, the callous actions of
these governments would come back to haunt them. A whopping 1
fled Ukraine from Russia’s violent invasion in the span of only
a week. They are being welcomed—as refugees should be—into
neighboring nations, inviting accusations of racist double standards.
the most egregious example of national racism. Its government, whose
nation borders Ukraine, has warmly welcomed traumatized Ukrainians,
just months after turning
If these optics weren’t bad enough, Polish nationalists have
sought out people of color who are among the refugees fleeing Ukraine
and violently attacked them. According to the
“three Indians were beaten up by a group of five men, leaving
one of them hospitalized.” African nationals studying in
Ukraine joined the exodus after Russia’s invasion, and have
at the Polish border.
Poland might as well erect a giant sign on its border declaring,
elevating such disparate skin-tone-dependent attitudes toward
refugees, Europe is giving its colonialist heritage a new lease on
life. We see echoes today of the dehumanization that enabled European
colonization of the Global South and the enslavement of generations.
not just Poland. The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
overtly racist language of many Western journalists, including
American ones like Charlie
CBS who said of Ukraine that “this isn’t a place, with
all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict
raging for decades.” (In fact, Ukraine has seen plenty
the past years.)
insertion of “with all due respect” was perhaps his
belated realization that he was veering into dangerous territory by
contrasting Ukrainian civilization against the presupposed barbarity
of the darker nations. But then, he continued, saying, “this is
a relatively civilized, relatively European—I have to choose
those words carefully, too—city where you wouldn’t expect
that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
D’Agata likely realized as the words were escaping his mouth
just how racist he was sounding. He needed to choose his words
carefully in order to avoid the appearance of bias. He clearly
failed. His later
not very convincing.
exposed his personal allegiance with the Global North when he
expressed “hope” against war breaking out in a nation
whose people look like he does. The implied flip side is that he
harbors no such hope when the conflict-ridden nations of the Global
South are embroiled in violence.
Parekh, professor of philosophy at Northeastern University in Boston,
a recent interview, “it is very human to feel connections to
people that you perceive to be like you and to feel more remote from
people you perceive as being not like you.” At the very least,
this is a good reason why newsrooms across the United States need to
diversify their staff.
who has written two books, including No
Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis
and the Ethics of Forced Displacement,
says that one “assumption” she has heard justifying
favorable treatment of the latest wave of refugees in Europe is that
“Ukrainians are not terrorists and they are not criminals, and
so we can let them in safely, without having to worry about screening
them.” She calls such views “racialized assumptions…
largely unsustainable by any evidence.”
assumptions are infectious. Social media platforms abound
images sporting the now-ubiquitous blue and yellow of the Ukrainian
flag. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr
emerged as a larger-than-life hero to the morally outraged. So
invested are people in believing Zelenskyy’s heroism that many
several of my own Facebook friends) of him in military fatigues as
evidence of his courage in standing up to Russian militarism, when in
fact the image was captured well before Russia’s invasion.
expressions of solidarity with brown-skinned resisters of Western
militarism or victims of Western wars have been far less common.
out the double standards of governments and the press at a time when
Ukrainians are watching their nation getting utterly destroyed will
inevitably spark accusations of insensitivity and of engaging
irresponsibly in “whataboutism” to make a point.
now is the time to clearly call out what human rights groups and
independent journalists have for years been saying: that the U.S. and
NATO-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere are
racist, and that the callous dismissals of the resulting humanitarian
catastrophes are equally barbaric.
another reason why brown-skinned refugees are seen as undesirable.
Welcoming those people fleeing wars that the West has fomented would
be an admission of Western culpability. Not only do Ukrainian
refugees offer palatable infusions of whiteness into European
nations, but they also enable governments to express self-righteous
outrage at Russia’s imperialist ambitions and violent
militarism. If Ukrainian refugees are evidence of Russian brutality,
then Afghan and Iraqi refugees are evidence of the same kind of
brutality on the part of the U.S. and NATO.
Europe’s double standard toward refugees is on full display in
Russia’s war on Ukraine, the United States is certainly not
innocent either. Former President Donald Trump effectively slammed
shut the door on refugees
his tenure and bolstered his anti-refugee policies with racist
Joe Biden, who campaigned on reversing Trump’s anti-refugee
rules, initially faltered
keeping his promise when he took office. But, even after the limits
on allowing refugees into the U.S. were eventually lifted, few
have been admitted
the country. Last year, when U.S. troops left Afghanistan at the
mercy of the Taliban, Afghans were, naturally, desperate to flee.
While the Biden administration laudably fast-tracked
resettlement for Afghans, problems remain, with one refugee advocate
calling the process, “kind
says that decisions by Poland and other nations to admit fleeing
Ukrainians with open arms, “[show] that the European Union can
in large numbers of asylum seekers and can do so in a relatively
light of the sudden wellspring of compassion toward Ukrainian
refugees emerging from Western nations, media, and the public, a
simple thought experiment could protect governments, journalists, and
us from further accusations of racist double standards: we could
treat all refugees as though they were white-skinned Ukrainians, as
though they were human.
commentary was produced by Economy
a project of the Independent Media Institute.