Is war becoming more racist?

Ian Clarke

Article author

Reading time: 8 min

Last updated: June 10th, 2022

Is war becoming more racist?

Ukraine is facing the darkest days in its modern history, with many of its displaced, fatigued and demoralised citizens growing weary of constantly falling under attack - their very right to existence at risk. But the aggressor in this instance isn't Russia, its racism.

White supremacy tightens grip on Western media

Somewhat problematically, instead of reporting on the facts and experiences of suffering Ukrainians on the ground, a significant number of shocked Western journalists and news anchors have fixated on the narrative that 'civilised' white people aren't immune from war. In their warped perception, white victims of war are more important, more valuable, more human, than others. Meanwhile, wars outside white regions are dehumanized, normalised and in some way portrayed as 'to be expected'. The idea that violence and destruction is unthinkable in Europe but normal for countries in the developing world is not only racist but indicative of how casual white supremacy has become on todays live television.

Ukrainian refugees of Nigerian descent wait to board a train at Lviv station and evacuate across the border, 27th Feb 2022 | Credit: AP, Bernat Armangue
Serving as vivid reminder that colonialism is alive and well within our cultural mindset, the ultimate white privilege is to use the words 'civilised' and 'European' interchangeably. White supremists continue to perpetuate harmful and divisive views into the very fabric of our Western societies with concerning success, growing ever more powerful as they do.

But there are signs that other regions and ethnicities are no longer buying that 'white is right', with recent analysis of news reports linked to the War in Ukraine indicating that white privilege and black oppression are becoming increasingly Western phenomena. Should this worrying trend continue, the decline of the West will come sooner than expected - the world's one-time champion of freedom and democracy meeting its end crushed by protectionism, intolerance and division.

"Ukrainian's only, if you are black you must walk"

These haunting, dehumanising words were said to  Nigerian medical student Jessica Arakpo as she waited to board the buses carrying refugees from her hometown to the boarder.  

In recent years, Ukraine has succeeded in marketing itself as a progressive democracy with strong liberal values and leading educational institutions that offer an affordable alternative to studying in the US or Western European. In response to the PR machine, thousands of African's and other predominantly darker skinned communities now call Ukraine home.

But shocking reports have emerged during this already tragic war of fleeing black and other darker skinned Ukrainian's being met with abuse and discrimination, then denied safe passage through refugee routes out of the country. Left abandoned and in fear, many are having to find their own way to safety whilst wrestling with the trauma of being told by fellow humans that your life is without value because of the skin you were born in.

“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law,” said the African Union in a statement on Monday.

Ethnic Ukrainian refugees escape to safety via the Medyka pedestrian border crossing in eastern Poland | CNN, Feb22

This long-held idea that race holds superior sway over citizenship to an individuals national identity is vividly playing out, as our fellow humans are left for dead hundreds of miles from a safe zone when ample transport exists purely because we ascribe less value to their darker skin. 

Transgender woman weeps after Ukrainian authorities say she must stay and fight | Credit : Vice

And spare a thought for other marginalised communities coping with the live-or-die realities of residing in a warzone. Transgendered Ukrainians attempting to leave the country face considerable additional risks due to A) their gender identity not matching their government ID's and B) neighbouring Poland and Hungary having created anti-gay laws (including LGBT-free zones in Poland) despite condemnation form the European Union. We uncovered multiple press reports that Ukrainian authorities are turning back Transwomen at the border to 'stay and fight' instead, with one report celebrating the announcement within its report (Deilight does not link to hate speech). Some trans people are now being advised to “lose their Identity” by human rights groups.

Human identity is at its core 'one race - many differences - one destiny'. But there are signs its interpretation is evolving . The tragic costs upon our societies, in particular for black and trans communities, continue to grow exponentially.

Here's a number of ways you can support all the people of Ukraine:

  • Donate via the official Ukrainian Humanitarian Appeal coordinated by the Disasters Emergency Committee (link)

  • Donate directly to Ukraine via the fundraiser being coordinated by the Ukrainian Embassy (link)

  • Attend a demonstration such as Stand With Ukraine, taking place tonight in London's Trafalgar Square from 6pm (details)

  • Sign a petition to encourage the UK government to help Ukrainian refugees (Refugees Welcome | UK government to help Ukrainian refugees)

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