It’s not just Trump: Western media has long treated black and brown countries like ‘sh**holes’

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The president of the United States essentially called black and brown countries “sh*tholes.” The Internet is aflame with outrage over his comments. There are already many calls to apologize, and there will be more to come. But let’s be real: U.S. media has long treated black and brown countries like “sh*tholes.” This TV-loving president is a product of a media culture that has systemically covered places in Africa and places like Haiti only as war-ravaged, disease-ridden and impoverished — when these countries are even deemed worthy of coverage at all.

Studies show headlines from major Western media outlets are largely negative when it comes to Africa. It was just last year that a New York Times opinions essay about Congo waxed on about monkey brains and how the country was perhaps better off 100 years ago under colonialism. Only with Africa coverage can programs such as “60 Minutes” get away with parachuting American journalists to Liberia to report on ebola — and not interview a single Liberian on camera for the story. Western media and literature are riddled with cliche-white savior journalism. That helps to explain why Louise Linton, the now-wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, was able to publish an article in the Telegraph (which was later removed from its website) based on her cliche-addled, self-published memoir about her gap year in Zambia. She wrote in the book that Africa is rife with hidden dangers: “I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted malaria and had close encounters with lions, elephants, crocodiles and snakes.”

Never mind that lazy “Ooga-Booga” journalism (as journalist Howard French calls its) fails to reckon with the fact that African countries are home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Never mind that long before mobile money-sharing systems such as Venmo came to the United States, countries like Kenya were using mobile platforms including M-Pesa. Never mind that African countries are beginning to produce their own cars, embrace biometric technology and venture into space exploration. When it comes to Africa, American media is rarely interested in positive headlines.

My first foray into anything resembling journalism came during my undergrad days at Northwestern, when I wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Northwestern challenging an interview that painted Ghana as a place riddled with diseased children and food that tastes like newspaper. Since then, I have spent much of my adult writing life trying to counter these harmful narratives about Africa: trying to convince people that black and brown nations aren’t “sh*tholes” and that black and brown people are not subhuman.

Trump’s comments are just the latest proof that the United States is being led by a man who is an unabashed white supremacist, one who aims to implement policies that will make America white again by limiting immigration from black and brown countries and deporting those who are already here. But in the storm of mainstream anger, it is hypocritical of the media to fail to reckon with and correct its own practices of reporting on black and brown countries and how this coverage affects perceptions about very real people.

By Karen Attiah

Washington Post

52 COMMENTS

  1. Do you blame western countries ??

    A typical example is our Zambia where a corrupt vissionless government has blown $17 billion, spending irresponsibly like $1 million on a fire truck while millions of our citizens have no accsess to clean drinking water and poor sanitation and going back begging to the IMF all this while the corrupt elit are even dreaming of forming a national airline….

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    • The United States of America has a long history of treating black people within their country and those around the world as ‘Sh**holes.’

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    • OMG when will we stop blaming the government WE elected for everything? The government is made up of Zambians derived from the pool of Zambians.Its not like once you are in govt you are endowed with a new way of thinking.They think and act the way the Zambian pool thinks and Acts…Yes the western media has long portrayed Africa in a negative light.It’s time Africans started celebrating themselves and stop pulling each other down …as Spaka like lilo et al are fond of doing.

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    • It’s time Africans started doing something about their continent. Begging money from the people you kicked out invites ridicule and disrespect. The developed world has never had any respect for Africa. When their leaders begin to openly insult us in the manner Trump did, it’s time to sit down and actually do some thinking. Indeed how do you respect a leader like edgar lungu, from an impoverished, over indebted country he charters an expensive plane to USA full of useless people for the express purpose of enjoying themselves. For a country without money he buys over-inflated second hand fire-trucks. And to allow preventable cholera to be such a constant menace! Are these the actions of a responsible leader who cares about his nation? Scarcely.

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    • that’s spaka like lito trying to pull us down like always. to him zambia will only became a better place to live in when his semi-god becomes head of state. he behaves like possessed zombi from dundumwezi. you can surely remove trash from kanyama unfortunately you cant remove kanyama from spakas dundumwezi contaminated mind.

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    • People, you will do better to comment on the real issue of lack of vision and prioritization, spending millions on firetrucks as opposed to the provision of sanitary infrastructure. These cheap contributions of attacking each other are actually the cause of where we are now. We focus too much on the petty issues and wrangling amongst our selves and leave key issues for tomorrow, then we are surprised that we caught unaware with Cholera.

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    • @1.2 Lindiwe

      Trading places are not cleaned yet shop owners pay bussiness rates , who do we blame ????
      And those street venders are the ones collected to go and dance for lungu at the airport….so that they don’t pay at taxes to clean…

      @1.4 cowdung

      Your corrupt theif lungu has just spent billions yet people have no clean drinking water and sanitation ???

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    • @ 1.2 Lindiwe

      Who elected them? They did, by stealing the vote! If you, yourself, elected them, then you, yourself, consider yourself the culprit – the reason we are in this mess today. And, if your claim turns out to be true, that you elected them, then, you must stand trial, at least in your own mind. Otherwise, how may we ever be able to understand you, having not a tiny sense of guilt after confessing to a crime so grim? This is a very serious matter. You elected thieves into government, and they have done just as we feared they would – stolen everything, including our trees.

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    • @ 1.7 Meimatungu…If I had been been around during election time my vote would have gone to HH…what I’m saying though is government is made up of many people,including thousands of civil servants.PF is not equal to Lungu. Its everyone stealing a little here,a little there thats messing everything up. The Zambian mentality has to change as a whole. How many protests did we see of people protesting the filth in Lusaka?You were all happy to jump over garbage for many years till it exploded into cholera.The government services are so pathetic but we the Zambians just accept and freely throw trash in our streets.While government needs to show leadership ,we the citizens need to start being proactive.Do we need donors to come show us where to defecate?

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    • @ 1.6 Spaka like lilo
      I agree with you, the local government is pathetic. Though answer this question: True or False…People throw litter indiscriminately in the streets. We need to develop a culture of cleanliness. Having said that I think local government should be sued for not upholding the Constitution of the republic of Zambia.Because Zambians have a right to life…and not collecting garbage or cleaning the environment brings about diseases like cholera which leads to death.If you pay rates and the council abuses that money then you should have a right to sue or withhold monies….I’m not a Lawyer ..but I am the second coming of common sense.

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    • Well, Western media is not primarily there to promote African interests, and African media should not be there to primarily promote western interests. That’s the way the game works. Africa should tell it’s own story of positive things happening on the continent, otherwise nobody will do it for us. We have lots of good things happening in Africa, and we need to let the world know about this. But we also have the bad and ugly taking place, such as wars, corruption, hunger, diseases, like what just happened in Zambia. For these, and many more, we need to to hold our leaders accountable, who’re keeping us stuck in mediocre living conditions.

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    • QQQUOTATION: “…while the corrupt elit are even dreaming of forming a national airline….”
      I MAY AGREE WITH YOU ON CORRUPTION. BUT FORMING OF AN AIRLINE IS AN EXCELLENT MOVE WHICH HAS BEEN LONG OVERDUE. BUT IF YOUAHAVE A POLITICAL TWIST IN YOUR BRAIN AND MOUTH YOU MAY BE JUST ONE OF THOSE WHO FIND FAULTS IN WHATEVER PF IS DOING WITHOUT SEEING THE POSITIVE PARTS OF SUCH DEEDS WHICH OUT-NUMBER BY FAR, THE NEGATIVES.

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  2. African countries are generally poor because opportunities to its citizens are given on the basis of whom you know and not what you know. There are a lot of dimwits pretending to be doing what they dont know simply because they know somebody who knows them. This has made the western countries to think that Africans have low IQ and yet it is not the case. We as Africans are our own solutions to negative reports by changing the way we do things. Let the opportunities be given on the basis of what you know and not whom you know.

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  3. Let’s face it, from the pictures we’ve seen during the cleaning exercise Zambia tops the countries in that category. We need to accept that we live in squalor and quite frankly “sh!*hole” is a bit of an upgrade in our case.We need to change our selfish ways and start realising that our success is measured by the quality of our living standards. When you cut corners and abuse public resources, you’re an accomplice to this mess. We all know the standards of living we want and in reality, we need to change our ways. We need to change our mindsets and start working together to build our country.

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  4. Its a high time Zambians began to read about their history.Not even distant history just read about Zambia from 1964 to date. Then ask yourselves why the late President Michael Sata changed his tone and beliefs about the way to deal with the Chinese…There are powers beyond state house that unfortunately dictate our paths.If you do not know who your enemy is you will never win.

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    • Our history started hundreds of years ago and should be taught not just from 1964 as KK destroyed the nation from 1972 to 1991. remember the Q’s, the shortages, and the work attitudes we have today. We had culture and we lived in harmony , not like today, back stabbing each other

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    • You are Right. Unless we acknowledge the fact we have a problem in Zambia, we will not get down to solve it and situation will get worse .
      The biggest threat and enemy to Zambia’s Democratic Governance, Human Rights and National Development, is the Zambian Intelligence, also infamously known as the Office of the President (OP).
      The OP has an hidden agenda to usurp power indirectly and then directly in Zambia, just like has happened and still happening in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Romania, Costa Rica, and other countries where their intelligence exert undue influence on their governments.
      The OP has undue influence on the Zambian Government and Political leadership; OP has a track record of influencing all election results in Zambia -on behalf of the electorate,the OP decides who should be…

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  5. Personally I don’t care what Donald Trump calls me because that is not who I am. Just as I am entitled to call him an ars* hole because that is what I think he is.

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    • He didn’t mention Zambia, he mentioned countries that support terrorism and Dictatorships.
      maybe we should clean up our country and live in the 21st century instead of the 15th.

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    • @ 5.1 Cosmos

      Botswana has responded sharply against that demeaning insult. The fact is that, Zambia, not Botswana, fits the description leveled against African nations generally. Not all, some are.

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  6. As the way the author says, this is nothing new and by now, we Africans should be “immune” to these negative remarks.

    The question we must ask ourselves is: are we going to allow people like Trump or the western media to define us and our countries? say about us?

    I heard the words “we cipuba we!” many times when I was growing up and yes, some things I did made me merit the negative definition too, but I did not let it rule my destiny! I have grown, matured and managed to prove to myself and those around me that I’m not “icipuba”.

    With Africa, it’s even better – we do not even have anything to prove to the world since they all know how rich our continent is. We only need to regain domination over what already belongs to us. The more time we spend working to see…

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  7. contd. The more time we spend working to see development in our countries, the less susceptible we are to negative things that are said about us.

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  8. I read a comment on here that as Zambian you need to all stand together and that I would have to agree is a fact of life.
    United we stand, divided we fall , and that also is a fact .
    I have posted another comment on Trump and forgot to tick the notify me on follow up comment, would look forward to any follow up comments please,
    Be proud of yourselves Zambian people ,
    I am proud and honoured to have spent time in your country ,
    A positive thinking 64 year old Kiwi guy.

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    • @ 9 Jay Jay

      For the African Americans, what difference does it make whether a Blue Neck or a Red Neck is in the White House? For them, the story has been the same – “there is no balm in Gilead.” Jeremiah asked: “Is there no Balsam in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why has not appeared the healing for the daughter of my people?” Jer. 8:22. That is the African American story – their fate, ours too!

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    • You may recall that, while on the campaign trail, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump had some very kind words for my people, the African Americans: ” What do you have to lose?” For American’s blacks, the question is never what they have go gain. It is, and has always been: “what they have to lose?” And the answer is and has always been: “NOTHING.”

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    • CORRECTED:

      You may recall that, while on the campaign trail, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump had some very kind words for my people, the African Americans: ” What do you have to lose?” For American’s blacks, the question is never what they have to gain. It is, and has always been: “what they have to lose?” And the answer is and has always been: “NOTHING.”

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  9. Let’s accept we are a sh*tholes countries in Africa. This is the fact, our countries are characterized with depleted systems: dependence on donor funds, unemployment alarmingly high, corruption alarmingly high. Brain drain is a result of sh*tholes systems. The question is what are we doing about our sh*tholes countries. Africans hate the truth. The truth shall set us free.
    We corruptly looting our on taxes payers money and depend on other (west) peoples taxes payers money, does it make sense? we are a sh*tholes countries! Boko in nigeria, killings in DRC…sh*tholes countries!

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  10. In simple terms if someone calls a house as sh!thole, in essence they are referring to the occupants of that house regardless of their different status in society; whether rich, poor, wise or foolish. His remark is so general that it does not recognize the hardworking african individuals who live in or originate from those countries. That’s so insulting.

    Western countries have long been exploiting African resources, controlling global economy and using force to suppress those countries that attempt to uplift their economic values. To give a somewhat exaggerated example: Suppose one treat their two children differently. They choose to give one child the best circumstances including good education and yet ignore the other. Would such a parent ever expect the two children to have the…

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  11. Ala bane, tu chenjele ne nsoselo. Nangula uyu musungu na bonfya insoselo mu musango wakwe, Lekeni Lesa Umwine amupingule. Let us leave the rest for our Diplomatic Experts to handle. Nani akasebana mailo nga twabwekela ko mukulomba? Limbi entambi shabo nabena. Ukulinganya ama to….. filaletelela. Show them that we are Civilised by forgiving him. Lolesheni pa fintu ifingi efyo ba twafwa. Kwena uwushalufyanya po, abalilepo ukuposa amabwe. Tabasuma ukuboko ukukulisha. Kuti twa ilishanya, in a Civilised manner but not Ukulabwekeshamo insele. Someone sung ” uko waya uko wi katuka Bantu.” Diplomacy is about correcting Issues. Let’s leave certain issues to Experts in International Relations. Apapene ba UKAID bafuma mukutwafwilisha? Iminsula Isuma.

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    • @The Observer
      Ukulinganya ama to….. filaletelela….
      Hahahahaha..please cali kale I heard insoselo!
      very meaningful!

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  12. In Life, there are Certain things you simply laugh off as a crude joke & move on. My Teacher at Primary School (Umusungu Umwanakashi) said “sticks & stones can hurt someone but Words will never break your bones.” Twalesambilila naba Sungu. Ninshi nakaleta Chocolate iyakufoleshsa the whole Class. We don’t expect everyone in the World to be the same but we can still co-exist.

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    • @ 13 The Observer

      You say: “… but we can still co-exist.” Really? Since when? More often than not, you move in, they move out. That is how resentful whites are, of black people. Are we too scared to admit that whites don’t like us? They pretend to, and at that, they are masters. And yet, the fact remains, whites have a distaste for black people. They hate us. They don’t like us. They don’t see us the way we see them. They see us as savages. We see them as civilized people. We have respect for them. They are not known to reciprocate the gesture.

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    • @ Meimatungu I respect your opinion. But look I studied also in Europe where you got a C while umusungu who copied your asignment got an A. There are things in life that you can’t change. Na mubupuba balendela mo. We were counselled in Europe to give a ” reasonable ” response. Ngakwita ati kolwe, kuti wa mwasuka ati inkumba. But out of Wisdom, we simply ignored. Nga wamusakula mu ntemba yakwe, balekuchita pofye deport. Ukulinganya: one African Student abwelele ne linso limo. Even in Russia, African Students have a tough time. Abakalamba ati iminsula Isuma. Cheers!

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    • Note: We have a lot of Black People in USA, Russia & Europe who have attained more than they could have attained in Africa. In Africa, we are still dealing with issues like how to dispose of our waste safely. Black Sportsmen (Boxers, Footballers etch.) Have made it, become rich there, no kupa Abasungu. But we have to be careful not to return to the level of KKK ou Mississippi Burning where a black seen as “Trespassing” would be chased & if caught, have something vital cut off & left to swim in one’s own blood. Let’s not forget that we have some successful Blacks there working as Pilots, Doctors, @NASA, etch. There is what is known as Stereotyping where we all end up being levelled due to just a few rotten apples. Let’s not forget that we have a lot of whites who have already…

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    • . Let’s not forget that we have a lot of whites who have already condemned this. We also have Whites who participate in demonstrations against oppression of Blacks. That’s what I mean by co-existance & tolerance. If we insist on “Mutobe Ilibwe”, we may never achieve anything. What we are seeing these days may be Prophetic. There may just be a trumpet being unveiled.

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    • @ 13.3 The Observer

      Complacence is what kills us, our acceptance that we are second class citizens even when living in the countries of our nativity. We must learn to demand more from ourselves, more especially when it is to ourselves that we have to account. Our mentality has been to break our backs when working for a white man, and to soothe them with oil when working for ourselves. Appoint a white as mayor of Lusaka today. Give him six months. You will be surprised how quickly he will be able to turn it around and transform it into one of the cleanest cities on earth.

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    • @ 13.3 The Observe

      The same black people you are talking about, those who succeed while in a white man’s country, often times fail to replicate their success when in their own country. Try to give them the same opportunity to succeed, you will see them cutting corners, taking short-cuts, etc., something they will never think of doing in a white man’s country. And what about those who actually make it in our own countries, the Dangotes and Hakaindes? Don’t we malign them, and paint them with dark paint? Why? Is that not an effort on our part to reject the idea that we too, with effort, can succeed, the same way they did? This makes us repulsive to success, and ambivalent to the very idea that we are destined to succeed. Don’t you think?

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  13. In Africa, if you go to your Father and tell him that “Tata, kantwa achimituka ati chatile chobe” then you have also insulted & may get a good hiding or beating. Pantu kuti wa ponwesha ba Wiso nga baya ko nokusanga ati Chimubabe ichishakwata Amano. Even at home we do our best to seek Peace even with an abusive neighbour. Mwikala Patalala/Patontwele mwine a patalalika. Na pakutamfya inshimu pamyobe, tabaya na masange. Kuti sha kumongonya. Blessed is the Peace Maker.

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  14. In Africa, if you go to your Father and tell him that “Tata, kantwa achimituka ati “###@&_€” ” then you have also insulted & may get a good hiding or beating. Pantu kuti wa ..ponwe….sha ba Wiso nga baya ko nokusanga ati Chimubabe ichishakwata Amano. Even at home we do our best to seek Peace even with an abusive neighbour. Mwikala Patalala/Patontwele mwine a patalalika. Na pakutamfya inshimu pamyobe, tabaya na masange. Kuti sha kumongonya. Blessed is the Peace Maker.

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    • @ 14 The Observer

      On the contrary, we must learn to insult ourselves, reject ourselves, and abhor our shortcomings. Until we do, we are undeserving of any respect, even our own; we will remain the scum of the world.

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  15. HAHAHA! Yesterday it was Cameron then British PM who said ,” These African countries are fantastically corrupt”. Today its Trump saying our countries are “sh1tholes”. They are both right.
    Can we defend ourselves? NO. Its just true mwe!
    Disaster.

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  16. When our countries have people like HaSpaka, HaJayJay, HaHH, it will take a long time to evolve from imprisonment of the minds. No wonder HH acts like what some Western countries call you! He goes to bark and report to foreign countries and institutions like a child going to his mother about his country! The result is simple: No respect for you! What a shame! Under Fives!

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  17. Note: I have Great respect for all of you taking note of my contributions. Even those who disagree with me. That is what diversity is all about. So that we at least come up with something that is good for us our Children & future Generation. Pls do not hesitate to correct me where I am wrong because I can’t be right always. Only that mutual respect on this forum is good for all of us. Cheers!

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  18. Just from the comments from mainly the diasporans, except Sharon, it is clear that what the author is talking about is true. Most comments are testimony to what western media has done- pumped skewed, negative messages into gullible brains about Africa/convince them that they can’t govern or run businesses themselves/only the whiteman can solve their problems. Just like the way the dictatorship rubbish spread like wildfire in international media. It’s amazing, they bring democracy, we accept and practice it, we choose our leaders, they come back and say you chose wrong??? Only when they approve of who to be president is when it’s ok. Is that democratic????

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  19. Trump is an ********,a rapist who must be subjected to mental examination. If they don’t a better hospital in America to do the mental examination,let evacuate Trump to south Africa-milpark hospital

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