Opinion: Whataboutisms are helpful, actually

When someone claims ‘whataboutisms’ aren’t helpful, I bet they’re white?

But that’s not to say all white people are like this. But there is a very real problem within the narrative of media pushback with regards to what is news and what isn’t.

Slavery and colonialism were only undone by the bankrupting of imperial powers. It gave rise to independence and the fragility of borders that allowed its administrative circle to continue to take advantage of developing nations. And because of this, its people continue to suffer to this day.

With an outpouring of support for Ukraine on a constant loop within the media, the reasoning for projecting such broadcasts has diversified to justify its unprecedented coverage. Ukrainians themselves have continually claimed “if Ukraine falls, Europe falls” and a variant of that call for help has been “if Ukraine falls, the west falls” and “if Ukraine falls, the world will become a more dangerous place”. This ideology, now not only shifts attention from elsewhere in the world to Ukraine but reduces the importance of the difficulties faced by other regions. Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan received coverage of a similar standard at the time, though the narrative that ensued was that there is evil in the country with little observation of the devastation that its communities suffered within them. It is one outlook for people of colour, another for white people.

If Ukraine falls, Europe falls? I doubt this very much, considering the militarisation of NATO’s presence within the region, and if Ukraine did decline beyond Kyiv’s control, it would be terrifying, but, European and NATO forces will use such a loss for reasoning an increase of patrol units within the EU enclave.

Whataboutisms are helpful, actually.

Ukrainians themselves have told of how it is not them who should be blamed for such shameful media coverage, but western media. And this is true. But one Ukrainian online commentator then said: “Western media and governments might not care, but we, Ukrainians, do” before boldly supporting another person who said “whataboutisms are not helpful”. A confusing standpoint for the outsider, rational to the town crier. The latter sentiment is widespread within the Ukrainian community, supported by government death tolls that extend past 24,000, though alternate sources such as the United Nations record a figure of approximately 3,500+. Whatever the true figure is, it is not important. The invasion of Ukraine has been an ugly tragedy perpetrated by the Russian government on a false pretext, as was the United States and United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq. But, what should be highlighted, understood and validated are the differences in treatment of each refugee demographic.

And now for the whataboutism.

Wherever bloodshed happens in the world, context will always be needed to demonstrate the complexities of war, not necessarily in the present (which is the most horrific time) but in past and post-conflict societies. What Ukraine has suffered for years is of detriment to its people and to the security of its borders. Having dealt with horrors beyond question at the hands of Nazi Germany and Soviet regimes where they endured forced starvation, torture and forced disappearances, it is no wonder resistance from Ukraine has been formidable to say the least.

Although the invasion of Ukraine has been a violent and unrelenting catastrophe, the treatment of refugees living through conflict in differing parts of the globe and by the western media is appalling. Without shame, threats to safety in other countries have been largely overlooked, leading to the bronzing of public sentiment for support of dreadful acts such as the British government’s Rwanda migration plan.

The term ‘whataboutism’ is especially highlighted when people of colour draw attention to their own plight. In the advent of the Ukrainian conflict, the act of throwing Molotov cocktails by occupied Palestinians was branded as thuggish barbarism with some going as far as to say it is an act of terrorism. Yet, western news outlets such as Sky and CNN in particular cooed over the bravery of ordinary everyday Ukrainians producing the same, even going as far as to showcase how they can be constructed. Not only is this irresponsible, but a breach of broadcasting standards to exhibit a ‘how-to’ in making weapons, not to mention bomb-making.

The refugee double standard

Poland refused to accept Syrian and Afghan refugees, leaving them to freeze along with children in the forests of the borders between Belarus. On the contrary, Ukrainian refugees are accepted without question and have even been provided with a government system of housing by volunteers via a Fastrack visa system, albeit with some teething issues. Should refugees from the MENA and South Asian continent wish to apply for the same treatment, they’re referred to NGOs entangled in a slow asylum application process which can sometimes take years to finalise.

Whataboutisms are helpful because they highlight the treatment of non-white people especially. If the Middle-East descends into chaos, it is perceived as events continually unfolding there. Though the truth is, conflict in the middle-east, south-Asia and the African continent are a direct result of destructive efforts by former colonial powers whereby the looting of land, destruction of industry, cultures and identity continue to consume and wreak havoc in developing former colonies.

Right now we’re witnessing millions of refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing war-torn regions from across the world catalysed by western intervention who must find life-threatening ways to travel to Europe. In the United Kingdom, in particular, refugees are forced to travel across the English Channel in small boats and dingies because they fear the British government will turn down their asylum applications. And they’re unfortunately right. Whereas, white Ukrainians (mostly) have been able to settle in the UK without fear of any repercussions by the UK authorities. And that is a very current affair that makes whataboutisms a helpful modern discourse.

Don’t look here, look over there!

We’re now giving a damn about white colonialism of another white nation without tending to the same complex histories of global strife and the consequences of actions of past European colonies only decades ago. What this is, is white privilege yet again with the support of the news, once again. Whataboutisms are helpful because they highlight the prejudices of white people affording care to one group yet barely affording a statement of outrage to another. Whataboutisms are a rebuttal tool of western manipulation when they fear the narrative is being lost and control is slipping from their greasy petroleum palms. The difference is, once a person’s conflict is over and war continues in other parts of the world. Will they care? The proof is in history.

But now commentators argue that Ukraine fatigue will aid Putin in his quest for Soviet dominance. Have we ever heard talk of Yemen fatigue? Iraq fatigue?

Ben Stiller spoke to BBC News a few days ago, asking journalists to keep the discourse on Ukraine spinning. And he’s right. But at the same time, he could have asked the same for elsewhere in the world. But he didn’t, further concretising the notion that Ukraine is more important. And one could assert that that is not what he meant. But we all know, that what you say is important, but what you don’t say is more powerful.

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