Neda Shadanlou
Jul 15, 2022

Diversity conversations exclude the non-Western point of view

The populist world doesn't care about the African migrants who were beaten to death at the Spanish border.

Diversity conversations exclude the non-Western point of view

We always talk about brands doing good in our industry, but it always percolated in my mind: why are conflicts in the Middle East and Africa never a purpose for a mainstream brand?

As an immigrant from the Middle East who left a war behind in the 1980s, I am tired of this selective empathy.

I'd give my colleagues in advertising a pound each if they could name me the colours of Afghanistan's flag.

And I probably wouldn't even be a penny down.

Yet every single brand on the planet, from home insurance, to online taxis, to web hosting, to bog roll, are now the colours of the Ukrainian flag... canary yellow and baby blue. Those two colours are literally everywhere I look.

Another example of the vast difference is free Eurostar tickets for Ukrainians. Which is great. But there is no safe, legal passage for others seeking asylum from the Middle East and Africa.

If there were a legal route, then Sir Mo Farah would have never fallen into the hands of criminal traffickers as a child.

His mother sent him away to escape the war in Somalia. Yet, she, and many others like her, knew that you can’t even claim asylum unless you are already physically in the UK.

Which makes the foggiest amount of sense in deterring trafficking.

Moreover, there are thousands of other Mos, aka Mohameds, but they don’t have the good fortune of having that public empathy because they are not a Western celebrity.

This is why Priti Patel is attempting to fill aircraft full of asylum seekers (nearly all Middle Eastern and some African) to fly them off to Rwanda.

Recently, a tragedy unfolded. One that I’m guessing you’ve probably heard nothing about. A few news outlets have referred to it as Black Friday. No, not that Black Friday – the mega monster price-drop shopping day in the US. Although if it were, it would probably get more attention – we are all so bug-eye hyper-fixated on all things America. 

Instead, it is a term being used to describe the horrific murder of a group of African migrants, mostly from Sudan, who were beaten to death at the Spanish border, by Moroccan and Spanish border control.

All of them were men and boys leaving conflict behind, just like Mo Farah.

The images and videos of what happened to this group were so unbelievably brutal that they should have evoked a reaction of outrage – everywhere.

Yet the populist world doesn't care.

You don't seem to care.

And your clients and brands certainly don't care.

Is it because they are from the "other side" of the world?

Is it because their names are Abdul, Ali and Mo-hamed?

Does empathy have a certain geographical cut-off point?

It seems that beige, brown and black lives matter to activists only when they are in the West.

There is the classic excuse of "it's only natural we care when things are closer to our backyard".

Hmmm. There are parts of the Middle East and Africa that are only a three-hour flight away – including the Spanish/Moroccan border where this tragedy unfolded.

Yet, in comparison, a mass shooting in the US, which may be a 12-hour flight away, garners global outrage.

The truth is that Africa and the Middle East are, in your mind, like the Upside Down in Stranger Things: a totally opposite land, filled with monsters you're trying to keep out of Hawkins.

And that's because we've been conditioned to believe there are “two worlds”.

First, there is “our world”, which is where supposedly humane "civilised" countries belong.

And then there is the “other world”, the shadow realm, where we dehumanise the inhabitants, and we fictionalise an idea of them being either exotic or accustomed to pain – "Ahh, shucks, they're used to a spot of trauma, let them crack on with it."

Edward Said, a great political thinker who reshaped the landscape of political theory, called this Orientalism.

He concluded that in our art, in our literature and in our minds, we have fabricated, faked and forged an opposite world, in the Middle East and Africa in particular.

A fake polar opposite intentionally designed to validate ourselves as being better than and more deserving of empathy.

Which is why the border between Morocco and Spain and the crimes there last week seemed quite a potent analogy for a two-world theory.

The Moroccan border's aggression was being egged on by the Spanish prime minister.

Yet, on the Spanish side of the line (our world) they swear their hands are clean of this murderous crackdown, despite being the ones to encourage it.

And this isn't the only murderous act designed to keep the “shadow realm” out of Europe.

French authorities are shooting at dinghies full of refugees, trying to deflate their boats mid-sea.

Italian authorities are arresting people who save migrants drowning at sea.

Malta has pushed migrants dangerously and by force back to Libya, where they are abused.

Denmark has revoked residency for Syrian refugees and is deporting them.

All of this violence against migrants, is to keep the Demogorgons firmly outside of "our world".

More than 80% of asylum seekers who arrive in the UK are found to be genuine refugees.

So, any Nigels out there suggesting that the majority aren't refugees, are just showboating for the Brexit Britain vote. The numbers don't lie.

And it is worth asking yourself, even that 20% who may be "economic" migrants – do they deserve to be shot mid ocean because they are escaping poverty?

We chastise the naughty migrants taking that supposedly "criminal" route to get here.

Yet how laughable it is to call it a criminal journey, when we state it is a human right for people to seek asylum here, yet there is no legal route.

That's like saying: "Hey, it's your human right to eat chocolate chip cookies at Asda, but it is illegal to travel to Asda to get the cookies."

What the actual friggin' hell sort of dichotomy is that.

(PS For the sake of this analogy, chocolate chip cookies means seeking asylum.)

In the creative industry we talk a lot about diversity, with socio economics, sexuality, gender, race – all of which are important. But for me, all of these conversations exclude the viewpoint of a "non-Western" perspective, which is about geography.

Having that non-Western perspective within our industry could help break this fallacy of "our world" and the "other world".

And for now, please for the love of god, or for the love of whoever your higher being may be – cheese, chocolate, Netflix, Krishna, Christ – just Google what has happened to these Sudanese migrants recently.

Because they were murdered with the intention of keeping them away from Europe, and with no outrage, it feels like we are co-signing the crimes against them.

Neda Shadanlou is a creative director and director

Campaign UK

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