One powerful illustration shows exactly what’s wrong with the way the West talks about Ebola
October 12, 2014
The Ebola epidemic has killed 3,431 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia; it has killed one in the United States. Liberia’s Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told the U.N. Security Council in September that the disease poses a “serious threat" to the country’s existence; the Obama administration recently reminded everybody that “[America’s] structure would preclude an outbreak.” Health care workers are threatening to strike over dissatisfaction with wages; the U.S. sent 3,000 military personnel directly into the area to help combat the epidemic.
The Ebola headlines in Western media outlets, however, don’t tell that story. The Western media circus has lapped up the Ebola epidemic and paraded it around as its newest act. It’s everywhere you look — stories about “necessary” precautions, tales of children and even police cars under quarantine, fear that the disease has spread to other parts of the country. And it all has one singular focus: America and the West.
André Carrilho, an illustrator and cartoonist based in Lisbon whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and New York magazine, chose to play up this disparity in an August illustration, drawn shortly after two white missionaries stricken with Ebola were admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
"People tend to respond more to illustrations that have a point of view on issues that relate to their lives and their opinions," he told Mic in an email.
The Ebola epidemic hit a particular nerve with the artist. “People in the African continent are more regarded as an abstract statistic than a patient in the U.S. or Europe,” he said. ”How many individual stories do we know about any African patients? None. They are treated as an indistinguishable crowd.”
His point is well taken, given the recent arrival of Thomas E. Duncan, the Dallas patient who became America’s only travel-related case of Ebola. He came from Liberia, but the media paid scant attention to the country’s experience with Ebola until his arrival in the United States. Carrilho says the color of Duncan’s skin doesn’t contradict the meaning of the illustration. ”The fact that [Duncan] is black doesn’t change the fact that because he’s on U.S. soil, he deserves more attention in the eyes of the Western media,” he toldMic. It’s not black vs. white in the eyes of the media, but ‘the West vs. the rest.’
"A death in Africa, or Asia for that matter, should be as tragic as a death in Europe or the U.S.A., and it doesn’t seem to be," he said.