The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Selective empathy is a danger to all

Okunade discusses the coverage and attention paid to conflicts in different regions and what the attention given says about selective empathy.

There have been over fifty global conflicts around the world recorded in 2023 alone. These include coups, massacres, rebellions, attacks, insurgencies, protests, natural disasters and so much more. Yet, just a handful of them make it to the media. Whether you get your news in print or online, only a fraction of these events are covered. Even fewer of them make it to people’s hearts. This begs the question: what makes the average person decide to care for one issue and ignore hundreds of others? This is a result of selective empathy: empathy only shown towards a certain race, culture, or geographical location.

The fact is news outlets should be able to cover every story. While it is true that these outlets are to blame for lack of coverage, it’s important to keep in mind that it is the traction of their stories that shape the news they cover. If anyone is to blame, it is us. This isn’t to say that everyone needs to be interested in everything. But still, the least we can do is try. Try to show as much empathy for the malnourished kids in Guatemala as the starving kids in Ukraine.

Guatemala has been facing high levels of poverty and food insecurity with over 45 percent of deaths of children under the age of five occurring due to malnutrition. While the responsibility of this does fall onto the Guatemalan government, it is clear that they lack the resources to make such a change. That being said, we, as a collective, have the means to help those kids. This can occur through proper coverage in the media which will lead to global aid. The US alone is responsible for donating over $15 billion to several states in the Global North: Israel, North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

This is one example out of a mountain of evidence that shows how ongoing issues in the Global South have been ignored for decades. Despite the urgent attention that they deserve, most conflicts in the Global South frequently go unnoticed by Western media.

A prime example of this is the conflicts taking place in Africa,  particularly, the slavery and genocide in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The DRC, located in central Africa, is rich in cobalt and copper, supplying over 70 percent of the world’s supply of rare minerals. These resources supply materials needed for what ranges from energy for your Tesla, to batteries in your iPhone 15. However, the DRC is plagued with human trafficking, slavery, and child labor all for the Western world to benefit from the children mining these materials. Where is this in our central news outlets?

Modern-day slavery joins a long list of human rights atrocities unnoticed in the Global South, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, and xenophobic attacks as a result of political, religious, and cultural divides within various groups. The conflicts among these groups can contribute to instability that is too often overlooked.

Such groups can be found in Nigeria, home to over 200 ethnic groups. This, in addition to the overwhelming political and religious divide, makes it a flashpoint for crime, violence, and an overwhelming amount of ethnic cleansing, an issue people in the Global North seem to have gotten more interested. Nigeria has faced one crisis after another since the kidnapping of school girls in 2014. This event however got overshadowed by the ISIS takeover in Iraq and Syria. Which was addressed due to the takeover’s perceived larger importance, despite there being a relation between ISIS and the kidnapping. Two issues rooting from the same cause. One was recognized, and the other was not. Nigeria is also troubled with a series of banditry, kidnapping, trafficking, and murders. Despite this going on for over a decade, it is left as an afterthought in the news. A massacre that left over 100 people dead on Christmas Eve was not covered at all in the media. Despite the recent outrage over issues in the Global North, everyone seems to remain ignorant over those same types of issues in the South. Empathy isn’t a zero sum game. Furthermore, calling for attention for conflicts in the South shouldn’t take attention away from conflicts in the North.

While I do urge everyone to be aware, it is important to highlight the limitations of individuals. Tackling such complex issues requires a level of global cooperation. It might not be in a certain country’s favor to get involved in another’s conflict or even to send aid to that country. Even so, the power of global awareness must not be underestimated. There have been countless instances in history that illustrate the effect of pressure from the public on government decisions. There are also various organizations dedicated to making change if a state is reluctant to help. These include humanitarian services such as the Humans Rights Watch, which advocated for the migrant workers in Qatar during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), which improved both maternal and child care in Bangladesh, Humanists International, which improved secularism in Tunisia, Save the Children, which helped educate young girls in Afghanistan and provided nutritional programs in Mali, and Survival International, who helped protect tribes in the Amazon rainforest. None of these achievements would have been made possible if not for the awareness and empathy of a few individuals.

Imagine the possibilities of greater achievements if we gave proper attention to even more issues. Plus, by addressing current issues, we limit the possibilities of future issues arising.  There is no excuse for turning a blind eye to those who are starving, slaughtered, and are forced to work in harsh conditions. All we have to do is be aware.

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  • Nancy KoutcherMar 2, 2024 at 10:20 PM

    Wow! This is really interesting and thought provoking. I hope to read more of your work soon!