South Sudan is in the middle of a political crisis that has a high risk of degenerating into genocide. Millions of lives are at stake. And the world needs to know (and do something) about it.
But this is not an excuse to use dehumanizing language in describing South Sudanese. Why did Jeffrey Gettleman choose, in this tweet, to lead with the trifecta of cannibalism, gang rape, and civil war? It is important to note that this is not what the piece was about. In the piece, actual acts of cannibalism and gang rape only get a single line each in this short paragraph.
Women were raped. Children were burned to death. Some people were even forced at gunpoint to eat the flesh of their dead relatives. The horror has been meticulously documented. Still, it goes on.
Gettleman’s gratuitous tweet may have been meant as clickbait. But seen in the context of his other pieces from the region, it fits a pattern. It was a dog whistle, meant to take us back to a time when callous dehumanization of Africans was commonplace, including in the most highbrow of outlets. From the DRC, to Kenya, to Uganda, Gettleman’s writings read like the works of a careless journalist who, for whatever reason, does not think that dehumanizing the subjects of his pieces is wrong.
It’s almost as if he intentionally wants to beat Joseph Conrad in producing piles and piles of horse manure on his imagined idea of what Africa and Africans are about.
It is a shame that, in 2017, the Times continues to feed this stuff to its readers.
To be fair, if those things did happen and were documented, then they are extraordinarily horrifying, and are genuinely very newsworthy. I don’t see this as any more or less dehumanising than any range of headlines that deliberately highlight the most salacious/horrific/controversial aspect of a story. Newspapers, even the good ones, always do this to sell their product. I’m not sure it is correct to suggest that this journalist, or his publication, has any particular prejudice against Africa in general or the people of South Sudan.