Climate Activists of Color Are Being Erased By the Media

Supermajority Education Fund

February 3, 2020

While Greta Thunberg’s climate activism continues to garner headlines around the world, two young climate activists’ recent experiences have shed light on how the work of young women and girls of color in this field is minimized and even erased by Western media.

On January 24, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate called out the Associated Press for cropping her out of a photo taken during a conference in which she spoke alongside Thunberg and several other young white European activists in December. “When I saw the photo, I only saw part of my jacket. I was not on the list of participants. None of my comments from the press conference were included,” Nakate — who became an activist after noticing that Uganda was experiencing unusually high temperatures  told The Guardian. “It was like I wasn’t even there.” 

Days later, Nakate received an apology from the Associated Press, which reported that the news organization would further examine how they can prevent such a “terrible mistake” from happening in the future. But for Nakate and other young activists of color who reached out to Nakate and expressed their frustration on social media, the incident reflected how climate activists from Africa, Asia and, the Pacific are often ignored in media coverage of global warming even though their communities continue to be disproportionately affected by the changing climate.

As Nakate told The Guardian, “Climate activists of color are erased,” she said. “I [had] activists who messaged me to tell me that the same thing happened to them before, but they didn’t have the courage to say anything.”

The same week Nakate’s cropped photo went viral, 8-year-old Indian activist Licypriya Kangujam said she felt media coverage that had dubbed her the “Greta of India” was also a form of erasure. Kangujam is widely considered to be the youngest climate activist in India and began her organization, The Child Movement, at the age of 6. She gained widespread attention last year when she held a strike outside of India’s parliament in 2019 in order to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pass legislation addressing climate change

“If you call me ‘Greta of India,’ you are not covering my story. You are deleting a story,” she tweeted. In an email to Supermajority News from Kangujam’s representatives, she expanded on her feelings behind that tweet. “I went to address some conferences [and] instead of calling out my name, they call me ‘Greta of India,’ which hurts me a lot,” she said, while also noting that she and Thunberg are friends. “Even when [they] came to take my pictures, they asked me, ‘Are you Greta of India?’ I think this is not fair.”

Kangujam urged everyone who cares about the environment to center the voices of young people from the Global South. “Every climate activist in any region or country of the world is referred to as [the] ‘Greta of’ those areas,” she noted. “This deletes their unique stories, identity, names, and movements.”