This post was originally sent out on May 6 via a monthly email message from Director Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations. Subscribe to the UU@UN email list.
We are all justifiably horrified by the carnage resulting from the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, which has produced over 4 million refugees. There has been an outpouring of compassion and support in terms of refugee assistance, humanitarian aid, and military support. All of this is warranted and good. However, we also need to ask why we did not see such support for Ethiopians, Yemenis, Afghans, Central American migrants, and refugees from the terrible civil wars in Myanmar and Syria. The stark difference between the support and compassion that the “Western allies” show to Ukraine, worth billions of dollars, compared with meager crumbs of support for non-white victims, is unconscionable.
The World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus blames racism for the disproportionate focus on Ukraine over Ethiopia. Tedros used his own nation of Ethiopia and its civil war with Tigray, Oromo, and other parts of the country as an example. There are many others. The WHO leader questioned whether “the world really gives equal attention to Black and white lives” given that the ongoing emergencies in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Syria had garnered only a “fraction” of the concern for Ukraine.
Tedros said, “I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way. Some are more equal than others.” He “hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally.”
There have been Ukrainian refugees who have entered the American border with Mexico and been immediately processed for asylum, yet desperate migrants from Central America remain stranded in appalling conditions waiting for a hearing.
As UU@UN director, I’m a steering committee member of the NGO Working Group on the UN Security Council. We meet with every member state representative on the UN Security Council. On Tuesday, April 19, we met with USA Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield. We emphasize what has already been stated by the UN World Health Organization head, that we must care for all people in need in the same way regardless of race or national origin. We deliver the same message in all our other interactions as well.
The world community has the capacity to do both/and, rather than either/or. Our values call on us to treat everyone equally. We can and should do better than only helping white people in need. Much of the work is making sure our attention includes all those in need. The media is not helping with its over-reporting on Ukraine and gross under-reporting on everywhere else. We must dig deep and keep ourselves informed and engaged with those part of the world where people of color live and where they suffer conflicts and hunger. Our attention must be broad and inclusive. Our compassion must reach out to all regardless of color or geography. By centering BIPOC people, we can avoid exclusive attention to European white people in need.