Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate has called out racism in media after she was cropped out of a photo featuring prominent climate activists including Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson.
Nakate made the comment in a video which has since gone viral, adding that she now understood “the definition of the word racism” for the first time in her life.
The group had given a news conference in Davos on Friday when Nakate was then cropped out of a published version by the Associated Press, a US news agency. She questioned the removal on Twitter.
“Why did you remove me from the photo? I was part of the group”, she tweeted in response. Other agencies, including Reuters, misidentified Nakate as Zambian activist Natasha Mwansa. Reuters’ currently available version of the photograph identifies the other four activists in the picture but not Nakate.
David Ake, the AP’s director of photography, told Buzzfeed UK that, under tight deadline, the photographer “cropped it purely on composition grounds”.
“He thought the building in the background was distracting,” Ake said.
In the viral video, Nakate elaborated on what she considers the erasure of black and brown voices in conversations surrounding climate change, pointing out that people who look like her are most vulnerable to rising global temperatures.
“We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis,” she said. “You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything.”
Supporters and fellow climate activists came to her defence, sparking a dialogue on racism within environmentalist spaces and the need for better focus on climate justice.
“It’s disgraceful that not only is Africa ignored, it’s also deliberately removed from the picture,” Theo Cullen-Mouse, a 17-year-old, Irish climate activist.
“Africa has contributed the least, but will suffer the most from climate breakdown. The least we can do is give Africans a voice,” he added.
The AP has since replaced the cropped photo with its original, claiming “no ill intent”. The caption for the new image, however, does not reference the switch or explain the previous cropping.