There was a time when liberal media pointed to conservative Fox News Channel as the racist network. But if there’s one thing wall-to-wall media coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past week has taught us—or shall I say reminded us—it’s that many mainstream outlets are no different. The amplified empathy for the people of Ukraine during this humanitarian crisis simply because, as a former Ukraine Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze said on BBC News,  people with “blue eyes and blonde hair” were being killed is cringeworthy and disturbing. In the early days of the invasion similar comments and video clips circulated widely of Caucasian journalists espousing that same narrative that the world should care about what was happening in Ukraine because the people who are dying are white.

Reporting from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Massachusetts-born CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata declared that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European—I have to choose those words carefully, too—city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.” The Edward R. Murrow awards-winning veteran journalist later apologized his comment went viral. But as a former field producer who babysat celebrity correspondents with a camera crew while waiting for a live shot, I can testify that they not only practice what they want to say and how to say it but write down notes. Meaning, the pernicious racism of what he really was saying—  war and suffering are beneath European countries compared to the uncivilized Afghans and Iraqis who don’t know any better—wasn’t said impromptu, it was prepared and planned in the name of "fair and unbiased journalism."

The list goes on. There’s the clip of ITV correspondent Lucy Watson broadcasting from a train station in neighboring Poland, where she was having a hard time wrapping her head around: 1) the shock of an invasion taking place in a predominately white country and 2) the horror of seeing the non-poor struggle and suffer. “Now the unthinkable has happened to them. And this is not a developing, Third World nation. This is Europe!” (Someone should tell her that Europe also has poor developing countries and Ukraine is on the list).  NBC News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella said, “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine [...] They’re Christians, they’re white. They’re very similar [to us].” 

The Foreign Press Association in Africa was deeply troubled by the racist and skewed coverage and issued a statement but chapters in the US, London or France apparently were not and did not. In a segment on refugee seekers journalist Peter Dobbie showed his true colors when he remarked, “What's compelling is looking at them, the way they are dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East...or North Africa. They look like any European family that you'd live next door to.”  Al Jazeera English, the international 24-hour English-language news channel version of the Arabic-language news channel, quickly apologized for its correspondent's irresponsible reporting.

A statement by the US- Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) correctly notes that current media coverage “dehumanizes and renders [the experience] with war as somehow normal and expected” in certain parts of the world.  It “condemns and categorically rejects orientalist and racist implications that any population or country is ‘uncivilized’ or bears economic factors that make it worthy of conflict…This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.” 

More disturbing than the racist news coverage that values lives of some victims of war over others is the warm welcome given to white Ukrainian refugees by European governments who’ve flatly refused the same reception to Muslim and African refugees over the years. These EU politicians aren’t apologetic about the volte-face either.   

“Anyone fleeing from bombs, from Russian rifles, can count on the support of the Polish state....We will accept anyone who needs it. The Ukrainian society gets more afraid and stressed. We are ready to accept tens, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees,” the Polish interior minister, Mariusz Kaminski, recently stated, adding that the country has mobilized reception centers along the neighboring border to support the incoming flow. However, in 2015, Warsaw’s rhetoric when Syrians were fleeing war was that Europe’s East was still too poor to help.

“These are not the refugees we are used to. These are people who are Europeans, so we and all other EU countries are ready to welcome them,” declared Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. “These are … intelligent people, educated people … So none of the European countries is afraid from the immigrant wave that is about to come.”