It’s as if the Ukraine conflict has been the first war that the West has ever witnessed.
Solidarity abounds for Ukrainians, who have suffered from a brutal, three-months-long Russian invasion. If you’re not a member of the far-right, like Tucker Carlson, or someone on the left who hasn’t lost sight of the invasion’s context, in all likelihood, you fly a blue-and-white flag. At the very least, you are likely to have intense sympathy for Ukrainians.
Such international solidarity may have been cause for celebration if similar kinship were expressed for Yemenis, Uighurs, Rohingya, Palestinians, Congolese and other groups suffering from tyranny, war, invasion, occupation and genocide.
Yet the empathy expressed for Ukrainians is lost on the nonwhite peoples of the developing world. For them, solidarity is – at best – a stark bowl of nothingness.
More often, the world’s nonwhite oppressed are condemned as “terrorists” or “Iranian proxies,” such as when Palestinians fight back against Israeli oppression and when Yemenis fight a Saudi-led invasion. At worst, their oppressors are supported through military weapons, blocking from UN condemnation and financial assistance.
One could argue that people have a limited altruistic capacity, that they cannot care about all the world’s suffering as they do for Ukrainians. But the rationale is pretty clear in the selection of Western, white Ukrainians: subtle racism (or, perhaps, not so subtle).
Poland, with its anti-immigrant Law and Justice party in power for seven years, is the most overt example of racism. This far-right party, which has regularly shunned nonwhite immigrants, suddenly opened its doors to Ukrainians. However, even while letting white Ukrainians in, it barred nonwhite residents fleeing Ukraine from the Russian invasion.
Under the US’s streamlined policy for allowing Ukrainian refugees into the country, known as “Uniting For Ukraine,” a slightly less egregious policy directive emerged asking Ukrainians not to arrive at the southern border. This would create problems for ICE, which sends Central American asylum seekers back to violent Mexican border cities as they wait from months-to-a-full-year for their claims to be heard. ICE may have feared that some Central Americans would claim to be Ukrainian. Perhaps, most importantly, allowing Ukrainian refugees into the country at the same border crossings where Central Americans are turned away would highlight the US asylum policy’s true discriminatory nature.
The solidarity vacuum towards nonwhite people contrasts with Ukrainian flags flying high on neighbors’ porches. It is subtle racism and reflective of US imperial policy, which the media parrots, causing it to be absorbed by the people.
As human beings who connect globally with each other in seconds, we can do better.