As we’ve hit (or are about to, or did so a while ago, or something...) the seven billion person mark, the tone in the media has palpably been one of fear, unease and impending doom. The underlying (or sometimes not so underlying) thought process seems to be: “seven billion people do make an awfully large crowd, and the world really can’t support such numbers – we need to do something about it.” We’ve discussed before that doing “something” usually means trying to stop others from having babies, after all, we in the West (and Japan etc) aren’t contributing to population growth – we’re not even replacing ourselves! No, it’s others (particularly Africans) who need to stop breeding, they can’t even feed themselves! If only they were as educated as we were they wouldn’t have so many babies and they’d realise the joys of having 2.1 kids, or even better, they’d realise the unalloyed bliss of being a GINK. They either need more condoms, or if they want a large family, they obviously need re-education. Preferably by some type of planned parenthood organisation.
A few days ago in the UK Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill wrote an interesting blogpost along similar lines. He discussed the choice (inadvertent or deliberate) of pictures by news organisations to accompany stories about the world’s growing population. Generally, he says, these pictures are of black people, or brown people:
“If it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then the stock photos used in articles about overpopulation – Indians squeezing on to a train, Chinese women going shopping, black babies sleeping – frequently reveal more about the modern Malthusian outlook than the articles themselves do…
[A] Guardian report goes for the old classic of little black babies, 12 of them, just lying there, blissfully unaware that they are contributing to the "rapidly growing global population". This one goes for an image of African schoolgirls skipping – scary.”
After all, there is nothing more frightening than a row of black babies, or of African schoolgirls playing in a schoolyard. While they might not consume or pollute as much as the average westerner, you get twenty of them together and suddenly you have the ecological footprint of a single citizen of the USA! Dangerous.
As O’Neill concludes:
"These images speak volumes. For all the attempts to PC the Malthusian outlook, to drag it away from its miserabilist, eugenicist origins and refashion it as a trendy eco-concerned outlook, still the concern seems to be the same: all those crazy foreigners are having too many ankle-nippers, and as a result we are all headed for doom. The articles use right-on lingo and inoffensive terminology such as "family planning" and "climate change", but the images scream: "TOO MANY BLACK BABIES."
So what do you think? Is O’Neill clutching at straws? Or is he right? Is there a vein of racism and patronizing below the surface (albeit inadvertent) when we talk about overpopulation?