Climate activist Vanessa Nakate speaks out about being cut from photo with white co-panelists

A group of five young women gathered with world leaders at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos the third week in January to discuss the urgency of the climate crisis. The five climate change activists sat together on a TIME panel, sharing their thoughts and answering questions. But if you just saw the altered photo shared by the Associated Press, you'd think there were only four of them—and that they were all white.


The Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate called out the AP for cropping her out of the group photo, asserting that it hurt not only her, but the people of Africa. "It showed how we are valued. It hurt me a lot," she said, adding, "Now I know the definition of racism."

On Tuesday, the AP responded with an apology but Nakate said they continued to miss the larger point about passive racism by not even acknowledging her by name:




Greta Thunberg also publicly decried the photo cropping on Instagram, sharing both photos and her thoughts on Instagram:

"This Friday 5 representatives from Fridays For Future held a press conference in Davos. A news agency chose to edit the picture like above, cutting out @vanessanakate1 from the picture. This is totally unacceptable in so many ways. Like Vanessa said herself: 'You didn't just erase a photo. You erased a continent.'"

Thunberg, who has become the poster child for climate action, has deliberately pointed the media toward young activists from black and indigenous cultures who are at the forefront of climate change awareness and activism. "It is people especially from the global south, especially from indigenous communities, who need to tell their stories," she told attendees of the U.N. climate meeting in Madrid in December. "It's really about them," she said. "We talk about our future, they talk about their present."

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The erasure of black voices from climate change conversation is nothing new. Black women in particular have been on the front lines of environmentalism for decades—they just rarely make headlines. To have Nakate literally erased from a photo of young climate change activists evokes an immediate gut reaction from people who recognize this pattern.

Considering that this phenomenon has been part of public discourse for a while now, it's a bit baffling that AP's photo editors would not foresee the problem with this photo cropping. Whether it was an intentional act of racism is debatable, but largely irrelevant. The impact was the same, whatever the intent. A black woman was erased from a photo with four white women, and damage was done.

The AP issued a statement (notably without an actual apology to Nakate) about the cropping:

We regret publishing a photo this morning that cropped out Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, the only person of color in the photo. As a news organization, we care deeply about accurately representing the world that we cover. We train our journalists to be sensitive to issues of inclusion and omission. We have spoken internally with our journalists and we will learn from this error in judgment.

David Ake, the AP's director of photography, explained to Buzzfeed UK that the crop was made "purely on composition grounds" because "the building in the background was distracting."

Even if the cropping was done purely for composition's sake (many have claimed that removing Nakate creates a more balanced image), there is no way in 2020 that the impact could be ignored. It seems implausible that someone in the media could be completely blind to the fact that cropping out the one black woman from a group photo—one that shows five activists who were all part of the same panel—is problematic on its face.

This incident is also a perfect example of why "colorblindness" is not necessarily a virtue. One could argue that Nakate's color shouldn't matter, that it's all about cropping the photo to create the best composition, but that completely ignores the historical erasure of black women from the spotlight. Claiming to not see her color (which is impossible, let's be real) makes such erasure seem like a neutral act, and it's not. Bending over backwards to explain it away as "totally not racist" ignores the fact that it perfectly mirrors classic racism.

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It's frequently said that racism is much more about impact than intent, and the impact here sucks, frankly. If a black woman says something feels like racism, we ought to take the time to listen and digest what she's saying.

Nakate tearfully explained her feelings about being removed from the photo, as well as having her story ignored as well, on Twitter.

"What really hurt me the most is that I was just thinking about the people from my country and the people from Africa and how much I've seen people being affected by the climate crisis in Africa and how I've seen people die, lose their families, their children, their homes and everything they ever dreamed of and hoped for and I saw this — and thought who is going to be able to speak for all these people and try and help these people bring their message across? Because even people we expect to share our message, that's the media, they're so disappointing."

She's got a point. Let's all work to ensure that activists like Vanessa Nakate are not erased, intentionally or not.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."