There’s a way to do apologies and this probably ain’t it.

Last Friday, an Associated Press photographer at the World Economic Forum in Davos took a picture of five young climate activists. Four of the women were white (including Greta Thunberg), but one, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, 23, was not. Guess which one was cropped out of the image when it was published alongside news coverage of the event?

Left to right: Vanessa Nakate, Luisa Neubauer, Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille. Photo: AP.
Vanessa Nakate was cropped out of the version published by AP. Photo: AP.

“I was cropped out of this photo!” Nakate, a climate activist since 2018, said on Twitter. “Why?”

The rationale behind the crop, the AP said at first, was to get a better shot of Thunberg, who is obviously a household name and global leader in urging climate action.

However, it’s part of an ongoing issue where activists of colour are overlooked, ignored or silenced in favour of propping up white activists.

“You didn’t just erase a photo,” Nakate later said on Twitter.

“You erased a continent. But I am stronger than ever.”

Nakate elaborated on her reaction in an emotional video posted to Twitter, saying it was “the first time in my life that I understood the definition of racism”.

“I clearly see how I was cropped out of the photos and … it was like the hardest thing because everyone’s message was being talked about but mine was not, and my photo was left out as well,” she said.

“The world is so cruel.”

“This is totally unacceptable in so many ways,” Thunberg said on Instagram.

AP quickly updated the photo, which Nakate said was done without issuing her an apology or explanation.

However, following global outrage, AP executive editor Sally Buzbee acknowledged the “terrible mistake” in cropping the photo.

“My hope is that we can learn from this and be a better news organisation going forward,” Buzbee said in a statement.

“I realise I need to make clear from the very top, from me, that diversity and inclusion needs to be one of our highest priorities.”

That might have been the end of it – if AP had thought a little harder about its own apology. In a tweet pushing out the apology, AP didn’t refer to Nakate by name, instead calling her an “African climate activist”. Given the circumstances, it was probably not the best use of Twitter’s 240 character limit.

Nakate’s response to the apology indicated she was not particularly amused.

“Anyway my name is Vanessa Nakate,” she said, sharing the AP’s tweet. “Thought I would add that.”

Image: AP