When Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate saw the Associated Press had cropped her out of a photo with fellow activists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, she was "heartbroken."
Then, she spoke up.
Nakate, 23, released a video on social media in which she said she "understood the definition of the word racism."
"We don't deserve this," she said in the video, posted on Jan. 24. “Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis ... You erasing our voices won't change anything. You erasing our stories won't change anything.”
"I don't feel OK right now,” she added. “The world is so cruel."
But Nakate felt the incident fit into a broader pattern of systemic racism. While white activists are often celebrated, black activists are often ignored, and their efforts largely go underappreciated, she noted.
“Vanessas” of all kinds have been erased for generations; any activist or community that has spoken up about the direct effects of the climate crisis in their lives has been largely ignored until very, very recently. https://t.co/dkxfSoqjhH— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 27, 2020
The AP crop directly highlighted that dynamic by explicitly removing the sole black activist in the frame.
Climate action, in particular, demands input from African activists, Nakate said, because Africa is the continent most urgently impacted by climate change.
Vanessa Nakate: “I cried because it was so sad not just that it was racist, I was sad because of the people from Africa.”— Jerome Foster II (@JeromeFosterII) January 27, 2020
“It showed how we are valued. It hurt me a lot. It is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.”#YouCantEraseMelaninhttps://t.co/q5V5TjKAbE
Nakate’s video response ultimately went viral and she gained hundreds of thousands of followers across her social media platforms, giving her a far larger platform to advocate for change than she had before Davos.
She’s using her newfound fame to “amplify unheard voices” to ensure other activists can get the recognition they deserve.
You can also follow @up_malawi@rise_togo@TheRiseUpKenya@NigeriaRise@RiseSenegal@up_somalia@rise_zambia@RiseupMovement1@Up_Uganda1— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 26, 2020
Feel free to engage in this tweet as a climate activist who needs to be listened to!
Nakate got involved in climate activism in 2018 because of the unique threats facing her country, according to Democracy Now.
“My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture,” she said. “So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high.”
Nakate ultimately became the country’s first Fridays for Future climate striker, joining the movement famously launched by Thunberg. Starting in early 2019, Nakate would stand outside the Ugandan parliament every Friday with signs demanding climate action.
She then founded The Rise Up Movement, a global collective of climate activists calling for an immediate end to fossil fuels.
Nakate traveled to Davos to broadcast her concerns and build a larger coalition. While the AP crop seemed to derail her efforts at first, the opposite effect has now taken place: Her voice has never traveled further.