Thoughts on eurocentrism

Why do we see the world the way we do? How do we even see it? Do we have a broad understand of our world or are we just narrowing it down to a quite egocentric perspective? This question can be easily answered by watching the news. By seeing what is talked about in Europe and what is left out. Let´s talk about eurocentrism.

The fire of Notre Dame

A fire. Burning in the sky in the city of Paris. Bright and red, burning down one of the oldest and most famous buildings in whole France. People sad, shocked and concerned. I´m sure that by now, everybody heard about it. The fire at Notre Dame. Or saw it on the news. Or the internet. It was indeed impossible to miss. But why is so much attention given to this particular event? Don´t we have more important things to talk about?

Let´s look at it from a very matter-of-factly point of view. Let´s assume we know nothing about Notre Dame. We´re someone who has never heard about it and is seeing this building for the first time in his life. In this case, we look at the facts: just a very old building burned – not even completely – down. No one died. No life was in danger.

So good so far. Let´s assume we know more about Notre Dame. In this case we know that this gothic church is a very old Parisian landmark which is visited by thousands of tourists every year. A beautiful building, a real tourist attraction. Many people might have already seen it in real life. But still – it remains a building.

What I definitely have to question here is: Why do we show so much sadness and worries about something that should be so trivial compared to the problems we are facing at the moment. I can understand that it is talked about in the news as it is an event that happened quite close to us, that has cultural and religious relevance. I understand people can be sad about it if they might have had a special relationship to that building. But I am questioning the extend the fire is talked about in the media. It covered the news completely and left everything else out.

Focusing on the wrong issues

I am questioning how a building can get that much attention when a cyclone in Mozambique was barely talked about. Which was an event where people were dying and in desperate need of help. I am questioning why our environmental problems are not covered as much even though way more important and concerning all of us. If something like the Fridays for Future movement, where students are skipping school and university for the sake of the environment, had gotten that much attention we would be way ahead of our problems. But it doesn´t seem like we neither want to hear about other people struggling in other parts of the world nor our destruction of the planet. Instead, we are focusing our attention on something else, more pleasant to think about. A tragic event, but not as tragic as people still suffering from postcolonial structures.

The Eurocentric perspective

This fire of Notre Dame is illustrating our Eurocentric view on the world perfectly. How much focus we give to certain events if they happen here in Europe and how much focus we lay on other things is sometimes more than shocking. After this fire, all I saw in the news in the morning was something about Paris. I´m sure that something more important happened overnight as well which has been left out completely. This leads me to question the reactions of people as well.

After the fire, tons of pictures of Notre Dame were popping up on my newsfeed. Many people posting pictures with the church, sad captions, crying smilies. But why are we showing so much empathy, so much sadness for a building and ignore almost everything that happens in other parts of the world – especially the global south? After the cyclone in Mozambique, nobody posted a picture to show condolences. During the war in Syria I´ve never seen anyone expressing empathy for the victims suffering the war. Why do we only express our opinion to such trivial matters? And this fire is a trivial matter if we just take a moment to look at the bigger picture.  

I am also questioning people donating a lot of money to rebuild this church. Of course, it should be rebuilt, as it is an amazing expression of the French culture and history, but I am just struck by how fast people were reacting, donating and worrying. I am sure people wouldn´t spend their money as quickly on a natural catastrophe in Africa or southeast Asia. How can it be that we show more empathy for a building than people?

Questions that arise

Shouldn´t we think a little ahead? Shouldn´t we question why we see this on the news and not something else? Isn´t this a pure expression of our own ignorance? Of our Eurocentric way to see the world? Of us being very much concerned what happens to “us” in Europe but ignoring the real problems people in other parts of the word – and due to the globalisation, we as well have to face?

Sadly, we seem to be trapped in our own little European bubble that shields us from events happening in the rest of the world. In my country, there´s rarely a newspaper covering the global south – in fact I only know one: Südwind. Which is an amazing newspaper telling you about what is happening in the rest of that world that stays uncovered from our eyes in everyday life.

Nowadays, it seems to be more interesting what is talked about in the news and what isn´t. Because what isn´t shown also says a lot about us. About what we want to see and don´t want to see, about what we care and don´t care about. We can easily develop a conscience that cares about each and every nation on the planet – but therefore need to distance ourselves from the mainstream media. Otherwise, we will get sucked into a system and a way of thinking which is hard to let go of. Still, it should be easy: Think about what you see. Why you see it. How it is presented. Show concern for others. Talk about things that are not talked about. Share your knowledge. Show empathy.

One thought on “Thoughts on eurocentrism

  1. Interesting. I had the same thoughts when I noticed how quickly the amount of donations to rebuild Notre Dame rose to € 900 mio. To avoid misunderstandings I appreciate it and donated as well.

    But in fact, I `ve got a very different perception of the news. In my view, it wasn`t reported much about Europe in the past decades (I am bit older, as you can see). The focus was on the Americas and Asia. The reporting about European affairs increased since the economic crisis, Brexit and the migration crisis.
    I used to wonder why our media didn`t dealt with our regional affairs. I don`t see any unhealthy Eurocentrism. We are facing many severe challenges and have to reposition our our region & nations economically, reform our institutions & systems and find consensus within Europe. It is high time to focus more on these tasks and on solving our problems. This endeavor requires information and an exchange of thoughts for opinion building and strengthening a sense for solidarity within Europe.

    Besides, I notice a kind of desensitization towards wars, poverty & catastrophy reports abroad including frequent calls for empathy & solidarity – this is a natural psychological coping mechanism, by the way. I guess, we have learnt to live with these pictures….also because the people see any significant sustainable progress despite of financial aids and development projects. They feel helpless. …also because they are better informed about the complex system of competing interests, stakeholders and causes for crisis & wars nowadays. There are no effective tools available for regular people to seriously influence geo-political driven conflicts or other negative developments.

    And finally, of course Notre Dame triggered emotions. As European you can easily identify yourself with this incident. Notre Dame is a part of our common history and culture…and the French people are our neighbors and belong to the family.
    I think, it is understandable that Europeans showed compassion.


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