There can’t be many people in the Western world, and maybe in the Eastern as well, who haven’t seen this photograph of a would-be immigrant with his almost-two-year-old daughter, face down in the water of the Rio Grande. What is harrowing about the picture is the way the man has his little daughter inside his t-shirt, her arm around his neck. They drowned in this saddening and sickening embrace because they were desperate to get to the US.
Trump says it’s all the fault of the Democrats. The Democrats, rather more convincingly, say it’s the logical outcome of Trump’s war on immigrants. Most of us would agree it’s the latter, but perhaps it doesn’t really matter. Regardless of who was to blame, the father and daughter are now dead and no amount of blame, however deserved, will bring them back.
This fits into a point I’ve been making for some time recently: how things and people look is as important, and sometimes more important, than what they say. However, while the image would draw tears from a rock, what about the untaken pictures we don’t see?
Over 65 immigrants were drowned off the coast of Tunisia last month. Some 170 immigrants drowned in the Mediterranean last January. More than 200 immigrants drowned in the Mediterranean over a three-day period last July.
Because we didn’t see images of these people, we remain unmoved by their death, other than in a general what’s-the-world-coming-to way. But even when we do see a shocking image like this one, does it make a lasting difference?
Yes, in that once seen, it’s unforgettable in what it says about family love and the cruelty of humanity. It leads the news for a day or two. But make any difference? I don’t think so. Children in cities around the world won’t take to the streets, as they did in protest at the climate crisis. The systems in place that led to these various drownings will stay in place. President Trump isn’t going to have a change of heart because of some passing pictures that are soon forgotten.
Remember the 1980s and those awful pictures from Ethiopia of babies with distended bellies and bulgiing eyes and flies crawling over their snot? “Feed the world” Bob Geldof and Co sang, and we were all moved. Ye it hasn’t made a lasting difference.
You need images to get people’s attention – remember that black-and white film from the early days of the civil rights campaign here? What happens next depends on whether the authorities are forced to look at what they’re doing and change their ways, or whther like Trump they can bluster it out.
It took more than TV footage to change things in the north of Ireland. Clearly, it’ll take more than a picture to awaken humanity in Trump’s heavily-armoured heart. He’ll change only when, in one way or another, he’s forced to. It’s the way of the world.