We Need a Word for Prejudice Against People in the Global South

Geri Danton
4 min readMar 20, 2019
America is conducting drone strikes in 8 countries. How many Americans can name them or even one of the civilians killed by them?

I think it’s clear that many, and perhaps most, people in the developed world have a lack of regard for people in the Global South or low and middle-income countries (LMIC). When I say “lack of regard,” I use that literally. They simply don’t think about the lives of people in other countries, and if they do, they easily dismiss those thoughts. They certainly don’t consider those lives with the same gravity or as if they have the same value as the lives of people in the high income countries.

I could list a hundred examples, but let’s consider the Iraq War. Even the most conservative estimates say the war led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, each as real and human as any American. But the people responsible for the war largely remain in positions of power and respected by mainstream media. When she ran for President in 2016, Hillary Clinton barely had to address her vote for the war. Howard Schultz gave a better apology for selling the Sonics. Does anyone think that if hundreds of thousands of Americans died violently she’d be allowed to shrug it off so easily?

When a liberal is dismissive towards the lives of people in LMIC — for example, when they praise a public figure who’s killed a lot of those people and then act annoyed or dismissive when confronted with that fact—I sometimes frame that attitude in terms of race and racism in the hopes that doing so will make them pay attention to their attitudes and reconsider. But while this phenomenon intersects with race and other forms of bigotry, I think it is distinct. For example, I think there were many liberals who were earnestly disgusted by the recent mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, but don’t give a second thought to the suffering and death of people in the Middle East due to the War on Terror. The people killed in Christchurch are the same race and religion as those Middle Easterners, but simply by virtue of the fact that they’re currently present in New Zealand, their lives are seen as more valuable. Similarly, a liberal might be outraged by wealth inequality between Black and white Americans while never considering the wealth inequality between the US and sub-Saharan Africa.

What’s worse is I don’t think many people would even see this as a problem when confronted with this fact. If I tell someone liberal-minded that their lack of regard for the lives of Iraqis is racist, it might give them pause. They know racism is bad, or at least that overt racism is frowned upon by polite society and within liberal circles. I don’t think the same is true of lack of consideration for people in the Global South vs. the Global North. Many wouldn’t even see such a prejudice as something to be ashamed of, or even as prejudice in the first place. It’s simply the way things are, the natural order of things, and not worth getting upset about or worth spoiling everyone’s fun when they talk about how much they love, say, Obama by pointing out the annoying fact that he killed civilians and destabilized nations.

I think part of the problem, though by no means the whole problem, is the lack of vocabulary around the subject. It’s been described, but I’m unaware of a succinct term to quickly label such an attitude and place it in a negative light the way “racism” or “anti-semitism” do. Perhaps someone has coined an “-ism” to describe this phenomenon, but I wasn’t able to find it, and everything I came up with is too clunky.

I think this is something we need to talk about, and we need to make people realize this is a harmful and unacceptable attitude if we’re ever going to improve the lives of people in the Global South and combat violence against them. If the idea that the lives of people in Global South mattered just as much as everyone else became the norm, and it became seen as shameful to imply or overtly say otherwise—as shameful as being overtly racist—the conversation and hopefully ultimately the behavior regarding resource extraction and militarism could change dramatically.

If there is a word for it, or if you can think of one, please let me know.

Edit: Some have suggested “imperialism” for the attitude that I’m describing, but I don’t think it quite fits. Although the word encompasses this mindset and is enabled by it, imperialism is a set of policies and actions and would not, I think, be commonly understood to mean specifically the form of prejudice I describe if used in such a way. “Western chauvinism” and “Orientalism” are also not quite what I’m describing, although they are related.

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Geri Danton

I’m a grad student with a background in evolutionary biology who likes to write about science, politics, and art