lee

When covering a topic as sensitive as a man’s death, there is no place for cultural insensitivity and ignorance. E! News offended on multiple levels with an article about Lee Thompson Young, in which author Rebecca Macatee linked his suicide to the Yorùbá culture (which she inaccurately refers to as a religion).

Here is an excerpt from the article, which can be read in full here:

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“…those close to Young noticed things “really changed” a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning “death is preferable to ignominy.” Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.”

Blogger Luvvie responded to the article with an open letter to E! News, writing:

“First of all, contrary to what Wikipedia says, Yoruba is not a religion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate. Yoruba is the name of a people; Yoruba is a language; Yoruba is culture. […] Ifá is the traditional religion that you probably meant, but assuming that a majority of Yoruba people practice it is incredibly pinhole-minded. Just like we speak different dialects of the language, our beliefs are diverse. Us Yorubas are a religious people and most of us practice Christianity or Islam. Even if Lee was practicing Ifa, he would not be encouraged to take his own life.”

Luvvie adds: “[Linking Young’s suicide to Yoruba] demonizes Yoruba people as advocates for suicide. It’s irresponsible, full of bigotry and plays into the “Africans are barbaric” trope.”

E! News has since updated the article, adding this explanation about Yorùbá:

“Sources confirmed to E! News that Young was a practitioner of the Yorùbá religion, a faith based on the ancient traditions of the Yorùbá people. It should be noted, however, that Yorùbá more commonly refers to the West African tribe which is made up of Christians, Muslims and a multitude of people from different faiths.”

For many, their update falls short as it is still inaccurate and does little to address the problematic association of suicide and the Yorùbá culture.

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  • yoruba girl

    so ignorant! you would think a news outlet would try to get something like that correct, if not in the initial post, then at least in the freaking correction!?!? calling yoruba a religion is like calling french a religion. willful ignorance makes my skin crawl

  • ….I know someone who practices the culture and calls it a religion…which is it?

  • Georgia

    No, we have no intellectual standards in the U.S. today and yes, it’s appalling to be called on a mistake and still not correct it properly, but I’d wager that very few Americans of any color/race/ethnicity know the difference between Yoruba and Ifa. I didn’t, and I have 3 advanced degrees (but I have no interest whatsoever in religion so I pay it little attention, though I have heard Yoruba referred to as a faith many times). Getting it wrong initially wasn’t the crime; having no one throughout the editorial process fact-check the article, and then posting a correction that wasn’t really one, are the real problem here. The fact that it is an African culture/faith is very likely a factor, but I’m a college professor in the U.S. and so many students are just plain lazy and uninterested, and the standards even among the faculty are not impressively high. The Internet culture with its immediacy and every-voice-is-equal perpetuation doesn’t help. But I think this is indicative of a problem even more pervasive than racism–willful ignorance and laziness. Welcome to 21st century America.

    • Common Sense

      I agree wholeheartedly Georgia! I see commercials and store signs that are misspelled and grammatically incorrect. They don’t even care to spell check! Does anyone even know how to diagram a sentence these day?!?!?!?!?!?!

  • There is a monster that waits for you when you are weak and hopeless and that monster is suicide. It comes to you and offers to take away your problems. Don’t listen to this monster.

  • ummm a lot of asian cultures feel the same way about killing yourself being better than dishonoring your family. nobody bats an eyelash when people jump in front of trains n stuff over there. why aren’t they being called barbaric? smh