Have we learned nothing?

Representing Africans as helpless and without dignity while showing ourselves as knowledgeable problem-solvers is the problem and not part of the solution.

Bob Geldof, top middle, surrounded by British pop artists who contributed to the revival of "Do they known it's Christmas."

Have we learned nothing?! Thirty years ago, the Band-Aid video showed us pop stars with 1980s hair raising funds for “Africa.”  But it wasn’t for Africa, even though the resulting record featured a guitar in the shape of a continent.  It was Ethiopia, and the resulting “documentary” began with BBC clips of starving people lined up for food in a camp, with the usual flies swarming, hollowed eyes, and white doctors being interviewed regarding their plight.  The songs, the recordings, the video — all identified all of Africa with these images of helplessness, sounding the call of the  “white savior industrial complex”for a new generation.  Despite the feel-good super sales of the song, controversy continues around the question of whether the effort did more material harm than good.

Fast forward to today:  the just-released remix of the principal song of the 1984 Band-Aid concerts — Do they know it’s Christmas — plays to the same sentiments with many of the same stars (and some new ones, like One Direction) — and has all of the same problems.  Again, have we really learned nothing???  The video opens with what was known in the 1990s as “aid pornography” (a term and debate which unfortunately has dropped from the radar screen )– [see my post on the film “When the Night Comes” and Ayesha Nibbe’spost on #KONY2012]– shots of dying people — shots that these stars would never allow of themselves.  Then we see them filing into the studio one-by-one in the requisite shades, every move (but looking good, not in the throes of death) captured by paparazzi, then emotionally singing, then holding each other, giggling and smiling after they have done their good deed.

Yes, funds are needed to fight Ebola; yes, people are suffering; yes, it can be good to “do good.”  But it is never good to show others’ suffering without their consent, especially when showing them stripped of dignity.  And as many of our posts and those of others insist, over and over again, what we need is to target the neoliberal austerity policies that have led to the breakdown of health systems in West Africa as well as other areas of the world (including many parts of the U.S.) — see our recent post by China Scherz as well as others in our ongoing series on Ebola.  Representing Africans — yet again — as helpless and without dignity while representing ourselves as knowledgeable problem-solvers (who give up nothing in our attempts to do good) IS part of the problem and NOT part of the solution.  We Westerners really should have learned something by now.

Further Reading

Between two evils

After losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, the African National Congress is scrambling to form a coalition government. The options are bleak.

Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.