“Do they know it’s Christmas?” That is the lyric of the Bob Geldof song. The song he sang with a bunch of celebrities 30 years during the BandAid concert to raise funds and awareness about starving people in Africa. He is trying to do it again for Ebola but this time lots of people are telling him that he should know better.
In 1984 Bob Geldof decided to tell people about one of the greatest disasters of his time. The famine in Ethiopia was staggering and countless people were dying. Bob raised an amazing amount of money for a problem that the world was trying hard to ignore. I have to heartily applaud him.
The problem is Bob is trying to do it again.
Why is this a problem?
There is still a need. Poverty and disease are still problems. The Global North often has no clue about Africa and needs to be made aware as my recent experiment proved.
Bob you asked if Africans know it is Christmas?
Coptic Christians in Egypt (an African nation) recall that Jesus spent his first two birthdays in Africa. There are 2.5 times more Christians in Nigeria alone than the entire population of Canada.
In fact, the majority religion of many African nations is Christianity. I dare say that they all know about Christmas.
Bob I know you didn’t start BandAid to educate Africans about December 25 on the calendar. You sang the song to collect money for a preventable human caused disaster and you succeeded. So much good came out of it!
A lot has changed since that first song.
What is the last image you remember from a charity that works with the poor? If they work in Africa it might be a poor black kid and his mother in front of a dirty hovel of a house. A white person stands there with a gift in hand and the child’s face lights up with a tremendous smile.
The irony is that donors give a lot of money because of those kind of pictures. Aid agencies know this and take more of those kinds of pictures. This ultimately means they make money from the exploitation of children and women.
more and more it's called poverty porn.
Or pimping the poor.
And as offensive as those terms sound, it is even more offensive to be made to feel like you are the needy subject of pity. An agency in Norway gives ‘awards‘ out to the worst offenders of this kind of advertising. We need to stop this kind of thinking.
The world has changed a lot since the song was first sung. Aid work has come a long way. Development workers have tried to get rid of the earlier paternalism that lead them to fixing other people. Many people have discovered that people in Africa are not a single faceless needy horde. I appreciate the first time you sang us the song, but it is time for a change.
It is really easy is to criticize others. I find it a lot easier to find fault with someone else than to create something better. Bob, I don’t want to be your critic because it is the boring way to avoid the adventure of getting involved. I don’t ever want to stand by and take shots, or worse, make snide comments about you.
I also don’t have your ability to call even one artist, let alone pull an international cadre of superstars together. I don’t have anyone’s phone numbers. But Bob, I do think you still could do something that might make a real difference. Here is my unsolicited advice.
How to Stop Poverty Porn
Bob Geldof if this ever reaches you, I think your motive is probably right but you need to reconsider your method. Think about your own life. At your personal poorest would you have wanted to be described as a “victim of poverty” or would you rather be seen as an “aspiring talented musician”? The same goes for everyone. Don’t describe people by what they don’t have or don’t know, rather describe them by what they hope to be.
If you wouldn’t want it said about yourself and your kids don’t say it about African mothers and fathers and their kids.
Pull off the BandAid fast (it hurts less) and use the old song but co-opt it. Be subversive. Reverse the storyline.
Show Africans in positions of power and have them sing as ridiculous a song to all of your celebrities.
Have fun with the fact that the 30-year-old song is dated and let everyone know you are in on the joke.
… and yes, please raise a tonne of money, we need you to use the drawing power of your A-list celebrity friends. I will be first in line to donate.
In short. Exploit the song. Not Africans.
Thanks for listening Bob.
If you could talk to Bob Geldof, what creative advice would you give him?