Here are two extracts from Sai Murray’s essay, ‘Africa is A Charity: Celebrity and the Continued Colonisation of the Continent‘, in the forthcoming book, 21 February.
The charity single, the wristband, the red nose are all seductive tools to lure us into the group event, the spectacle. FOMO: the fear of missing out. It is not enough to simply donate money to a cause, we must receive something in return. A token with which to publicly exhibit our empathy. The innate satisfaction of helping a fellow human being in need is incomplete – it must now come with a badge, a sticker, a token, a tailored avatar, the reassuring dopamine hit of someone liking, acknowledging, favouriting, retweeting, our charitable good person status.
The history of abolition once again offers an echo of how this element of charity has been used to enhance the inferiority of Africans. The ‘Slave Medallion’: the white wristband of its day. In lieu of “Make Slavery History”, the marketing slogan: “Ain’t I A Man/ Woman” framing a kneeling supplicant African figure in chains.” As abolitionist Thomas Clarkson wrote at the time, the popularity for wearing these Wedgwood medallions “became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom.” The side effect of course – intended or otherwise – was also to propagate the perception of the needy, grateful, charity recipient African and to obfuscate the role that Empire and the wearer’s own actions or non-actions played in that particular situation.
We sit in baths filled with baked beans to raise money to fill food banks; we poor buckets of iced water over ourselves for one charity, while another charity calls for help to secure access to clean water… The #icebucketchallenge more important than the actual cause. In our celebrity insta-snap-twit-face world it’s all about displaying your kudos, connections. How we look, not think. Don’t think. A departure from pictures of starving swollen belly Africans is surely to be welcomed yes? More carrot less stick. More beans, buckets and celebrity bake-offs; fewer swollen bellies, flies round mouths. And guilt.
Wasted food and water in the name of helping impoverished people is one level of disconnect. To join the dots of wasted lives via our technological consumption, exploitative trade, extractive industries and arms industries… would risk a questioning of the capitalist system itself and is many steps too far for the charity/ entertainment/ news industry to contemplate.
Sai Murray is a writer, poet and graphic designer of Bajan/Afrikan/English heritage. His debut poetry collection, Ad-liberation, was published in 2013: “social commentary at its best… wry, witty and biting… traverses standard poetry and prose”, The Jamaica Gleaner. Through Liquorice Fish Sai has designed, edited and published several books/resources including, No Condition Is Permanent: 19 Poets on Climate Justice and Change (2010); Abeng Soundings: A Timeline of Anti-Slavery Resistance (2008); Cross Community Dialogue Facilitation Toolkit (2007).
Africa deserves better from Comic Relief by David Lammy