How this practice distorts our view of a rich and multifaceted continent seems not to matter. The latest Stride edition writes that “the negative view of the Global South is reinforced in the majority of our media. News stories about the Global South usually focus on war, poverty and famine and, while these stories are deemed newsworthy, there is often a lack of positive stories or those that reveal the more diverse nature of places.”
The German documentary White Charity explores this relationship more deeply. It looks at the images charities give us of Africa through their posters. Just think about all those images of hungry, half-naked kids. Is that Africa? Unfortunately, those posters describe nicely the relationship we have with the continent. Another example are all those people who treat “Africa” as if it was a country not dinstinguishing between Togo, Congo or South Africa.
The above mentioned images are all over the public sphere and they uphold the colonial separation between black and white, educated and uneducated, rich and poor and even civilized and uncivilized. The makers of White Charity explain that “while commercial ads mainly portray fashionable dressed White people, positioned in a „civilised“ environment, charity posters mostly depict Black people in rural, impoverished circumstances.”
The documentary and its analysis is based on Postcolonial Theory and Critical Whiteness Theory. It tries to point out “colonial consistensies behind concepts. While terms are replaced, concepts and images are often only modified: the term „civilise“ for example is replaced by the term „develop“. In the term „underdeveloped“, notions of inability, passiveness, poverty, nativeness and chaos go along, similar to the notions of the term „uncivilised“. Those organizations who “help” Africa are therefore problematic because they strenghten those stereotypes towards developing countries and do not allow for them to emancipate. It is the basis of their business that there is a clear distinction between “helper” and “helpless”.
White charity “is an exemplary analysis of racism in images which has relevance far beyond the horizon of development. It supports a sharper analysis of images in commercials, print and TV.” The documentary therefore invites us to look where our perception comes from and how the colonial discourse is still part of our world-view. Similarly, Charlotte Dwyer explains in Stride that Global Educacion “challenges us to critically evaluate and be aware of our own values and viewpoints and to question those underlying assumptions.”
We all have stereotypes in our head. But we must be aware of the danger that underlies it: “Stereotypes lead to social categorisation and to distortions of reality by causing people to exaggerate differences between groups, leading us to focus selectively on information that agrees with the stereotype and ignore information that disagrees with it – tending to make people see other groups as overly homogenous, but their own group as heterogeneous.” That is why stereotypes support the proliferation of discrimination and damaging views towards certain groups based on race, sexual orientation, gender or because of disabilities. Similarly, stereotypes – as they are spread by the charity posters – upold the “patronising, paternalistic view of those in the Global South”.
It is up to us therefore to think about what images we use and to think ethically and inclusive about how we depict others – that’s the only way to fight those destructive stereotypes.
On the controversial legitimacy of development aid read also: