Thursday, 13 October 2011

the colour of poverty

i feel like i have more to say on the topic i raised yesterday. mostly about why i felt so uncomfortable with the way "harry's law" was set up, in terms of the racial divide and the power dynamics between white and black. in terms of who were the helpers and who were the helped.

one of the sources of my discomfort is the advertising campaigns on television by agencies working with the impoverished, in order to relieve the burdens of the severely impoverished. those ads bother me, not because i don't want to be confronted with those pictures - so the "please don't change the channel" line is particularly patronising and annoying.

what bothers me is that the poor are always, and i mean always, people of colour. and those helping are always white. the power structure is so clearly laid out, in terms of who has the power to help, who is magnamious, charitable, caring; and who are the takers, the needy, the receivers. whose hand is on top and whose hand is below. clearly defined by colour.

we never get the image of wealthy people of colour giving aid to impoverished white folk. why is that? are there no impoverished white folk who are in need of assistance? there surely are. have a look through eastern europe and the former soviet states. there is significant poverty and hardship, and people who definitely are deserving of our help. but they are never in the picture.

look through the united states, europe and britain. again there are white people who feature amongst the impoverished, the destitute and the homeless. but they are also never in the picture as the ones in need of help.

i understand that some of the worst drought and death from starvation is happening in africa. there's a lot of it in asia as well, sure. but how come these agencies never, ever advertise for impoverished white people at all. do they think the audience won't react positively to such images, will refuse to donate? do they anticipate there will be howls of outrage? i can't imagine it's because they think those people aren't worth helping, so i can't think of any other explanation.

we never hear of people like petra bagust or other famous white people travelling to parts of europe in their charitable endeavours. not george clooney or angelina jolie. they could visit the impoverished parts of bosnia or chechnya, and have pictures of themselves doing wonderful charitable deeds. but no-one ever seems to. maybe it isn't as good for the public image if the charity isn't directed to people of colour. i wonder what it would be like if samuel jackson or denzel washington started putting out publicity shots of themselves giving aid to impoverished white people. would it increase their popularity? somehow i doubt it.

so this is one of the reasons for my gut reaction to the programme yesterday - that internal feeling of more than just discomfort, probably closer to anger and frustration. i'm sick of the way this power dynamic is constantly reinforced by organisations that are apparently charitable in purpose. and i don't enjoy it being further reinforced by television programmes appealing to a mass market. i hate that it goes unnoticed by the majority of people who are watching. i hate that the messages are internalised and become part of the way we view the world. it's not going to change just because i stop watching either, so exhortations to use the off button or the remote are a complete waste of time.

we need to change the picture. i just don't know how.

1 comment:

malifin said...

Most of the aid agencies in question, World Vision, Oxfam etc choose to focus on the worst instances of hunger and deprivation in the world, which are not to be found in the former USSR (except for the non-white parts of the former USSR).

So they're simply showing what they do.

It's hardly their fault that the racist capitalist global system penalises people for not being white!

You're right though they should show more non-white people helping. Never mind the non-white people in the rich world like yourself, their efforts are at least a depenent on local aid workers who belong to the communities in question as they are on foreign donors.