THE BLOG

Band Aid, Culture and the White Saviour Complex

08/12/2014 11:35 GMT | Updated 06/02/2015 10:59 GMT

When self-congratulating do-gooder Bob Geldof announced in November that super group Band Aid was getting back together to release a single to raise money for the fight against Ebola in West Africa, the response from most was a collective shrug. And rightly so. Band Aid, ever since its initial manifestation in 1984, is a patronising campaign that paints Africa as a lifeless continent that is frozen in time, whilst simultaneously whitewashing the reasons behind many of its economic, social and political problems - western colonialism.

But of course, the picture that is perpetuated by such groups is of course completely untrue. Africa has been going through a sustained period of growth and development of its own accord since it was decolonised, yet the image of a desperate, helpless continent still prevails in the western world, with detrimental effects.

But back to the title of this piece; some may be unfamiliar with the term 'White Saviour', so I will give a short explanation. White Saviourism is founded on the belief that poorer parts of global south need, as the term suggests, 'saving', and that they can only be saved through the totally humble, not at all self-righteous contributions of white westerners. This idea can be easily traced back to (surprise, surprise) western colonialism, and Christian missions to Africa.

Geldof's elaborate and expensive publicity stunt is dangerous for the reason that it entrenches this very idea - that westerners have a duty to 'save' Africa, and that the West is a shining beacon whose job it is to 'rescue' Africa from itself. This is mind-boggling hypocrisy, when you look at the history of western involvement in Africa, and the rest of the global south. The plundering of resources across the global south has destabilised much of it, not to mention the various regime changes that have been instigated with the aid of western powers (e.g. Pinochet in Chile, the Shah in Iran, the military in Brazil).

Another example of the white saviour attitude that occurs in every day life, and one that is arguably a continuation of the old missionary mentality is the phenomenon of 'Voluntourism' in poorer parts of the world. This allows white westerners to wallow in self-righteousness and a crass form of self-fulfillment. 'The Onion' humorously mocked this attitude in an article in January - '6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman's Facebook Profile Picture'.

As events like Band Aid display, supremacism and neo-colonialist attitudes are perpetuated and legitimised through cultural forms. Not just through music, either. Matthew W. Hughey's 'The White Saviour Film' (an excerpt of which can be found here) explains how this saviour mentality is also prevalent in the film industry. This has been the case for centuries, and has bolstered these attitudes, keeping them part of our society. Whilst this new form of supremacy remains part of the western mentality, racism will never be eradicated.

Sidenote: there are various sites that you can follow to track African affairs from an objective point of view, far removed from the patronising and demeaning content that outlets like the BBC are full of. Two of the best are AlJazeera (aljazeera.com) and AllAfrica (allafrica.com).