A ‘DIFFERENTIATING’ film by a Fellow of the ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON:
‘AFRICA SPEAKS’  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF0Z9JjJbP8
When I grow up I want to write a serious book. Perhaps not too serious though because it will have to be an easy manual for bigoted people who would like to feel bigger, better and normal. I will seek to emphasize that human beings are very different and that the Victorian racist myths were right. The purported ‘darkness’ which was in fact the result of the epistemic challenge of (mis)understanding the diversity of the world created a fundamental basis for constructing Africa as different, just because people did not share the same cultural and social practices. But I will not write about the ignorance or arrogance of the uninvited visitors who were hunting for fame and fortune or were simply unhappy and un-titled back home in Great Britain where royal/noble branding mattered. H M Stanley the miserable sod who didn’t know his father became famous didn’t he? I might focus on how gun power allowed them to capture a few ‘savages’ to bring back to the empire for freak shows. Millions at home could witness how ‘dark’ and ‘barbaric’ other people were! Charles Dickens then wrote ‘The Noble Savage’ proposing that Africans should be ‘civilised off the surface of the earth’. We still are actually. Surely Dickens could not have gotten it wrong. His visits to the London human zoos made him an expert on the inherent savagery of the black people just like ‘donor gaze’ convinces donors that ‘underdevelopment’ is a big issue. Dickens did not know that the captured humans exhibited behind the cages thought that perhaps the zoo visitors epitomized evil in capital letters; precisely, like former ‘social actors’ in charity films lament on being ‘used’. One such documentary humiliation is ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ where children were exposed to drugs and scenes of sexual nature. In Tanzania. Luckily, I will have a balanced story about past episodes of human degradation. Some people actually felt pity for the exhibited humans and demanded the ending of these inhumane exhibitions. However, in our charity culture, no one is saying we should stop dehumanizing portrayals in media or adhere to simple ethics like ‘DO NOT RECONSTRUCT MISERY WHERE IT DOES NOT EXIST’. In the human zoos, individuality was irrelevant, just like in charity appeal. one-size-fits-all. A tearful face of a starving kid is sought after. One black African ‘poor’ can represents any…He/she doesn’t have to have a name. Templates for helplessness, misery etc, do not warrant name and addresses or countries. An African disaster is and African disaster. In short these reductive motifs are purse openers for donating public who believe that their input is life-changing for the ‘wretched’ of Africa.
It is a common sense view that, pity towards others can make one feel better. You objectify. Empathy is another thing. It means you judge the feeling of the other from a subject position because you have the ability to understand and share his or her feelings. Perhaps your human-ness allows you to view the other person as an equal you can identify with depending on your own experiences and social learning. Empathy is different from pity in this regard and it is seldom the narrative of the ‘donor gaze’, which instructs the Western audience to feel privileged enough to open their purses and donate. In a back-handed way, the donor gaze also entertains by showing the triumph of the benevolent. It peddles pity as commodity , which is what most poverty-tainments do. These pity narratives also evolve with time. The gucci/burberry clad celebrities drying real tears in African slums have now been joined by another extreme form of differentiating genre, courtesy of BBC. I saw one episode where an English normal farmer with ipad and all other modern gadgets visits a draught-prone farming community in Northern Kenya to live with a farmer who did not even have enough water for his family, let alone his skeletal cattle! He then walks with equally thin women to fetch water and explicitly expresses pity time and time again. ‘I can’t do this’ he cries. He actually cried at some point. Just as little Bieber? wept in an iconic comic relief gig recently. It gets more creative everyday. If poverty was to end I am somehow convinced that the aid industry would still find something original to gaze at. Hopefully, poverty is here to stay and it has a permanent address in picturesque Africa. And as charity lives on, so will the need to differentiate between the ‘helper’ and the ‘helped’.
Charity goes hand –in-hand with the media. I call the documentation hype ‘helper-as-documentarist’ tradition. Documenting ‘dark Africa’ was an important process of dominating it. Belittling the ‘natives’ to believe that their simple harmonious life was not good enough! The narrative in the ‘global village’ makes us believe that there is an ideal destination that we need to be. Materially and culturally. The Western nations are supposed to have ‘arrived’. Explorers-as-documentarist, missionaries-as-documentarists and anyone who could line up a bunch of ‘savages’ for a photo session did so in juxtaposition to the empires. Even ‘saint’ Dr. David Livingstone sat on a ‘racial high horse’ asking his brother Charles to be careful not to photograph the ugly ones; [savages]. He died believing that, ‘only Christianity and commerce can make the black race equal to the white’. If ‘children of God’ were fundamentally unequal in Livingstone’s eyes then I clearly have a good story for my intended manual book for bigoted people.