Change The Bleedin’ Record: Bob Geldof’s White Saviour Complex Dreams Of A Black Christmas
BOB Geldof has used his Band Aid brand to help Ebola victims. Once more the celebrity chorus asks if Africans know it’s Christmas. Do you sense the whiff of celebrity colonaliasm, with Africa and its Ebola virus a backstory to those good Western hearts? Is his grandstanding annoying you? Or should you just appreciate the effort – after all, if it helps the victims so what the good cause is a celebrity vehicle?
Anyone listening to the BBC this week could be forgiven for thinking that the musician Bob Geldof had just emerged from Africa, like a latter-day Dr Livingstone, the first westerner with news of a deadly new virus..
Bob Geldof walks into this international effort as a nostalgia act from the 1980s. He seems unaware of all the parodies of his charity singles. One spoof, ‘Africa for Norway’, is a video showing Africans recording a charity song to raise funds for radiators to keep Scandinavians warm in winter. ‘In Norway, kids are freezing,’ runs the first line. ‘It’s time for us to care.’ The video asks us to consider what Africans would think of Europe if the only images they saw were of the freezing and the dying. (This winter, incidentally, at least 20,000 British pensioners are likely to die of the cold — an annual event. Where is the charity single for them?)
As one Liberian student put it this week, Geldof is suffering from a ‘white saviour complex’. Listen only to Band Aid and you might want to give to Africa but never invest there. You would not guess that any African country could have an economy, still less that they have hospitals, doctors and administrators who are making the biggest contribution to fighting Ebola…
The very title of Geldof’s song, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’, suggests that Africans are as ignorant as they are poor and sick. Apart from in Arabic north, Christianity thrives in Africa rather more than it now does in much of Europe — so there is a somewhat high awareness of when Christmas falls (in January, for Ethiopians and Egyptians). In Britain, people will most certainly know it’s Christmas but we’re less likely than ever to mark the occasion by actually going to church. In Geldof’s 1985 Live Aid concert, David Bowie knelt and said the Lord’s Prayer in front of the crowd. It is unthinkable that any pop star would try to do this now and expect the audience to applaud — unless they were touring Africa.
John Wight is also unimpressed:
Band Aid reinforces negative stereotypes of Africa and Africans. It reflects a colonial mindset that is so deeply entrenched in Western culture that we aren’t even aware it exists. The sight of a bunch of rich pop stars parading themselves as paragons of virtue and heroes is crass and eminently offensive. While it may allow them to wallow in self congratulation and positive PR, it is paternalism of the most grievous kind.
Laura Seay is literal:
The original version “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was awash in negative stereotypes of Africa and the Ethiopian people Live Aid purported to help. The song treated Africa as an homogeneous place, “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow” and “where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” It also claimed that “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime,” a factual inaccuracy that betrayed the lyricists’ ignorance of both basic geography and the giants of 20th-century literature.
In addition to conflating an entire continent with one country, Band Aid’s portrayal of the crisis ignored the man-made dimensions of Ethiopia’s 1984 famine; people were starving not simply because of the regional drought, but because of direct interference by governing officials who used starvation to punish the ethnic groups they considered to be political enemies.
The 30-year anniversary version features rewritten lyrics that somehow manage to be even more inaccurate than the original ones were. Let’s start with these lines:
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.
The idea that no one in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea will be celebrating Christmas, or that “Christmas bells…are the clanging chimes of doom” is beyond ludicrous; it betrays a total ignorance of the importance of Christianity in each country’s culture, the sense of joy and celebration that can arise among all people even in the most dire of circumstances, and the fact that most West Africans – even in the Ebola outbreak zone – are not in fact suffering from Ebola.
The tune is catchy. And should the lyrics be taken literally?
There will be snow in Africa this Christmastime.
Especially in the Ski Resorts of Maluti Mountains in Lesotho and Oukaimeden in Morocco. Later on in the year you could also find snow in Tiffindel and even Sutherland in South Africa…
Things do grow in Africa.
Rather a lot of our fruit and veg for example.
“Where nothing ever grows, No rain nor rivers flow”
It’s not the moon!
In 2007 African nations accounted for around 14% of UK imports of fruit and vegetables.
Here is some tea growing in Rwanda, Africa (which consists of 54 different countries by the way).
My real problem is Geldof’s insistence on shaming Adele for not appearing on the track. “Adele is doing nothing,” said Geldof at the weekend. “She’s not answering the phone… she’s not writing. She’s not recording. She doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone. She won’t pick up the phone to her manager. She’s bringing up a family, you know.”
This is as condescending as the song itself – do Africans know it’s Christmas? Given that over 500 million people living there are Christians, we must presume the answer to that is yes – and worse, it is a form of bullying that has sneeringly been dressed up as do-gooding.
The message is loud and clear, even if the music isn’t: Geldof is here to save West Africa from Ebola, and Adele, with her peculiar un-celebrity desire to sod the limelight as she brings up a toddler, is a selfish little woman who must be publicly humiliated.
…on receiving the proposed lyrics on Thursday – two days before the recording was due to take place in London – I was shocked and appalled by their content. The message of the Band Aid 30 song absolutely did not reflect what Africa is truly about and I started to question whether this was something I wanted to be a part of.
I pointed out to Geldof the lyrics I did not agree with, such as the lines “Where a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear”, and “There is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas”. For the past four years I have gone to Ghana at Christmas for the sole purpose of peace and joy. So for me to sing these lyrics would simply be a lie.
In truth, my objection to the project goes beyond the offensive lyrics. I, like many others, am sick of the whole concept of Africa – a resource-rich continent with unbridled potential – always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken. In fact, seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.
Still. Catchy tune…