By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
I watched a video about an “inventive” new display encouraging people to give charity. It showed someone swiping a credit card over a video display and the credit card reader was situated in such a way as by swiping you were cutting the ropes that bound someone, or cutting bread to feed the poor. Inventive. Creative. Original.
The fact is that by swiping the credit card you are not severing the bonds of slavery and you are not giving bread to anyone. The act of swiping is supposed to make you feel like you have. You’ve done something heroic. You’ve “saved” someone. This is the way that charity has been turned on its head. When you give to charity you aren’t giving to charity, but to yourself. It is an ego-trip. It is a way to reinforce your sense of privilege. The more you are conditioned to believe you can “save an African child” or help a “starving person in India”, the more you feel empowered as a privileged, often European or Western, person, who is made to feel more and more part of the dominant caste.
Even though colonialism ended fifty years ago in many places, several generations removed we are actually imbuing people with as superior a feeling as colonialism ever did. The new symbols are more mundane, quiet, and less clearly orientalist and racist. But they nevertheless encourage a sense of entitlement, arrogance and superiority which may actually outstrip the mission civilsatrice or civilizing mission and manifest destiny of the original “white man’s burden.”
Consider what happens to the mind of a person who from a young age sees again and again posters, commercials and images of “saving starving Africans”? It warps the mind and turns black people into naturally “starving” and in need of “saving”. When the person with the warped mind meets black people, their subconscious sense is one of superiority. They are the saviors, whose swiping of credit cards can mean the life or death of a continent. That’s a lot of power to imbue someone with. “You can save a continent”. People today therefore actually are provided with a far greater sense of superiority than generations past. In the time of Manifest Destiny the best a white person might accomplish is “taming the West”, the most that someone might penetrate in the “heart of darkness” was a few large rivers. Saving a whole continent was probably not in the realistic picture. And in an ironic twist, when one considers the actual dangers and rates of death by disease of colonists and missionaries in places like sub-saharan Africa, actually their sacrifice for their sense of superiority, was far greater than the “sacrifice” of some student today at a university in New York, London, Berlin or Paris. All she does is swipe a card or attend a rally. For that they have “saved” people.
There is an entire industry made up of this savior complex. The NGO industry and various “aid” organizations that parasite off the suffering of people in the global south, have created an insidious neo-colonialism that feeds a racist paradigm. The way in which aid organizations, and their armies of SUVs that roam the world, are staffed primarily by the children of the upper middle class and elites, is a form of welfare for the wealthy in the West. These “saviors” get points on their resume for working for a “charity” or in some cases “starting their own charity”, and having “saved” poor people in some far off place, and posing for a few photos with the “natives”, they receive a career and salary bump. It is all very mercenary, and would be openly grotesque if anyone admitted exactly what it is; a way to funnel money back to the wealthy elites, by disguising it as “aid for the third world.”
Consider that the staff of various major charities, is made up of privileged westerners. Salaries go to privileged Western educated people from the upper tiers of society. Who is really being “helped”. Google “largest charities”, look at one of them that claims to help feed people, see who the photos of those being “saved” are and then see who are the “leaders”. Who is being “saved”? The privileged are being saved.
The way we discuss charity, especially among wealthy people, is to empower the next generation with a feeling of superiority, both racial, economic and moral superiority. It is a toxic mix. There is poverty tourism, where people go to “see the poor” and throw bread at them. There is a feeling that the “poor”, deserve only crumbs from the table, that this is “helping” them. There is a feeling that they are essentially different. People labelled “refugees” or “asylum seekers” or “Africans”, the constant images of their children, with upturned brows, begging for a bowl to fill, is used to reinforce a sense of the other, that” they are different.” Not that they could be us, that were the situation slightly different, or perhaps if we went back a few generations, that the two groups are interchangeable. When one looks at the photos of the Great Depression, we see the lines of people waiting for food. Not so long ago the difference between “starving Africans” and “starving white people” was very little. The famine in the Ukraine reduced people to starvation far worse than anything in Africa in recent memory. In 2016 however there is a bifurcated world of the super-privileged, and the masses of poor. And that world is not narrowing, there is evidence that social mobility is decreasing, that the gaps are widening.
The more aid given to charity, the more the gaps widen. Why is that? Because at its heart charity has become an industry to keep the poor as close to starvation as possible, so as to keep giving them charity as “clients” of a system designed to maintain the privilege and superiority of the elites. As time goes by the more “inventive” ways to give charity, such as the interactive display where one literally cuts the “ropes of bondage”, is creating an even more out of touch, sterile world of the super-elite and the super poor.
When you step back and think about. It is disgusting.
Eh. There are a lot of ways to break down charitable acts in such a way as to make them seem egotistical, self-serving, etc. That’s because no human acts are ever truly free of self interest. But it’s tacky as hell to deride charitable acts because they’re not perfect, and ultimately has a net negative impact on the world. Not a fan.