Dear #BandAid30: Yes, We Know It’s Christmas in Africa

I mean, we own calendars. We are all quite aware of the fact that December is coming up. We are also aware that Christmas happens in the month of December. It’s basic knowledge, so I don’t know why BandAid seems to think otherwise.

Here is the situation:

Bob Geldof *extreme side eye* and a group of musicians just put out a remake of the 1984 classic—”Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

It starts off with footage of an Ebola patient being carried out of his/her home (gotta get that shock factor in. You know how Westerners love them some starving or dying Africans). The next scene shows the stars of the song on some sort of red carpet, waving at flashing cameras, laughing, smiling, hugging…the whole shebang. With this level of camaraderie and good cheer, one would think it’s the Oscars. But, no, they are there to sing a somber song about dying Africans. I don’t know why the producers of this video thought these two scenes went together. I mean, really?

Here are some of the winning lyrics from the song:

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom”

First of all, most of us don’t even use Christmas bells. I’m pretty sure that’s a purely Western concept. Clanging. Chimes. of. Doom. Really, Band Aid? Even after 30 years and COUNTLESS think pieces, you still don’t see what is problematic with this imagery?! This “here” versus “there”, “us” versus “them” binary does nothing but create an inverse through which the plight of some Africans can highlight the good fortune of Westerners. We don’t exist for your personal introspection, we are not some grim, sobering example that makes you relish in how good your life is. We are real people, with real personalities and real complexities, not a faceless mass that you can use to tell yourself “look how good we’ve got it”.

And then, OF COURSE, you have Bono. The self-appointed Patron Saint of African Calamity. Poster boy par excellence for the “white savior industrial complex”. Basically the African Jesus, if Jesus wore oddly tinted sunglasses. OF COURSE he is here; nothing gets his engine running more than swooping in, in his White glory, to save distressed, voiceless Africans.

Here, we have African Jesus and his disciples.

Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa”

Sigh. How many times are we going to go over this? Adding the “West” to “Africa”, is not any less totalizing than referring to all African countries as “Africa”. Granted, I understand that singing “bring peace and joy this Christmas to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone” might not have been gone well with the song. But the song is crap anyway, so adding a bit of geographical specificity to the lyrics couldn’t have made it any worse than it sounds.

A song of hope where there is no hope tonight”

Yes, of course, in your bid to raise funds, go right ahead and paint this group of people—the whole of West Africa, if we are to go by your lyrics—as hopeless.  Ever since the outbreak started, countless brave women, men, girls, and boys have come together to fight Ebola in their communities. Every single day, these people are out there on the front lines, risking their lives and helping their communities. But, you glossed right over that, didn’t you, Band Aid? That fact detracts from the disaster porn that you’re peddling, so you ignored it. Africans are hopeless and helpless. That’s your story and you’re sticking to it.

“Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time”

I’m confused. By downloading this atrocious, sonically discordant song, are we feeding the starving Africans or telepathically “touching” and curing them of Ebola (à la Jesus, of course. Look at these miraculous Westerners healing the sick from thousands of miles away. What a wonder!)?

“Buy the song. Stop the virus”

True humanitarianism is not an economic transaction through which you can solve world problems by throwing in a dollar here or a pound there. There are no simple answers to these complex, structural problems that you’re trying to solve. True humanitarianism requires you to ask difficult questions about what you’re being incited to act upon. Questions such as: where exactly are the donations going to? Which on-the-ground organizations are they being donated to? What exactly will they be used for? You ask, “does this really matter?” Yes, yes it does. As a do-gooder, you have the responsibility to deeply understand the issues that you are trying to solve and, more importantly, be able to think critically about the adverse effects that arise from your lazy attempts to “help”.

As my friend, Julia, put it: this song is “patronizing at best, neo-colonial at worst, and exploitative throughout.”This use of reductionist tropes, just to get people to “help”, is tired, and we are sick of seeing it over and over again.

And, yes, we know it’s Christmas in Africa. Dammit, we might be “starving and dying”, but at least we can afford calendars. AT LEAST, give us that credit.

PS: No, throwing in Angélique Kidjo as the token African doesn’t make this any less problematic.

Me, in a perpetual state of “can’t”