Comic Relief have reported an £8 million plunge in year-on-year donations following the recent row ignited by Labour MP David Lammy accusing the charity of propagating the ‘white saviour’ complex. To be clear, there is no hard evidence proving the shortfall a direct fallout from Mr Lammy’s critique.
It is, however, hardly conceivable the negative emotions ignited by his ‘white saviour’ accusations would have no impact on the public’s willingness to continue funding the charity. As someone born and raised in Nigeria, I feel compelled to address Mr Lammy’s comments about Africa and the ‘white saviour’ complex, pointing out why I consider his approach wrong and counter-productive.
First off, I know Mr Lammy is right when he says many black Britons are ‘deeply uncomfortable’ with images of African poverty beamed around the globe by western charities like Comic Relief. I have felt uncomfortable with such images myself. I’ve irritatedly changed the channel or deliberately looked away from giant billboards displaying desperate-looking African children. I’ve rolled my eyes at white celebrities soliciting donations for Africa, scoffing to myself it’s just PR.
But one day, I asked myself why exactly these images got me so worked up. After all, as someone who grew up in Nigeria, I knew this represented the general reality for the majority of children in a country where two out of three people live in poverty. Fortunate enough to have been born into the country’s small middle-class, I myself never experienced hunger or lacked the basic necessities of life. But I knew most people in Nigeria, which is one of the better-off African countries, are authentically poor. So why did those images annoy me?
They annoyed me because I knew they helped shape perceptions of how people viewed me outside Nigeria.