Remember the Africa For Norway ad, in which the plight of children freezing in Norway’s harsh winters prompted some African students to launch a campaign to ship radiators to Norway? “Frostbite kills too.” By turning the tables, it brilliantly parodied the way Western charity ads portray Africans in their advertising. The ad was the work of The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH), and the same organisation is behind the annual Rusty Radiator Award, which held its second award ceremony last night, recognising “fundraising video with the worst use of stereotypes. This kind of portrayal is not only unfair to the persons portrayed in the campaign, but also hinders long-term development and the fight against poverty.”
The ceremony was broadcast live from Oslo, and the award (as decided by social media voters) went to South African aid organisation’s Feed A Child advert featuring a wealthy white woman feeding a black child ‘like a dog’.
Produced by Ogilvy and Mather, one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, the ad sparked a major controversy when it aired in July, prompting its withdrawal. The founder and CEO of Feed A Child, Alza Rautenbach, went on television, ostensibly to apologise, but excused herself and the organisation with that staple of white privilege: “I don’t see race.”
Really?, I hear you ask. In South Africa? As black people everywhere know (as does anyone else who is aware of white privilege), the consequences of artificially created racial hierarchies are very real. Claiming colour-blindness is a way for the systematically privileged (white) person to say they couldn’t possibly be racist themselves, and to avoid acknowledging their own racial power and the privileges accorded them by the world because they are white. It allows the individual to remain blind to the systems of oppression and inequality that makes white privilege possible and “invisible”.
Someone please buy Mrs. Rautenbach a copy of Shannon Sullivan’s “Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege”, and highlight the passage: “Colourblindness attempts to erase all race and make it invisible. Habits of white privilege support these attempts by making the invisibility of race seem like the goal that all people should aim for. …since whiteness is the standard to which all should aspire, then people of colour too should aspire to give up their race and become race-free (= white). The colourblindness that results in turn fuels habits of white privilege by creating a social, political and psychological atmosphere of racial invisibility in which white privilege can thrive.”
Anyway, also in the running for the Rusty Radiator Award were:
“Hunger Stops Here” – Concern Worldwide
Jury’s comments: “What mother would put their suffering kid in the middle of the sun and just sit there? You would never put an American kid in an ad like this, because there’s too much dignity given to the privacy of the children. It promotes every stereotype about malnutrition, and tries to encourage giving and donation out of guilt. It’s like they found them by the roadside just waiting to die.”
“What Does Poverty Look Like?” – Christian Children’s Fund of Canada
Jury’s comments: “Do you know what poverty looks like” – does it look like a person? Who talks about a human being like that? “…poverty porn, white saviour complex, over-simplification to the causes of poverty to the missing $1 silver bullet solution to poverty.” “…everything that’s wrong with fundraising”. “I am amazed that this would run at any TV-station in the world.”
SAIH also handed out recognised The Golden Radiator Award, which goes to the fundraising video using creativity and creating engagement, the kind of charity campaign that steps outside of the common way with using stereotypes, and the winner was this ad for Save the Children, in which we watch a British child going through the experience of becoming a refugee: