Philanthropy and Race

I am really excited to have my multimedia project mirror my junior tutorial paper that I am currently working on. For my junior tutorial, I am taking an in depth look at foreign aid and specifically philanthropic organizations abroad. I will be using the Africa Yoga Project, an organization I have worked and continue to work closely with as a case study. The topics I will explore in my junior tutorial can be broadly categorized into four topics: the relationship between privilege and philanthropy, misaligned intentions and needs between organizations and the people they are serving respectively, the complexities of the ways in which these organizations garner support, and the reliance on foreign aid and a seeming lack of sustainability within these organizations.

For my multimedia project, I want to focus on the third category, the complexities of the ways in which organizations garner support. What has specifically stood out to me is the power of the image, specifically in the online world. In class we looked at the cover photos of African movies (or something along these lines) and almost all had pictures of a desert with canopy trees, wild animals and the likes. These images and stereotypes attract certain attention. Other classic images that accompany African related portrayals include that  of the African woman in traditional African garb carrying a basket of things on her head. And even more alarming is the image of the children playing in trash, starving or sick. These are some of the images we, as outsiders, often associate with the continent as a whole. The reason being that we are fed these images over and over again—online, in the media, in movies. Look, for example, what a simple google search of African babies and African woman generates:

african babies

african women

These stereotypes and the way they are broadcasted are deeply problematic. Without the autonomy to choose how they want to be represented in the world, these people are molded and assumed to be all the same—and the same is not usually a positive thing. For my multimedia project, I want to explore the power of image and representation in philanthropic organizations, specifically the Africa Yoga Project, an organization I hold so dear to my heart and one that I know can do better. AYP does a lot of its advertisement and awareness through video format.  Here is a video made about AYP.  I would say that the audience is intended to be potential donors, people who want to better understand the organization and have the means to support it. Interestingly, the narrative that is painted throughout the video is one of desperation, extreme abject poverty, hardship and the likes. While these themes may be true, the way in which it is presented through image seems almost glorified and extreme. To raise awareness about something, it is important to portray it in its most accurate light–otherwise awareness will not be on the intended aspect but rather on a glorified and often falsified extreme.  Pay particular attention to the opening scenes—sad music, pans of the slums and children, etc.:

I think the thing I am most excited to explore around this is first off why organizations that are looking to make a change in the continent and support them in their growth are okay portraying them in this tainted, primitive, helpless light that is more often fabricated than it is accurate. A main idea behind a lot of these organizations, and specifically the Africa Yoga Project, is to leave the people they are helping feeling empowered and in charge of their own lives, knowing that change is possible. When portrayed under this light or asked to talk to the camera about a sob story around their life, it is hard to believe that true progress is really possible. The very campaign that is called on to induce change is enforcing the racial stereotypes that subject these people to their current life. Here is a hilarious video entitled “Let’s Save Africa! – Gone Wrong” where a small African child is an actor in all of these charitable videos that we see—he understands the absurdity that comes from the fabrications in these videos. This also comes back to the point about a lack of autonomy on behalf of the subjects of these videos regarding portrayal in the world.

Second, I am excited to explore why it takes this almost “shock factor” to get people involved and supporting an organization. For me, I feel like I am most motivated to join things that I see work and promote progress and have a visible, tangible effect. When things are portrayed in the light that often comes with the “shock factor” I feel like it demonstrates little about how much progress is possible and more of a focus on how much helpless these people are. Interestingly in some of the AYP videos (there have been videos made for the past five years or so), the same yoga teachers are telling the exact same stories about how difficult their life was before yoga and how once they found yoga everything changed for the better. It is tough for me to believe that after five years of progress through this organization, still the thing most central to these teachers’ lives and the thing they want to highlight in the video is the struggle that was their life before. This struggle no longer exists (or at least in theory should not because of the help of the organization) which is why I find it problematic to be the central focus of these videos.

I see this project as an extended blog post. I want to explore the complexities of advertisements and garnering support for charitable organizations. I will be using the Africa Yoga Project as a case study. I have already contacted them letting them know that I will be doing some research on charitable organizations and speaking directly to my experience in Kenya with their organization. A part of me is hesitant about writing on an organization I hold so dear to my heart and have so much respect for because I feel like I’m targeting them. However, I realize that it is coming from a place of love and from a place of wanting to see this organization do better. My timeline is to have the post completed by reading period—I will do preliminary research through interviews of some of my friends at AYP and reading on why people give, the reaction to racial slurs in campaigns and advertisements (are they effective?), and the intention behind a lot of foreign aid organizations (why are they serving this population? Why are they choosing to do so in this manner?). I will then analyze the information I receive and get to the root of why this method of advertising continues to persist.

And to wrap things up, here is a hilariously disturbing article highlighting some of the most racist campaigns/ads that ever aired:

Most Racist Advertisements and Commercials

Work Cited

Adam, Thomas. Philanthropy, Patronage, and Civil Society: Experiences from Germany, Great Britain, and North America. Indiana University Press, 2004. Print.
Harbaugh, William T. “What Do Donations Buy?: A Model of Philanthropy Based on Prestige and Warm Glow.”Journal of Public Economics67.2 (1998): 269–284. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.
“Let’s save Africa! – Gone Wrong.” YouTube. SAIH Norway, 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Ostrower, Francie. Why the Wealthy Give: The Culture of Elite Philanthropy. Princeton University Press, 1997. Print.
Trivette, Dylan. “Africa Yoga Project.” Vimeo. N.p., Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“25 Most Racist Advertisements and Commercials.” Ad Savvy RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

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