Have you heard the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid? That collaborative bit from the ’80s all about how poor Africans are starving and to think of them at Christmas time? That goes “Feed the world… let them know it’s Christmas time!” Sounds nice on the surface, and Lord knows idiots like my mom eat it up without a thought. But when you really look at it, the song is rife with profound ignorance about the place they are singing about.
Alexander Cohen covered this one well a couple years ago already, and I have to agree with everything he says there.
Look at these lyrics: “And there won’t be snow in Africa at Christmastime/ The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life./ Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow./ Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?”
Nothing ever grows?! What, the entire continent of Africa is a barren wasteland then? Not like they have savannas or jungles or temperate forests or anything. Or even, say, the longest fucking river in the world! Nope, the song says it’s just a big dry hot dustbowl.
I mean, sure, there are PARTS of Africa that can’t grow shit. But just a few different areas. Not the whole damn continent!
Also, not all of Africa is starving. Nor are all Africans the same people. I really get annoyed at this myth that Africa is like a totally homogeneous place. Ah, no. Moroccans, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Zimbabweans, South Africans, and others are all very different types of people!
As for the snow thing, uh, of course it’s not snowing on Christmas in Africa. When you’re on the continent you’re either in the tropics or the southern hemisphere. Unless you’re on top of Kilimanjaro, I guess. And the song acts like that’s a sad thing to be without snow when singing to middle class Americans, Canadians, and Europeans when a lot of those people would love to be without snow.
As for if they know it’s Christmas time… yeah, they do. Mostly. Catholic missionaries have been pounding their way through the continent like my windy namesake through New Orleans, so at least as a Christian celebration, they’ll know Christmas is coming. And even without the missionaries, it’s not like they’re cut off from the rest of the world. Christmas is a big deal all over. But if they’re supposedly starving on a barren wasteland, why would a holiday matter? Wouldn’t you give them a Christmas feast? Or do you think a snow day would suffice for them?
I mean, it’s very good and noble to want to feed the starving, heal the sick, etc. To want to help people stuck living in countries with oppressive dangerous governments. But kind of the first step to accomplishing any of these things is to, you know, not be a total ignorant dumbass about the region you seek to help! You can support helping people without perpetuating stereotypes and outright lies.