Poverty voyeurism is an obnoxious behaviour that produces negative psychological, economic, and social consequences.
The diasporan dilemma
For the African diasporan, the single story from Africa imposes a forced way to present oneself as an African in order to fit the narrative that is authentically African. Dress wretched otherwise you will be suspected of dealing in something. Get the lowest paying job, management is for the upper caste. Appear downcast and in low spirits, avoid speaking about progress in Africa. Self-deprecating talk is acceptable. Don’t have a mind of your own. Be a victim who complains so that you will be paternalistically fed with ideas about how to fix your problems by those who don’t even understand them. Be docile and you will be complemented as being humble. Consume and obey and you will be accepted. Have no agency. Don’t win outside sports and music. Outside of these parameters, you are either threatening, arrogant or you don’t know your place. However, many non-Africans are getting the psychological drift: “If you can convince the lowest white man (anybody) [that] he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you” (President Lyndon B. Johnson). I don’t know but I suspect this is the psychological weapon of some NGOs and far-right organisations? Typically, they must find someone to blame in order to divide and rule the target market.
The business of insensitive imagery, film and docufilms
Poverty voyeurism is a business with another set of roots in scientific racism and imagery. A very profitable strategy for structuring access to resources and ensuring the deprivation of others. The only required startup capital is hatred. It is a self-generated advertising machine based on pseudoscience, fake news for the recruitment of those whose self-worth depends on demeaning others. One cannot help but be baffled by the extent to which these attitudes towards Africa and mostly darker skin people are filtered through racial lenses under the cover of scientific studies. Some even go as far as theorizing that the causes of poverty have nothing to do with colonialism or power dominance, unfair trade, imperialism, bad governance, and the capture of institutions in Africa or the use fiscal and monetary policies as war strategies in Africa. The problem, they claim, is the innate biological differences between rich and poor. But those explanations conveniently work for poor black and brown people in the world and not people of European extraction. This logic is eerily akin to shooting eight people and explaining it away as having a bad day. Those who subscribe to this ideology keep virtue-signaling that the rich must help the weakling as a Judeo-Christian moral obligation. How can people progress if you keep the structures of oppression in place? How do we explain the new poverty in the rest of Europe and America endured by fellow humans with lighter skin? Did these fellows in Eastern Europe suddenly become stupid/black, or their predicaments can be explained by the unfavourable system and the vestiges of communism, corruption and inequalities embedded in the institutional matrix that needs an urgent fix?
Whose job is to fix poverty voyeurism?
The ritual humiliation of Africans is palpable albeit now accepted as a natural order of things. Enough of the complaints. Let’s fix it! An active 10% of over two billion Africans around the world is all it takes to tell our story. Porn or horror films are not healthy for kids. Poverty voyeurism is just as bad. But the catch-22 is that protecting brand Africa brings readymade Afrophobia enemies and when you do you also get some homemade enemies who have been profiteering from their own self-subjugation. But it is also impossible not to do it because Africa lives in you, so self-defense must be natural. The collective trauma is not some minor discomfort but a real danger to our health and survival. The ritual humiliation and disrespect provoke negative emotional stimuli that takes away your attention from the most important issues. Why is it that black scholars are always in the role of multiculturalism but hardly called to discuss the economy, technology, or anything else as if they are no experts in anything else but issues of discrimination?
How Africa has been imagined, symbolized, constituted, and presented to the world is almost always deliberately unappealing. The onus is on Africans and all open-minded people who care about justice and human dignity to bring seminal changes to this nightmarish situation. The reason is that image is an asset, and it must be protected. How we are perceived affects how we are treated everywhere. It is the responsibility of every African at home and abroad to be an ambassador of the continent-with rights and responsibilities. You must tell people how to treat you. As Kwame Nkrumah puts it, “you are not African because you are born in Africa but because Africa is born in you”. If anyone is obsessively portraying Africa in a negative image for profit, the show is not about an Africa over there. It is about the Africa in you.
You are not truly African (a card carrying African) if you do not share the burden of redeeming our image. Africa is about a land, its people, resources, past, present and future. Tell your own story – refuse any one-sided story meant to build the careers of Afrophobians. The poverty industrial complex thrives on trained ignorance, confirmation bias, alternative facts and charlatan experts deceiving people. Let’s punch holes into their narrative. Tell Africans who are ashamed of their Africanness that until they become proud of Mama Africa, no one will respect them. Show them evidence; they must watch Wode Maya and read how we made it in Africa; consult Dr Harnet Bokreizon among others about doing business in Africa.
Poverty voyeurism is encouraged in magazines, newspapers, on TV, ATMs, and word of mouth is bad for business and the wellbeing of the people it affects – even deep down to the cellular level. How long can you watch those big billboards at Schiphol that ask the whole world to donate to an eternally sad, ill African woman while buying Swiss or Belgian chocolate whose cocoa came from Ghana and Ivory Coast? Wouldn’t it be right, I mean just right to have the image of a sister not as a victim but a ‘blacknificently’ Kente-dressed, sun-kissed, ‘melanated’ happy face advertising our chocolate? Africa represents different shades of colour, so those who feel they are light-skinned and are therefore not part of the struggle should not drink from the Nile or survive on her resources.