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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

Stacey Dooley & David Lammy - Has Poverty Become A White Industry?

(Picture Credit - BBC)

Comic Relief time is here again and it's the same story each time. The charity uses celebrity endorsements to highlight a myriad of cases, where those less fortunate, be it at home or abroad, warrant our valuable donations. Every year, millions of pounds are raised to help their plight, so what's the problem?

Tottenham MP David Lammy has recently condemned the actions of not just Stacey Dooley, but the entire charity appeal system, talking of a "white saviour complex" and how it appears that white celebrities essentially heighten their own stock as people by involving themselves in charity work. He's said that"it sends a distorted image of Africa which perpetuates an old idea from the colonial era", in reference to charity films, but in hindsight, the works of charities such as Comic Relief (started by Lenny Henry, may I say) are not designed to "play the race card" as such. They are there to help people, be it someone in Britain or outside. Charity is a majorly inclusive principle in both theory and practice, especially with televised appeals. Such appeals work in many ways. Viewers of the telethon get enjoyment out of the show and the money that they pledge, however much that may be, goes to needy causes. For instance, to build useful infrastructure in towns and villages, allow those in poverty to get a valuable and better education or provide domestic support networks.

Lammy has taken aim at Comic Relief themselves due to the vulnerability and helplessness of black people that is spread around by charities in their countless films over a multi-hour programme. By way of charity, I see no finer example than the works of Band Aid and Live Aid in the mid-eighties by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. Arguably the most famous benefit effort of them all, the two events made people aware of the starving and hungry children in countries such as Ethiopia and millions were raised to try and eradicate the issues. One particular video that sticks in my mind that of The Cars' song Drive being played over the top of some alarming footage of starving Ethiopian children. Regardless of colour and these, in the eyes of Lammy, socially conditioned viewpoints, it's truly heartbreaking. Thirty four years later and there is still poverty in Africa. So, does charity really work? I once heard poverty described to me as an "industry" and in this increasingly consumer-led society, that statement has never felt so true. However, large firms will donate sections of their profits to charity and some will even manufacture products to be sent over, such as shoe company Skechers, whose BOBS line of shoes have been sent over in their thousands to help people to become properly clothed and not exposed to diseases such as malaria.

Whilst there may be elements of what some perceive to be a 'racial divide', the multiracial nature of charity films expresses solidarity with the focus being those in need, not the celebrities partaking in charity-based activities. The works of various celebrities is not designed to boost their ego or subliminally incite racist views; it is designed to portray how everyone stands together to fight for the common good of eradicating poverty, however long it may take. In the case of Stacey Dooley, she won BBC show Strictly Come Dancing and this increased her stock as a 'celebrity' and entwined with her actual profession as a reporter, commenting on rather sensitive issues, she seems like a perfect fit for Comic Relief. It's got nothing to do with race or this 'white saviour' complex that Lammy speaks of. If anything, the sudden popularity of Dooley and her working class roots make her more relatable than the average 'celebrity' and this increases the amount of donations. One of the integral reasons for the large quantity of donations to charities such as Comic Relief are these celebrity endorsements. Whilst it's possible for African people, for example, to tell their stories, the donations with just this model may be lower as it is the celebrity endorsements from those such as Dooley that garner the millions that people will pledge over the phone.

In conclusion, we need to look past colour in modern society; it's only relevant if somebody like David Lammy wishes to point it out. The works of Comic Relief or any other charity do not hark back to the days of colonialism as he puts it; they show harmless solidarity between races. It is not a case of race. It's a case of fighting for the common good to try and eradicate poverty where race should not matter. These barriers to entry are only put up by those who wish to make it a much larger issue than it is already and sensationalise some honest work towards a worthy cause.


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