A new campaign by a number of UK-based international development organisations was launched today. The #WeTheHelpers campaign aims to re-engage the public’s belief in aid however we have serious concerns around the messaging of the campaign.
#WeTheHelpers promotes a dated and harmful narrative that reinforces an already engrained mindset in the mainstream public that countries in the global South need our charity and pity and that white saviourism is the answer. This narrative diverts attention away from the systemic roots of the multiple crises being faced by the global South.
Poverty and inequality are the outcomes of a global economy that has been organised in the interests of wealthy governments, corporations and elites through centuries of exploitation and extraction facilitated by colonialism and imperialism. By failing to talk about this, #WeTheHelpers distracts us from the real problem and erases the role played by rich countries in colonialism and neo-colonialism in creating and perpetuating inequality and injustice.
Presenting people in the global South as ‘victims’ in need of the help of white saviours is a tired, racist narrative that undermines solidarity, perpetuates a colonial mindset towards the global South, and ignores the voices of people in the global South fighting to create change in their own communities.
Taking on powerful, vested interests is a big job, and requires a powerful global movement based on solidarity and justice. Campaigns like this undermine solidarity and cement power in the ‘development’ narrative which is used powerfully to prevent any challenge to the existing system.
As groups in the global South have been telling us for years, the language and images we use really matter. They can reinforce harmful stereotypes or they can build solidarity and mobilise people to fight for justice.