Is Wanting to Help Africa a Nice Way to Avoid Helping Your Neighbor?

Help save Africa

Help save Africa

The other day I got hipped to this article featuring a classic video discussing a YogaOne project that’s using “yoga raves” to help raise money to send some people to Africa. The bit says things like:

“Yoga One is sending two of their instructors to Kenya to facilitate a free two-week teacher training for 40 Kenyans from the slums of Nairobi.”

And, yes, everyone in the video seems to repeat the phrase “slums of Nairobi.”

Here’s a separate video that gets the message across without the “slums of Nairobi” weirdness:

Whenever I hear about people raising money for Africa I can’t help but hear a little part of me that goes, “Really? Like, what for?” I mean, do yoga people actually think money or yoga is what’s gonna save Africa? As if a bunch of these….

100_old

…are gonna rectify a bunch of this:

colonial-africa

Truth be told, the YogaOne Yoga Rave fundraiser is actually raising money to train people in something they have defined as “yoga.” Is it yoga? Is it stretching? All a BIG mystery! Regardless, the assumption is that Africa needs yoga and that white people will go out of their frickin’ way to get it there.

[Pssst…. As an aside, This Alternet article expresses the trouble with the commercialization of “Saving Africa” fairly well].

What really trips me up, however, is why people are so specifically excited to leave their prescribed Nation State (a construct I more or less loath) in order to help others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these “Why can’t you help your own country first?!” douche bag patriotic xenophobes. But, it does make me wonder a few things. Things like:

  • Why don’t people try and work alongside, or in solidarity with, marginalized communities living down the block from them? Are they scared?
  • Why do people bring things to Africa (like vinyasa yoga) that are not indigenous to the varied African cultures? Why not support community initiatives that reinvest in cultural infrastructure?
  • Why do white people who “help” African people present African people like they’re children even when they’re adults? Are “Africans” somehow agency-less innocent newborns?

I don’t know. I just wonder about these things. I also think co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, had it right when he answered the question “How can white people support the Black Panthers?” with the so obvious it’s embarrassing quip, “Start a White Panther Party.”

Now, left-leaning “whites” and “blacks” had some slightly different objectives back in the day, exemplified most by a quick comparison of the Black/White Panther Ten-Point Programs:

BLACK PANTHER 10-POINT PROGRAM (ABRIDGED) [Please read the full version here].

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
  6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people.
  8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.

WHITE PANTHER 10-POINT PROGRAM

  1. Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program and platform.
  2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.
  3. Free exchange of energy and materials—we demand the end of money!
  4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care—everything free for every body!
  5. Free access to information media—free the technology from the greed creeps!
  6. Free time & space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
  7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule—turn the buildings over to the people at once!
  8. Free all prisoners everywhere—they are our comrades!
  9. Free all soldiers at once—no more conscripted armies!
  10. Free the people from their phony “leaders”—everyone must be a leader—freedom means free every one! All Power to the People!

Nonetheless, I think the intention to create cross-cultural support between neighboring, and thus symbiotic communities, is a good one. I also think white people wanting to support marginalized communities should get a solid understanding of the socio-political differences between communities and how these differences are exacerbated by State-sanctioned white privilege.

I also think this performance by the more-or-less leftist MC5 oughta get whitey in the mood to do so.

22 comments

  1. Anna

    Your post reminds me of this funny take on Aid :
    http://www.africafornorway.no/
    Their main message is:
    1.Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
    Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.
    2.We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
    We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.
    3.Media: Show respect.
    Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.
    4.Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
    Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.

  2. Vic

    As someone who worked in development for 10 years, I find this trend toward yoga missionaries somewhat disturbing. There is a mixing up of religious and philosophical ideas that is almost contradictory. It’s an unfortunate example of Western Christian culture getting mixed up with what suburban housewives believe yoga to be.. if Africans want yoga and Kenyans in particular, there are already tons of Indians and folks of Indian descent living in Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar to provide them access to it. What I’ve always loved about yoga is that it’s more of a self-critical practice, rather than self-righteous one. Yoga will not save Africa (or Haiti, or anyplace else) and the folks running these programs are naive at best. Your comments regarding agency and local culture are spot on. Assuming that someone needs saving takes away their agency to save themselves.

  3. There is a proper time, place and circumstance in which to give charity and this, unfortunately, does not seem to be common knowledge. People are so proud to do good and instead they’re actually acting in offensive, counterproductive ways… Some guidelines for the charitably inclined:

    Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the mode of goodness. (17.20)
    But charity performed with the expectation of some return, or with a desire for fruitive results, or in a grudging mood, is said to be charity in the mode of passion. (17.21)
    And charity performed at an impure place, at an improper time, to unworthy persons, or without proper attention and respect is said to be in the mode of ignorance. (17.22)
    And finally…
    Anything done as sacrifice, charity or penance without faith in the Supreme, O son of Pṛthā, is impermanent. It is called asat and is useless both in this life and the next. (17.28)
    (Read more here http://vedabase.net/bg/17/en)

  4. Yoga Whelp

    I recall a 1970s reggae song that went: “They say [Henry] Kissinger is going to Africa for peace. Yes, for piece of Africa.”

  5. SecularAnimist

    Who did you help today?

    • Great question, SecularAnimist. And, great tag.

      “Help” is a strange thing and not always easy to pin down. But, if you’re asking about who I might have intentionally come to the aid of, I’d have to say at least one person so far. Did I officially help her? Well, I guess time will tell. It was my intention.

  6. Garuda

    My accountant told me that starting up a 501 c-3 would be very good for my financial enlightenment. So I am starting a foundation to reunite Gondwonaland. Please send your contributions today. In return I will send you a picture of several Gondwonese pilgrims. Ready? Here it comes……’FOR THE CHILDREN’

  7. I think a lot of these endeavors take their cues from the likes cultural trend-setters like Oprah Winfrey when she decided to open up an all-girls school in South Africa (which has been beset by many problems might I add…) She could have just as easily opened up a charter school of her own in DC, Detroit or New Orleans if she really wanted to.

    Academia is just as guilty as some of these do-gooder yogis. One of the things they hammered into us in international development studies is the idea that you cannot have “development” without accepting this ideas of “trusteeship”, which in my mind if you don’t watch it can quickly become “White Man’s Burden” all over again. Even the narrative and language of “development” is still couched in Western, imperialistic terms.

  8. Doris Maat

    The title of your article, “Is Wanting to Help Africa a Nice Way to Avoid Helping Your Neighbor?” made me think. One reason may be that it’s “remote” or “over there” and that people can feel like they are “doing something” without having to get directly involved as you suggest. They can feel good about themselves and never have to actually look at or really think about the myriad of issues in their own backyard – issues that they themselve might be helping to worsen – knowingly or otherwise. And yes, there is the element of racism that sees and treats “Africans” (again – an entire continent – not individual countries with unique cultures, politics and national identities) as children which is less threatening to deal with than the idea that you’re dealing with peers- fellow humans – who have their own ideas about things. Reminiscent of the missionary work of the past.
    Giving/helping is not in itself wrong but it is crucial to look at the bigger picture – the INTENT behind it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doris. You know, I just didn’t have another two paragraphs in me to cover what you just did, so I figured I’d sum it up in the title and hope people got it. Thankfully, you did! Stick around.

    • amphibi1yogini

      What you have stated is actually the obverse side (and the evolution of) the NIMBY problem …
      “If we forget (the problem) exists close to home maybe we can ignore it enough so it stops ..” ;-D

  9. Doris Maat

    Most definitely. Ha ha! I “liked” my own comment by mistake – meant to like the comment above mine. Thanks for the article – important stuff.

  10. Dyspeptic Skeptic

    From the news segment video. “I’ll go to Kenya. I’ll meet 40 Kenyans that I’ve definitely never seen in my entire life and just know them like I’ve known them since the day I was born”. X-Men Mutant Yoga Teacher.

  11. Yoga_Dude

    I love MC5. thank you.

  12. Linda-Sama

    seems to me that people forget they can donate $$$ to a charity. they don’t have to photo-op their seva. just make sure the charity uses the majority of the $$$ for the cause, not to pay the administrators.

    • I still think yoga rocks.

      Wow. Not pay the administrators. Because, you know, administrators don’t have rent, or have to eat, or have medical bills, kids to support, school loans to pay back, or taxes.

  13. YoginiDoc

    I am preparing to take my 4th trip to Haiti, where I have been teaching yoga to children and their teachers. Do you mean to say that rather than empower these kids to use their breath to regulate stress, and rather than look them in the eyes, take their hands, breathe back-to-back, and otherwise reflect their inner light back to them, I should just write a check?

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