The South African charity Feed A Child (http://www.feedachild.co.za/) chose to highlight child poverty in South Africa by portraying a little Black boy being fed like a dog by a seemingly affluent White woman. In the ad, the boy has his head on the woman’s lap, he’s kneeling at her feet, on his knees, and licking off her fingers. The point, they say? According to the ad’s tagline “The average dog eats better than millions of children.”
The ad ran for about five days in South Africa and its airing generated such a maelstrom that Feed a Child withdrew the ad and “unreservedly” issued an apology. Ogilvy and Mather, the international agency that produced the ad, also apologized “unreservedly.” In her apology, Feed A Child CGO Alza Rautenbach says, “Like a child, I don’t see race or politics—the only thing that is important to me is to make a difference in a child’s life and to make sure that that child is fed on a daily basis.”
I wonder exactly how long this woman has been living in South Africa, considering she “doesn’t see race.” While the institution of apartheid no longer exists, the structural basis for apartheid is alive and well, given the level of poverty, the lack of jobs, and limited opportunities for education. Either Ms. Rautenbach and her Ogilvy and Mather colleagues have their heads in the sand, or they are being disingenuous.
Not only is this ad racist, but it reinforces the tendency of some White people to associate people of African descent with animals, or as some sub-species, not human beings. In the United States, this harks back to slavery when African Americans were seen as good enough to work to exhaustion, good enough to have sex with, but not good enough, by law, to be taught to read and write; not good enough to be treated equally. In colonized parts of the African continent and Latin America, the same parallels were often made. Europeans justified their exploitation by referring to African people (or Latin American Indians, or the people that Christopher Columbus “discovered”) as “uncivilized,” less human than the colonizer; Sub-human beings.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle have been portrayed as subhuman by racist bloggers. The New York Post published a cartoon, in 2009, of a dead ape, with the caption, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” After a week of protests, Rupert Murdoch issued a tepid apology. At least the Feed A Child team chose to apologize “unreservedly.”
The Feed A Child people are, at best, insensitive louts. They aren’t the only ones at fault though. The ad agency’s willingness to produce this ad is repugnant, and anyone who is thinking of using this agency might want to think again. There were people on the set when this ad was produced, or behind the scene during editing. Did even one of them make noise, or are they so accustomed to African people being treated as animals that they had no quarrel with this offensive ad? It suggests that there were few, if any, Africans involved in the development and production of this reprehensible ad. Perhaps that is why Rautenbach does not see color.