Why Do(n’t) We Care?


Poverty in the U.S.A. via Exiled Online.com

This all started with one short commercial.

I’m sure you’ve all seen it before; those feed the children ads. It starts with the starving foreign kids staring into the camera as a soft piano plays, tugging at your heartstrings. Then a wholesome narrator pleads with you to expend a bit of your comfort to ensure the survival of these children. Finally summing up how one small contribution can change a child’s life, the narrator stands next to a child asking, “What are you waiting for?”

One fateful morning I sat watching television with a good friend of mine when such an ad started up. We both released heavy sighs of exasperation as we did our best to talk over the commercial.

“Jeezus, I can’t stand these.” I sighed.

“I hear ya man.”

“What do they want us to do, save the whole world?”

My friend turned to me, “And it’s Africa, always Africa. People are starving here too! Why should we help another place when we can’t help ourselves?”

And that sentence is what got me writing.

Many people share our sentiment to these ads, and for good reason. They expose your luxury to you. Regardless of how hard you have it, someone always has it worse. Despite all of your trials, tribulations, and shortcomings, as hard as you’ve told yourself your life has been, you’ve had it easy. For the middle and working classes that look down at the snobbish and antagonistic upper class; this is an uncomfortable reality to digest. And naturally, we do what we must to preserve the illusion of our difficult lives. What have you said to stop yourself from watching? Have you mocked the suffering of the children or the mawkish nature of the commercial? Perhaps you blame the lawmakers and bureaucrats who are supposed to represent you and stop these kinds of calamities from occurring?

Me? I personally I detest them because they parade the children around like neglected dogs. Never allowing them to speak for themselves; they only serve as a symbol of American guilt. And that’s what we all hate, isn’t it? Guilt. Because this struggling, bumbling college senior couldn’t commit to any set amount of money for this noble cause, I felt useless. And to escape this feeling of powerlessness I angrily blamed the ad for asking too much.

But my friend’s statement about Africa is what really hung with me, long after he had left. There is extreme poverty in the United States, as it is in all parts of the world. Do we owe it to this country to aid our people first? Is there a hierarchy when it comes to humanitarianism, or does the nature of it demand the very opposite?

Because he’s right, it’s often Africa that appears to have a myriad of problems to deal with. And I’ve noticed that there is practically desensitization to African suffering in the American consciousness. Unless we’re making a film about it, we don’t vest a lasting interest in the genocide, poverty, and illness that has beset the different nations of that continent.

Perhaps it’s because we know so little about it. For many Americans, I know definitely for myself, Africa’s history began with a narrative of suffering. Outside of ancient Egypt, what have we been taught about Africa before the inhumane barbarism of the slave trade? Our American mainstream history of Africa is only a history of abuse and suffering. One that, whether we are a part of it or not, we try to distance ourselves from.

Of course I understand the need of apathy. The human mind is only able to handle so much pain from outside itself. If we were to focus on every person or community who live in poverty or illness, our lives would cease. We’d all be lost in an endless torrent of despair and helplessness. However, how mature is it to excuse away the misery of others? I don’t think there should be any kind of nationalism concerning our priorities on helping someone in need.  If there was, what reason would you be helping them for? Do we help to serve another person in need, or just to satisfy our own ego and ease our sense of guilt?

That was the test that a feed the children ad confronted me with that fateful Monday morning.

I’m not proud to say I failed.

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Comments

  1. I always spent my half an hour to read this web site’s
    articles daily along with a cup of coffee.

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post: We can’t empathize with every tragedy, but what makes us dismiss and joke about them? […]

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