What do you mean by “charity”?

Everyone has probably heard the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” either walking around the grocery store, at the mall, or in their car on the radio. It is a sound that is a staple around the holidays. It was first sung by Band Aid in 1984 who gathered 40 other artists to contribute to this charity song including Bono, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham, and more. The song was meant to bring tears to the eyes of the listeners. It was a stark difference from the normal mood set by Christmas songs of happiness and joy. The ominous lyrics “there’s a world outside your window/it’s a world of dread and fear,” and “And the Christmas bells that ring/There are the clanging chimes of doom” both portrayed the death and hunger faced by others during this beloved time.

Many other parts of the song further created a false depiction of Africa. This song was supposed to mainly be talking about the famine that was occurring in Ethiopia at the time but as the word “Ethiopia” did not mesh well with the rest of the song it was changed to all of Africa. This feeds into the ignorance of many people as they just see Africa as one huge “country” when in reality there are 54 countries that make up the continent of Africa. The music video that goes along with the song further gives this one-sided story on Africa as a “country” and the people who live there showing only children crying and dying. It also does not take into account the amount of waste created by the United States and how criminal it is that people are starving in different parts of the world while the U.S. has an abundance that gets thrown away.

One of the most controversial lines is: “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” A number of the singers on the track did not want to sing this line specifically as they saw it as insensitive but it was still recorded and published. This line insinuates a criminal mindset of creating a scapegoat for your problems by saying it is better as it is someone else rather than yourself. As this song was written in the eighties, a big focus at the time was on greed and excess causing people to over-consume and take from others.

The purpose of creating the song is heartfelt as it was meant to be something that was separate from the bureaucracy and criminality of the music industry solely to raise money for world hunger. Even though there was no malintent, the lyrics in the song make Africans seem like ignorant people who do not know it is Christmas as they are lacking in everything including food, snow, water, etc when in reality there is much more diversity. It creates a lack of awareness of the differences in the world feeding into stereotypes. In addition, oftentimes the aid provided by other countries is handled in criminal manners ending up being used for other purposes especially as it is not being handled by locals. This song shot to the top of the charts creating much publicity for the artists and even getting a rerun on its 30 year anniversary making it a platform for the artists to gain more ground and make money off other songs. Even though the purpose of this song may have been to provide charity to “Africa” it did not break the stereotypes associated with Africa rather reinforcing them and gaining a following in the process.

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