Thursday, November 29, 2012

Africa for Norway

This is brilliant satire with a real point...



Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?
If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.
The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.
The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.


  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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The point of "Political Correctness"

My friend Jill Bernard, who I went to High School with, posted this on Facebook Sunday:

The people that hate "political correctness" can't understand it's something we invented because we couldn't wait around for them to get a handle on actual correctness. Your mouth is a gun and you can have all your words back when you take the bullets out.

The post received a lot of play:  73 likes, 25 comments, and a lot of passion.  Some of the conversation  centered around words you can and cannot use, and what power words really have.  I was intrigued by the conversation, and I weighed in:

The metaphor “words as bullets” illustrates that words are used to wound and hurt people: often intentionally, but sometimes by collateral damage of being unaware or uncaring. 

I think this metaphor is basically true.  

However, I find the quote “Your mouth is a gun and you can have all your words back when you take the bullets out” to be less than helpful. I think that misses the heart of “political correctness”. 

Being “PC” is the attempt to choose words that are sensitive to the people likely to hear them, with special awareness for people who are different than the speaker. It is a good thing to be aware of one’s words, and to consider how different people will hear what is said. It is careless to not know how a word has been used in the past, and the affect that it is likely to have on others.  

PC does not ultimately forbid words: each individual has the power to choose and say their words. Words are not to be taken away by others. Free speech is indeed free speech. This is where the taking bullets away from people metaphor, for me, breaks down. It is illegal to shoot people with bullets: it is not illegal to use words, even hurtful ones. 

But there is a cost for choosing to use certain words: usually in terms of our relationships with others. And it is naive to think that words don’t damage the psyches of others. PC is supposed to be a call to awareness and caring, rather than a list of words to avoid. 

And, ironically, the statement “I hate political correctness” then misses the point as well: with people reacting to a list of words they think someone has decided that they aren’t supposed to say, rather than hearing the call to be aware of what different people are likely to hear.