opinion
The BBC can only send 'white saviours' to Africa because it doesn't nurture black talent
By Barfi Culture Team
2nd March 2019

by Subi Shah

Back in 1988, the BBC set up a charity with (now Knighted) actor and comedian Sir. Lenny Henry, called Comic Relief.

Its focus - now somewhat broadened to include other continents, was to provide aid to Africa via a televised marathon TV show, imploring the viewing public to donate to the cause.

As you may now know, Comic Relief has come under sharp criticism by British MP David Lammy over its decision to keep sending white presenters to Uganda as part of its annual drive for funds.

Presenter Stacey Dooley - by all accounts a very nice person who is committed to fronting programs which raise awareness around social issues of public interest, posted a snap of herself on social media, smiling broadly whilst holding a nameless black infant. The caption below the photograph read “OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED”.

Make of that what you will, but for me and very many (at least 7) black and Asian people I’ve had exchanges with by the water cooler, in the coffee shop queue and on social media, it’s patronizing at best.

Still, this TV format of sending British talent and crew over to Africa to capture the needy on film has been successful in raising over £1 billion since the inception of Comic Relief.

The fact is that Africa has made great strides in the last three decades, in all areas from Agriculture to Zebra conservation and this ‘White Saviour with Black Baby’ trope does not reflect that.

I’m not remotely surprised that offense has been taken at the relentless portrayal of African National in need when the truth is, that we in the west can learn much by African example - what Africa needs is investment in what it is doing right! Trade not only aid!

Africa has moved on since the inception of Comic Relief, but has the BBC?

Answer: No.

It’s almost impossible to break in to the BBC mainstream as an experienced BAME Journalist. Yes, it now runs excellent schemes for Black and Asian graduates but it would take at least 20 years for them to reach the level of experience required (such as yours truly has!) to make any decision-making difference.

Fact is, the BBC hasn’t nurtured Black and Asian talent the way it has Ms. Dooley: The corporation doesn’t really have a BAME version of her to represent its charitable endeavors in Africa.

I have, as I write, a very well respected Ugandan Asian friend and colleague, (you know who you are R.H), who is right now filming her latest documentary in Uganda - why hasn’t she and her local crew of Ugandan specialists been called to take part in this years Comic Relief?

What a joke.

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Subi Shah is a Print and Broadcast Journalist, based in London. All views are the writers own.





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