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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Consumerizing Charity

I have recently noticed that Gap has advertisements for Product (RED) in their windows for the second time this year. Don't all of the movie stars look sexy in their nice red T-shirts? Product (RED) is a collection of corporations with popular brands -- Gap, Motorola, Converse, Emporio Armani, etc. -- that have agreed to give half of the profits they receive from selling the (RED) merchandise to the Global Fund. This money is then used to buy antiretroviral drugs for women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa. The ad campaign for Product (RED), which was founded by Bono and friends, claims that by buying the products associated with the campaign, you will be a "good-looking Samaritan." What a deal, not only sexy, but altruistic also!

Sounds like a pretty good idea. The director of the Global Fund says that they started Product (RED) because they could not find any other way to interest corporations and individual citizens in their cause. The only way they found to engage us Westerners was through our pocketbooks. On their website, they have posted their "manifesto" which spells out in dumb-proof language that we can save lives through our consumerism. Basically, Bono and his friends are giving us an easy way out -- we do not even have to care about the issue, we just have to buy stuff. We are never asked to internalize or understand the problems faced by our brothers and sisters in Africa. The relationship between consumer-driven Westerners and the AIDS-infected Africans is polarized through the one-way transfer of money. We are forever their benevolent saviors and they will forever be the recipients of our gifts.

The truth is, buying a T-shirt that says Inspi(RED) makes you a humanitarian as much as buying organic milk or a hybrid car makes you an environmentalist. I'm not saying that it is wrong to buy these things. Bono is perceptive in saying that we have immense power as first-world consumers, and we should be aware of that. The choices we make in buying or not buying something can affect the whole world, and it's good that we are sending money to buy antiretroviral drugs to Africa. We have many resources in our country that Africa does not have, and we should reallocate those resources to those in need. Exerting this power that we have as consumers, though, does not make us Samaritans. Most people are going to buy a red Motorola Razr without a thought as to how their purchase will affect others, and are more likely to buy that red T-shirt because it is a trendier way to be a humanitarian than buying something from the African arts sale.

The problem is that it isn't enough to simply spend money. It is important for us to understand and concern ourselves with the issue. Why? What is our responsibility and what can one person really do? At least we are giving some money, and maybe this is the best that a member of our society can reasonably be expected to do, right? If you feel content with yourself when you buy trendy new shoes that will also contribute a couple bucks to help save a life in Africa, then maybe that is all you can be expected to do.

But I plead: Let our consumer habits not be our only voice in this world. We will alienate ourselves from the issues facing those around the world when our connection to them is through our spending habits and our image. We should hold ourselves responsible for being more than a product of our consumerism.