Shaista Aziz and Alexia Pepper de Caires of NGO Safe Space discuss how Comic Relief and Stacey Dooley’s insensitive response to David Lammy’s discussion of th white savour complex in the aid sector betrays deeper issues in many NGOs

What does Stacey Dooley’s insensitive Twitter invite to David Lammy MP to visit ‘Africa’ have to do with decades of systematic sexual abuse and exploitation of Black women and women of colour in once colonised countries, and the white western “do gooding” of the UK NGO sector?

In short, everything.

“Is it because I’m White David?” Stacey Dooley tweeted to Lammy. Black twitter winced and quickly critiqued the whole sorry saga. The gaslighting of a prominent Black male MP by a young, telegenic white woman was as jarring and hideous as her Instagram photos carrying a black child on her hip. The child, whose name we don’t even know, isn’t even looking at the camera. This child’s function is just to be there, passive as a prop to her charitable works – as so many black children are in the NGO world’s communications – and to give us a digital clue as to Dooley’s location as somewhere in Africa.

David Lammy, who after Diane Abbott is the UK’s most prolific black MP, has a long track record of standing up and being counted on denouncing racism in all its forms including structural racism that has earned him an army of Twitter followers and huge amounts of racist trolling and hate mail, including threats to his life. This was erased by Dooley and Comic Relief in their condescending and passive aggressive social media responses to Lammy.

“You can literally be David Lammy, a prominent MP doing brave, powerful and principled work, day in and day out… and still be subjected to white fragility and the derailment of a much needed national conversation on race, colonialism and the aid sector”

The erasure of Lammy’s status and his legacy of work on race and inequality was conveniently and aggressively erased, mirroring the experiences of countless Black people and people of colour across the country. Not only is the work erased, but Black people and people of colour are made invisible while conversely becoming hyper visible to be denounced and cut down to size and left to become targets of racist trolling and abuse.

You can literally be David Lammy, a prominent MP doing the brave, powerful and principled work, day in and day out on the Grenfell catastrophe, Windrush and the relentless racist hostile environment policies by the state, and still be subjected to white fragility and the derailment of a much needed national conversation on race, colonialism and the aid sector. All of this is beyond breathtaking and encapsulates perfectly whiteness in all its forms.

The approach of Comic Relief is to relieve the British public of spare cash to “do-good” overseas, and now in Britain, thanks to the welfare state being dismantled brick by brick through the Tories’ extremist austerity programme, disproportionately impacting black people, people of colour and specifically women. It’s an NGO (Non-governmental organisation) business strategy sensing the British public’s desire to stop “giving handout to them over there” to focus on “our own people over here” – charities are building connections with the “poor” in the fifth richest country in the world where inequalities are shamefully deepening.

So much of the aid and charity sector is lagging behind the times, their ways of working are steeped in a colonialist framework – seen as its most visible in the way these huge, rich and powerful entities formulate narratives about Black people and people of colour. Over and over again.

“The continued fundraising drive at the heart of Comic Relief’s mission has conveniently twisted all moves to acknowledge Britain’s historical and ongoing role in WHY countries lack strong governance, and wealth from their natural resources and stability”

This endless depiction of Black and Brown bodies as in desperate need of Joe and Jill Public’s hard earned income is in complete conflict with the urgent structural work that must be done to turn aid and charity – “white western do gooding” into entities that do no further harm to Britain’s former Empire. We must recognise the massive racialised power imbalances at play here, and seek to dismantle these imbalances at their root.

The continued fundraising drive at the heart of Comic Relief’s mission has conveniently twisted all moves to acknowledge Britain’s historical and ongoing role in WHY countries lack strong governance, and wealth from their natural resources and stability from the politics of citizenship, not global charity.

In February 2018 the Oxfam abuse scandal in Haiti exposed afresh one horrifying impact of this power structure at play: sexual violence, exploitation and harassment, predominantly by men towards women, predominantly women of colour and poor women by aid workers, the very people sent out to “save” people. Many of these “saviours” were white, holding “first world” passports, roaming around the world on their missions. Patriarchy plus racism plus colonialism equals women of colour at the bottom of the pile over and over again.

Patriarchy is complex, and women behave with just as much power abuse as men in a system that devalues them. Stacey Dooley is convinced beyond all doubt that her contribution towards suffering by others is best served by donating her time and fame to Comic Relief. She is so convinced of this she can’t hear or see the perspective that for two years now David Lammy MP has been clearly vocal about in public spaces. She feels threatened that her “do-gooding” isn’t wanted because she is white. She can’t see that she is being played by a system, high on power, out of control, drunk on money and reach and endlessly increasing monetary fundraising targets.

We campaign for better in all that we do as NGO Safe Space. We demand the appalling structures that are multi-national International Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and their fundraising bedrocks like Comic Relief urgently decolonise their work, dismantle whiteness and patriarchy and change their tune. We also demand that entities such as Comic Relief stop derailing much needed national conversation on race, privilege and power. Instead they must focus their energy on doing the real work – and urgently – TO GET their OWN houses in order.

Alexia Pepper de Caires, Shaista Aziz and a small group of women founded NGO Safe Space a platform for intersectional feminists in response to #AidToo to gather testimonies on sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse in the humanitarian aid and international development sector. 

Follow Shaista Aziz

Follow Alexia Pepper de Caries

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3 thoughts on “Comic Relief and Stacey Dooley’s responses to David Lammy betray deeper issues in the aid sector

  1. this article seems to be a bit overexcited to me. charities that rely on funds from members of the public are experts at understanding what works to get people to put their hands in their pockets. this is as valid for international development orientated organisations as it is for those focusing on national issues (e.g. children in need, barnardos). Tugging on the heart strings is at the core of it, and you aren’t going to get as much success with a data driven account of the genuine structural challenges in a given context as you are with something that pulls an emotional cord. I work in Mali for a major international development organisation and am the only European in an organisation 100 strong. My boss is guinean. The ideas we develop for programmes are designed by africans, drawing from their experiences in an african context . Only the cash comes from elsewhere, and i can tell you that your average project participant really isn’t too bothered about what motivated the tuabab to provide it.


    1. Paul Reglinski – I agree that it’s harder to get supporters to donate if you’re not pulling on their heartstrings in the traditional sense. Your org sounds really great by the way! I work for an international development charity along the same lines, and we’ve been really looking at how to run a comms campaign without making the beneficiaries look helpless and nameless. A step towards this is having them tell their own stories, in their own words, and introducing them as complex people who aren’t just sitting around waiting for UK aid. It’s also about emphasising partnerships, and us supporting their work, rather than us ‘saving’ them. There’s a whole body of work that needs to be done on this, but I think Comic Relief etc just aren’t even engaging in self-reflection- Stacey Dooley’s response was defensive and didn’t make any concessions, and it’s those ingrained attitudes (that it takes years to realise!) that are damaging.


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