Ebola: Always Good For More Racism

Welcome to mid November, the season of Christmas carols and…racism? In all the hubbub about how Christmas is coming too early and atheists are ruining Christmas, a passel of celebs have once again pulled out Do They Know It’s Christmas, that favorite old tune about how everyone in Africa has a horrible life and we wish they could have Christmas just like us (because clearly other religions do not exist and everyone is sad when they don’t have Jesus). This time it’s because of Ebola, for raising money or awareness or something.

It’s not as if Ebola coverage hasn’t already been a complete shit show of racism and xenophobia. “Close the airports!” people yell. “Don’t let any Africans in!” But apparently in celeb land, even compassion has to come with a side helping of condescension and misinformation about what it’s like in any place that isn’t good ol’ Murica.

In the latest rendition of the carol, Bono, One Direction, and a whole passel of other famous singers manage to spend a whole one scene on actual Ebola victims, with the rest of the video focusing on…them. Color me surprised. Nothing says “we should care about people with Ebola” more than an entire music video composed of closeups of famous people. And while the song has been updated so that some of the most offensive lines are now slightly less offensive lines, the song still spends most of its time pointing out that Africa is a scary place and the best way to make it better is to tell them about Christmas. Rather than, ya know, sending aid or something.

While this version does specify “West Africa” as the location of the death kisses and dread, it still isn’t doing a very good job of realizing that Africa is a huge and varied continent, that many countries in West Africa have either had very few cases of Ebola or contained the disease. And of course, people in Africa never, ever have problems or worries that aren’t DYING OF EBOLA because they’re poor right?

So without further ado, here’s the lovely, lovely video for your viewing pleasure. I suggest you have a vomit bag handy.


Edit: MrMisconception helpfully pointed out that these artists are British and Irish, not ‘Murican. Sorry fellow ‘Muricans.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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  1. Of course this kind of disaster-centric attention to the “developing world” helps focus attention away from the systemic issues that make it difficult for countries in West Africa to deal with this outbreak effectively. How much of the wealth of these nations that could be used on hospitals and doctors is siphoned away by oil companies or frittered away on weaponry?

  2. This video is in the same vein as voluntourism. I.E. self-centered attempts at “help” that’s more for the interests of the people giving the “help” (i.e. no help at all) than it is about the people being “helped”.

    Giving aid equals understanding what the fuck the issue even is in the first place, and understanding the many complex factors on the ground to understand first what “help” should even be defined as.

    This video is shameful.

  3. Holy fucking shit!

    Did they seriously just replace the horrid line “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” with the would-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-tragic line “tonight we’re reaching out and touching you“?

    In a song about Ebola? It’s almost like they don’t know the first fucking thing about how Ebola works, or humanity for that matter. Holy fucking shitballs! I’ve thought Bono to be a big ole prat for some time not but whoa, whatta douche.

    Oh, and FYI – While this does sound like something that ‘Murica would do, and I have no issues with taking shots at the condescending “help” that the USA seems to specialize in, all the artists here are from the UK and Ireland with a single “token” African from Benin. You can’t tar us with this shitshow, sorry.

      1. Perfectly understandable, I would half expect an American follow-up using We Are The World if it hadn’t already been recycled a few years back to condescend at Haiti. But give it time, they will probably find something to bastardize in the name of “helping”. Maybe That’s What Friends Are For, that would be suitably ghoulish.

        Oh, and let me add how pleased I am that Adele “snubbed” Geldof on this. Between this and her yelling at Chris Brown at the Grammys (for refusing to stand for Frank Ocean) I just want to shake her hand.

  4. I was listening to a woman from West Africa being interviewed on NPR a few days ago about this song. If I recall correctly she was a spokesperson for a local West African organization involved in community education and developing resources to fight the Ebola crisis. She was not very happy about the song and how it paints Africa with a broad dark and condescending brush or that the production lacked any West African musicians who have been singing their own songs to get the message out for some time. The statement in the interview that will stick with me was hearing this obviously intelligent and compassionate woman saying, “of course we know it’s Christmas in Africa”. I could hear the sarcasm dripping off the words.

  5. Olivia, somebody, on QI I think it was, pointed out that a merkin is in fact a pubic wig, which gives a whole new perspective to some of George W’s speeches in which he proudly claimed to be A Merkin!

    Seriously though, this video has been getting a lot of stick here too, and rightly so. Your points are well made.

    OTOH I would be really interested to buy a compilation of the music made by West African artists that Jacob mentions. Why doesn’t somebody do that instead?

      1. iTunes Canada won’t let me buy because it’s on the French site. It is payday so instead I just sent a bit of money MSFs way.

  6. The tl;dr version of my opinion is, everything I’ve seen about outbreaks in Africa (and not just Ebola) has had varying degrees of ethnocentrism, with the less-ethnocentric ones simply being written by people trained to catch their own ethnocentrism. Dunning-Kruger very much applies.

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