We predominantly encounter countries of the “global South”, such as Colombia, in the media. We see pictures of people living in the global South amongst advertisement of products, articles about politics and entertainment.
If you take a closer look at public advertisement you will find a dominating portrayal of white people. Product ads make use of the mechanism that we identify with the familiar which in return also strengthens and consolidates this mechanism of identification. By contrast, people of other skin colors rarely appear in public ads and if they do they are commonly placed in ads for charity organizations which aim at eliciting an emotional response of the viewer that ultimately stimulates the willingness to donate. The desired involvement of the viewer is not identification with the people in the ad, but rather empathy. Living conditions are often exaggerated and countries of the global South generally portrayed as poor, dependent, underdeveloped and in need. We see pictures of primitive agriculture, pitiful houses, tattered clothing – circumstances we would perceive as “authentically poor”. We see a young girl looking at us from below with big eyes and read the caption: “Become a sponsor!”
Our implicit assumption that the reason for their need for help is not their socio-economic situation or their global economic circumstances in relation to our wealth, but rather their blackness. Portrayals of such have a subtle, yet in the sum very powerful and enduring effect on our society.
But there’s more to it: long since, not all recipients of such advertisements in Germany are automatically white. What kind of role models and what kind of self-conception do we suggest to non-white fellow citizens when our product ads aim at the identification of the viewer with being white and our charitable ads aim at distinguishing the viewer from being non-white?