SlumRun 2016: The Poster Child of Bleeding Heart Humanitarianism

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We all want to to good. We all strive to be humanitarians and help our down-trodden fellow humankind in between sips of our South Africa’s finest Merlot. There’s great honor in that. However, we often fail in the “how”.

The Poster Child of Bleeding Heart Humanitarianism

Take for example the above poster for a fundraising run through one of Kampala’s less affluent suburb of Kireka, with a white person running from black hands on a blood red background. Regardless of the good intentions of the organizers, Slum Run 2016 is the branding #FAIL poster child of bleeding heart humanitarianism.

And if you think the graphic is bad, here is how they describe the run on their website:

This year, we have updated the route and it now includes spectacular views across the Acholi Quarter slum area and will be a joy to run, as you experience what it is like to live in a slum, while you compete for the unique Peter Ola Slum Run Trophy.

This type of fund-raising activity isn’t new. In fact there’s a Soweto Marathon in South Africa every year, yet its branding and messaging are in contrast to the Slum Run messaging about Kireka.

Messaging Matters

Over the last several years, much of the development sector has been having a conversation on how to do development better. But doing it better often also involves talking about it better. The run – in and of itself – isn’t necessarily the problem. It is how we talk about and represent the people we are trying to help.

The less fortunate we try to help in our work deserve the same dignity we demand for ourselves. That dignity extends beyond using a photogenic child with flies and a distended belly as our money shot for our fund-raising campaign. It includes how we talk and describe the place people call home. From the outside, one might view it as a less-wealthy part of town, but to the many residents there, it is their proud community. For many, the only option they have.

For example, I’ve previously worked in Kireka, where Slum Run 2016 will take place, with a group of women refugees who live in this community. It is not the wealthiest part of town, but I never once referred to it as a slum, nor was the project I worked on, Women of Kireka, called Women of the Slum, nor did I organize Slum Village Tours to “see how it is like to live in a slum.”

We Can Do Better

We created JadedAid to foster conversations on how we can do development better. While we are all playing, let’s take a beat after laughing at outrageous card combinations and realize that the seemingly implausible phrases the cards create, are real development worker experiences.

While #SlumRun isn’t in the current deck, there’s a reason for the “This hashtag will save the world” card. It represents the types of harmful marketing initiatives we see in our industry, and mocks slacktivism that some of us try to count as impact. Calling out this foolishness is the first step of identifying the problem and not repeating the same mistakes.

What bad bleeding heart humanitarianism have you seen? Tell us. Tell your peers. We can do better.

Don’t forget to pre-order the Peace Corps Expansion pack – shipping in December 2016.

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