This video of cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast eating chocolate for the first time has gone viral. The farmers, who break their backs for cocoa beans, have not only never tasted chocolate before, but had no idea what the beans were used for. They equate the luxury to whiteness throughout the video, and even ask the host if his Black skin is lighter because he indulges in the delicacy.
Obviously, this video gives us yet another example about how capitalism is especially terrible for people in the third world. According to the video, the cocoa farmers make 7 euros a day, while the bar of chocolate costs 2 euros.
It’s great to raise awareness through visual media. As economic injustice grows more and more elusive, showing a striking video brings the issue to unapologetic tangibility.
But when the line of raising awareness is crossed with white gaze, I shutter.
White gaze is a long spectrum with commonality of white people, or people closely linked to whiteness, surveilling Black and/or Brown people behaving in a “stereotypical” manner. The stereotypical behavior can either provoke fear, provide humor, or proffer paternalism. It’s a phenomenon that creeps into our criminal justice system, media, and even philanthropy.
I’ve purposely avoided the video for some time because white gaze was exactly what I was afraid of. My fears came true.
For example, this sickening account on Sploid, a Gawker offshoot, highlights white gaze. Writing in a tone fitting of a Nat Geo special, Jesus Diaz writes “watch as their faces light up as they eat it for the first time.” He then tries to offer some contextual understanding; a shallow philosophical insight about how “lucky” we are to live in the first world. “Watching them marvel about this sweet food that comes from the beans they harvest is amazing to me. First, because it’s a joy to see their faces. Then, because it’s a stark reminder of how amazingly lucky we are.” This is after titling the article with “Must Watch!,” because Black people enjoying food is a spectator’s sport.
To make matters worse, he filed the article to ‘Yummy,’ thereby singlehandedly undermining the serious implications the video presents, and resorting the global chocolate trade to a foodie’s wet dream.
It’s a view we’re all too familiar with. First, the paternalistic look how joyous they are! followed by the omg, we’re sooooo lucky that chocolate is a luxury for us rich, civilized, westerners!
Oh please. The responses have been just as nauseating.
Don’t get me wrong; I do believe there are many white westerners who are capable of selfless actions for the betterment of society. I’ve met plenty who have a deep understanding of their privilege, and do not regurgitate what they heard on a Nick Kristof podcast. Their emotions and connections are not shallow or empty. They do not expect reward for their insight.
But for the many white first-worlders who post pictures of themselves voluntouring in the country of Africa, only to put it on their resumes for some corporate job, I give no applause.
That’s what I think is happening here. The outright self-righteousness coupled with empty feelings of solidarity. I strongly doubt that most bothered to read up about the cold underbelly of the global chocolate trade, even after being so deeply touched by those ebullient Black faces enjoying Nutella too!!!!!!!
So keep your paternalism. It’s insulting.
*Note: Yes, I’m aware that Jesus Diaz may not identify as white. However he writes for an online publication tailored to a predominately white audience, and is run by a predominately white staff. Whether intentional or not, his tone and words are undoubtedly tailored to appease these groups. This is where I believe his white gaze came from.