Global citizens, stigmas, and America

Posted on: May 14, 2018 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Some PSAs produced by my students
As an academic working on the margins of the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem, I am fortunate to be able to teach classes at my university that address global issues. As an end of semester service project assignment, I had my students create PSAs related to issues we discussed.  In preparation we spent time watching many PSAs, some we winced at, some we learned from, others just made us laugh.  The site was very helpful, as was our close reading of That the World May Know by James Dawes. Below is a sample from my class.

Please email me with any comment or feedback for the students and I will pass it on.

This first one is a critique of my university’s study abroad programs and our rhetoric of ‘global citizenship.’

The creators noted

Our PSA confronts how the term “global citizen” is often thrown around without people actually embodying what a global citizen is, especially when it comes to being educated about what is happening around the world. We hope this PSA causes people to reflect on their own global engagement and start living up to the title that many have given themselves following an experience such as study abroad.

This next one addresses how aid is framed and communicated.  From the students,

Our PSA starts with, “Open your eyes,” and calls for people to recognize the stereotypes of people receiving aid. The call to action is “send aid, not stigmas.” We hope to portray that while important to send effective aid to places that need it, we must ensure that the citizens of these countries are not stigmatized or devalued. The media created for and by aid organizations is often aimed toward collecting donations; problems within a community are framed to seem dire. If people feel heroic for helping a group of people, they are more likely to donate. This strategy becomes problematic when it begins to stigmatize communities and the individuals that live in them.

This last one makes a comment in response to the UNHRC study of poverty in the United States.  Among the insights from that report are these:

  • US healthcare expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly five times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries

I do hope that you enjoyed these efforts.  Please do contact me if you have feedback.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with 'Confronting Toxic Othering' published in 2021 and 'Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector' in 2022. A revised second edition of 'Confronting Toxic Othering' is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishers

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