It is all over the subways here in New York. I don’t even know where to begin. I thought at first that this was some kind of an attempt to show how all of humankind originated in Africa. But the real posters in the subways are less ambiguous than this picture; they actually have “Save Darfur” written across the top.

Okay. Save Darfur. But we are all African? Really? That’s why so many Americans don’t even understand that Africa is in fact divided into countries, and certainly most would not be able to find Sudan on a map. Furthermore, under what circumstances are we all African? I think it’s quite clear that the target audience, which I think is business people “with a heart,” artists “with a conscience,” etc. not to mention preppy NYU students hopping around the subway with ipods–we are not the Africans that the poster wants us to identify with (as?), and not because (as the picture implies) some of us have different skin tones than “Africans.” What is this campaign supposed to message? That Africans are humans too? Yes, I understand that the white American public has trouble relating to people of colour. But I’m not sure that just owning that African identity is gonna make the difference, if that is the action in and of itself. Next time somebody asks me to do something for global justice, I’ll just say “oh, I already did my share, I actually am African.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that this is always a bad tactic. Two years ago some Israelis joined Palestinians and internationals in the town of Budrus to protest the administrative detention of an activist school teacher, all of them holding signs saying “I am Ahmed Awad” (his name). When they were arrested this was the name they all gave. This is different, I think because it was in the context of a solidarity action that they used identification as a tactic, and one which was specifically designed to call attention to his case in order to free him. The goal was clear, the solidarity was strategic, and because of that, the message was really strong.

But for the identification to be an action in and of itself? This is a very liberal and non-committed “put yourself in her shoes” kind of position, a call for sympathy more than any kind of real exploration of what it means to be in solidarity or to really think of oneself as connected with another.


According to Yannis Stavrakakis (see his “didactic” yet useful treatment of lacanian theory in _Lacan and the Political_ (Routledge, 1999)), one of the two political lacanian political strategies is “to identify with the social symptom” in any given symbolic and affective ordering of the social. [The other is "sublimation"--a very important concept, yet, since Stavrakakis's treatment is very cursory, it is necessary to refer to, once more, to Joan Copjec's _Imagine There Is No Woman_ (MIT Press, 2002). To risk extending this paranthetical remark beyond any reasonable length, I should also note that sublimation is close to what fraulein montag and c-blok were discussing in relation to the status of disinterestedness in the Kantian sense of the word. phew.]

If we can now return back to the political strategy of “identfication with the symptom”: I think ms. viola swamp is making a very important differentiation between the two different enactments of what seem like a the same gesture. We should, perhaps, ask why the same gesture sounds hollow on one occasion and exude urgency on the other?

I believe the answer lies in the concrete analyses offered by ms. swamp. At the risk of restating the content of the entry above, let me try to rephrase: In the case of “Save Darfur” campaign, in fact, there is no identification with a symptom, because there is no analysis of an overdetermined social antagonism and no encircling of its constitutive symptom. It is just a banal and humanitarian universalism that invites the Western Subjects to take Africa into consideration in the coming “Gifting Season”. In other words, in this case, it is an invitation for purchasing the “feel good effect” provided by donating to a just cause. We should all recognize what this campaign is all about. As one Eric Glynn once argued, in late capitalism ngos can also be producers of commodities and hence, exploiters of labour. Accordingly, like other capitalist corporations, they also need to realize the surplus performed by their labourer. In this case, the commodity that they sell is slightly different: the feeling of having done something good in our post-political age beyond antagonisms.

On the other hand, in the case of “Ahmad Awad”, there is an explicit articulation/analysis of a social antagonism. In this sense, perhaps, while the first one (“We are all African”) is truly a humanist (i.e., both humanitarian and theoretically humanist) gesture, the latter (“I am Ahmad Awad”) is an anti-humanist gesture and as such embodies the true spirit of the lacanian politics of identification with the symptom.

saint ymM added these pithy words on Nov 30 06 at 8:29 pm

it seems a similar kind of poster drove Roland Barthes nuts (in/around 1957). In his essay, Myth Today, Barthes gives the following as an illustrative case as to how myth (this can also be read as ideology or fantasy) operates in (to use one of Zizek`s favorites) ”socio-ideological field“: A black soldier is giving the French salute (One can renew this image perhaps with the image of Zizu in the world cup while headbutting). in this setting assimilation of the immigrant is at stake. but, we are all african: save darfor may point to a different move and setting. all i am sure about is that it disgusts me as much as the stinking humanism of Bono-Oprah=Gates and their derivatives.

mr reality-check added these pithy words on Dec 12 06 at 1:16 am

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Are you as put off by this poster as I am?