Young people leading charge against charities’ use of ‘white saviour’ imagery, report finds

More than two thirds of people will still donate to an international aid charity even if it uses ‘white saviour’ imagery in its promotion.

But the proportion falls markedly among younger people, suggesting that the public’s tolerance for such images will lessen over the coming years.

The findings have emerged in a report by agency Blue Slate into ethical fundraising, which surveyed just under 1,500 members of the public.

This found that 67% would still donate to a charity using a stereotypical or white saviour image despite “being the least likely to be seen as respectful and offering a realistic portrayal”.

In addition, one in five (23%) would donate if the image was seen as “problematic and undignifying for children”.

White saviour imagery often shows white charity workers from developed countries seen as the saviour of communities in developing countries. Meanwhile, stereotypical images often involve children in developing countries begging for food.

The report also asked people for their views of more positive or neutral imagery used by international aid charities, that show people in communities supporting each other.
It found that from the ages of 65 to 25, there is a “steady increase in likelihood for neutral images and more empowering portrayals to be chosen”.

Among those aged 55+ just 27% selected one of three more positive images to donate to.
But for the 25–34-year age group the proportion rose to 40%.

“Younger people are committed to making a difference,” says the report.

“Most want to see racial disparities fixed; they challenge pre-existing gender norms, show up to protests and challenge those in power to do better. So, rejecting stereotypical portrayals and opting for more positive, hopeful visuals, seems very aligned to their attitudes and world view.

“But there is also the simple fact of exposure. For decades, older generations have been seeing images of emaciated children staring at the camera as touching music plays in the background.”

This has created “mere-exposure effect”, which is a “tendency to develop preferences for things simply because we are familiar with them”.

The report warns charities that they may struggle to “engage younger audiences” unless they tailor their communications to “align with beliefs and needs of young audiences”.

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