Tuesday, June 24, 2008

think they can save the world by buying diapers

The UNICEF/Pampers 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine Campaign will donate the cost of one Tetanus Vaccine (equivalent to US 0.5 cents) to UNICEF for every specially-marked pack of pampers wipes sold during a three month period. It is estimated that this promotion will generate approximately US $3 million and facilitate the procurement of more than 40 million Tetanus Vaccines.


I've been interested in philosopher Shannon Sullivan's concept of "white world-travel" lately, and the concept came to mind again when a reader (who lives, I think, in Canada) sent me the heartwarming, self-serving advertisement below.

White world-travel involves a fantasized conception of oneself moving amidst, and in self-serving relation to, people from non-white countries. It isn't just a guy thing, and it's not just an American thing either. It's a complicated fantasy about oneself in relation to the rest of the world that many different sorts of "white" people can indulge in. They can also do so in many different ways--it's not a form of "travel" that necessarily involves physical movement to another place.

Encountering people unlike oneself in patronizing, literally "self"-serving ways is also not something that only white people do. Non-white people do it too, especially if they can afford it. While non-white people can adopt a variety of available fantasies about themselves in relation to some other people in the world, they differ from those available to white world-travelers.

What particular elements and modes of white world-traveling do you see being called upon in this combined effort to sell diapers and save children?

I'm also wondering--are First-World white women more likely than others to find this ad "heartwarming" and "moving," as so many YouTube commenters have described it?


  1. There's often another perspective.

    "Save the world by buying diapers" that supposedly finance the introduction of poisonous toxins into the bodies of third world people and feel really good about yourself for doing so?

    excerpt from thinktwice.com/tetanus.htm

    [Tetanus 103] I developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) following a tetanus toxoid vaccine. I have very little use of the entire left side of my body, and the disease now appears to be moving into my right hip and leg.

    [Tetanus 127] My 26-year-old friend was given a tetanus and diphtheria shot at work. About 4 or 5 hours later she developed neck pain, it was pulled to the left side, and she was unable to move it. Three days later she also developed swelling at the injection site.

    [Tetanus 148] I received a tetanus shot because the doctors said it was way overdue. That night my arm hurt so bad I could not lay on it. My temperature was 104 degrees. The pain eventually spread to my upper back and neck.

    [Tetanus 203] I had a tetanus shot in September and have been sick ever since. Where can I get information from someone who knows this is possible? My doctor just acted like I was an idiot, so I went untreated for four months.

    [Tetanus 214] My friend has an immune disease and was given a tetanus shot, starting the onset of muscular degeneration. She and her mom attribute her rapid decline to the shot.

    [Tetanus 245] Are there any studies on overdoses of the tetanus vaccine? My daughter had three tetanus shots within 1 1/2 years, and my son had two within this period. She was diagnosed with Lupus, and now he has asthma and an immune system disorder.

    [Tetanus 284] When I was three months pregnant I cut myself and was "required" to get a tetanus shot. My son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorder. He also has grand mal seizures, an enlarged liver and heart, and made no growth hormone at birth.

    [Tetanus 294] I went to a health clinic for a check-up and was told I needed a tetanus shot. I soon became pregnant and miscarried in my second month. My husband and I were distraught. I became pregnant a short time later and miscarried again. Since that time, I had another miscarriage -- my third in my first year of marriage.

    [Tetanus 301] In October, I received a tetanus shot. In December, I became pregnant. Our beautiful son was born 9 months later quite suddenly by C-section after a severe bleeding episode. Unfortunately, he passed away two days later. He had a deformity that begins in the early days of pregnancy.


    Makes the world a better place..

    Especially if one is a racist-white supremacist elitist using conventional media propaganda (B.S.) to further assist in the destruction (and population control) of non-white people in those pesky and troublesome underdeveloped countries plaguing the Manifest Destiny of first world nations by refusing the West their valuable natural resources for a mere pittance.

    Yup..Heartwarming and Moving advertisement.

  2. I saw this.

    And it seemed very "Aw, pretty white lady is saving the world by buying diapers! Go giver her a hug my very ethnic baby!"

  3. I didn't feel negative about the commercial at all. I liked it, a lot.

    Pollution from diapers are a whole 'nother matter. Be nice if some other companies did this.

  4. The idea that people busy within their own (albeit privileged) lives can do something to help others is a nice one. I believe that not everyone can be activists, but that they should both be aware and do their part in the small ways they can (what they purchase, the way they consume energy, etc.)

    The commercial itself, to me, could be a few things - thanking the saintly white lady for doing such nice things for the underprivileged, a white woman caught up in her own life suddenly becoming aware of the suffering in the rest of the world, a reminder to the audience of the communal nature of the world's desire for heath and how thankful we should also be for our own. I see the second and third more than the first, but then, I'm white. And sometimes of a naive sort.

    It didn't bother me personally so much in that it didn't seem condescending to those other nations. The way it did bother me is that yes, vaccines are under dispute (as a cause of autism as well), and disposable diapers are a source of pollution. I consider that the fault of the advertising more than the men and women who will take in the message - advertising similar to this is one of the first ways to put a crack in a privileged and unaware shell, which should then be followed up by [i]real[/i] education, not just a new way to sell a product.

  5. This commerical bothers me deeply. As an advertising student, or mybe just as a woman of color, it disturbs me to see children running away from their mothers to lovingly embrace this white woman, while their apologetic looking mothers chase after them. Why?
    It - to me - has a very obvious subtext of this wealthy looking white woman being better able to care for these children than their own mothers.

    (Puts me in mind of that whole international adoption debacle, but I'll leave that alone.)

  6. Er...

    Part of me likes this commercial because of the cute babies and because it shows beautiful women of different races. I also like the music.

    Another part of me is disturbed and thinks that this commercial shows how white women view women of colour. All these women of colour are living in the same city as the white woman, but the white woman thinks of them as foreigners of third-world countries who need vaccination.

    "Nice white lady" thinks of herself as a saviour to non-white people in her own city. Buying diapers for vaccination is related to women of colour in the same city because women of colour in your city are interchangeable with women of colour in any country, since they all look the same.

  7. I sort of agree with Kim. My further observation of young mothers in general is that they are often isolated, overwhelmed by their responsibilities but still idealistic young women who would like to believe that their experience as mothers is part of a general experience of motherhood. The ad is designed to cynically tug at those yearnings to transcend the specifics. "Not only am I a mom, I am part of momdom and I help the other moms of the world in whatever way I can." Uggh. It's so cynical.

    Then there's the problems with vaccines.

  8. Just Me: Adverse reactions to the tetanus vaccine are not common. Do you know how many people die from tetanus each year, mainly in Africa and Asia? Of about 1 million cases, there are 300,000 to 500,000 deaths a year. Most people would be willing to risk a teeny chance of, say, "neck pain" if it meant averting a disease that's fatal 30% to 50% of the time. (By comparison, malaria kills 1 to 3 million people a year, out of 515 million new cases, so tetanus is a much deadlier disease for those who contract it.)

    "Stuff white people do": Protest against vaccines. It takes a lot of privilege to consider yourself beyond the worry about infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.

  9. I hated that commercial on sight. The only thing that saves my television from utter destruction every time it comes on is the fact that the babies themselves are actually pretty cute.

    But still. The privilege, it reeks.

  10. Orange,

    I appreciate the information, Thank you.
    Are you in some way affiliated with the American Medical Association or the so-called "health" industry?

    "Stuff white people do": Protest against vaccines. It takes a lot of privilege to consider yourself beyond the worry about infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccines."

    As a PoC, I have ample (well documented - historical, empirical and plainly visible) justification for NOT trusting the established medical system in America.

  11. Just Me,

    I'm not necessarily disputing your position, but don't white people get tetanus shots too?

  12. "Are you in some way affiliated with the American Medical Association or the so-called "health" industry?"

    Yep, I was waiting for this. I knew it was coming. Even if a person has devoted his or her life and energy to studying medicine or medical science, he or she is automatically discredited by anecdotal reports and accusations of working for "the man". I find it quite disturbing and offensive as an immunologist that someone can do "research" on the internet and claim to be better informed than someone who has specifically chosen education in a field and works daily with some of the top people in said field. Not to discredit those who have provided their personal stories, as their diseases and symptoms are real, but what about the millions who have NOT experienced adverse affects? What about those whose lives have been saved because they've received the vaccines? Where are their anecdotes?

    Quite frankly, the fear-mongering surrounding vaccination terrifies me. Yeah, there will always be those who have adverse reactions to vaccines, just as there will always be those who have adverse reactions to various foods or medications (such as penicillin). That doesn't mean that the benefits of such things don't far outweigh the risks.

    Signed- a Latina scientist

  13. Hello Linden Branch:

    "..but don't white people get tetanus shots too?"

    My point is simply this.
    When the government and/or medical establishment conducts secret experiments and/or research projects, or whatever - non-white people in America and abroad are usually more likely to be the "guinea pigs" that are tested. And this testing (or nefarious research) is almost always done without the people's knowledge and consent.

    Also.. hospitals, doctors and drug companies are notorious for killing or harming large numbers of people -- accidentally...or so they say.


    I'm explaining own my reasoning and logic. I'm not an expert re medicine or vaccines. We're all grown folks here and we all see life according to our individual lens. I'm simply following the path (conscience) that is in front of me as you're following the avenue that you're on. And if our two roads don't converge, all is still well.

  14. Just me, I see your point (Tuskegee, etc.) and the perspective you're coming from. I'm more familiar with affluent white people's mistrust of vaccines.

    I'm not in the health care field other than as a recipient—my son and I might well both be dead if not for medical technology and medications. The ethnic groups he and I identify with (white and Asian) don't have the same history of medical victimization and abuse at the hands of the U.S. government, so perhaps my privilege allowed me to forget that aspect.

  15. First, the commercial totally rankled me. White lady saving third world women of color, just by being a first world consumer!

    This is in keeping with the recent trend of "buy this, and help someone in need!" The "someone in need" is usually a person in a third world country. To me, it's not about whether or not the vaccines are good for people or not, it's about the condescending tone in the ad.

    Side note: A recent campaign involved spending money on pads so that African women can go to school.


    Something about it really rubs me the wrong way.

    Also, Salma Hayek did the voiceover for that commercial. Salmita, I demand more from you!

  16. It's fascinating how different viewpoints and experiences color different interpretations. I'd have never interpreted the women of color in the ad as literally living in the same city as the white protagonist, because of the nature of the cause and because every single one is in full ethnic dress. I don't see the babies preferring the white woman to the women of color in some sort of ethnic sense, but more in the way that infants are sometimes very trusting and will reach out for anyone. But privilege makes it so I'd not even think to look for these things to begin with. That doesn't make my interpretation more correct (and quite possibly far less) since the ad is for a similarly privileged audience, but I do wonder how much intent matters when a message is getting passed along through these very non-explicit ways. Especially since people have a tendency to just reinforce their own opinions a lot.

    My first instinct here is to ask how advertising should handle diversity, then, keeping in mind culture and demographics and all those fun things. But I learned very quickly with anti-racism blogging that that question can easily be seen as a demand to have the problem laid out or solved for me. So I'm not sure what to do instead. To say that I have no idea myself and that it's a complicated tightrope walk, I guess. I especially wonder how the ad would play with a woman of color 'protagonist'. Would showing more of a communal nature between her and the other women be lumping ethnic groups together, or would it be the responsible way to avoid whitewashing?

  17. Here's what I find offensive about the commercial: all of the women and their children were coiffed and styled, healthy-looking, obviously not underfed, etc---yet we're supposed to believe that they desperately need this white lady to buy them vaccines? If the ad means "poor," it should use real images of impoverished women, because using "ethnic" or "brown" as code for "needy" is unbelievably offensive. And, yes, the kids running over to hug Nice White Lady: also not a fan.

    As for vaccines, I'm with Orange. Many POC in the US, especially, have good reason to distrust the medical establishment. But that's not why ill-informed white yuppies campaign against vaccines. It's because they, unlike many other people in the world, have been privileged to never see the real effects of measles, tetanus, or diptheria. This blog's about white privilege, well, there's some big freakin' privilege: I've never seen a child die of tetanus. And neither have most white Americans. But we think we can ignore the millions of people who do die from it because we like our conspiracy theories about The Man? Privilege, privilege, privilege.

  18. I actually saw this commercial for the first time today. It disturbed me so much that I turned the tv off for a bit and had to call some friends to ask if they had seen it and what they thought of it.

    It reeks of white privilege. As does the maxi pad commercial someone referenced.

    And it makes it seem so simple, that you can help from the comfort of your own home/grocery store and not have to actually think of or look at the people who are impacted by the problems you are going to solve with just a few dollars a day.

    Great posts! I am going to add you to my blog roll.

  19. I want to post a tribute to a real environmentalist (not like this false simplistic diaper ad mentality) -- Louis Coleman, of Louisville, Kentucky.

    The media coverage his death is receiving, and the accolades for his work in his city, honor this man who tirelessly -- and successfully -- tested the air in Louisville, and got polluting companies shut down; led protests against police brutality; ran the Justice Center; had degrees and knowledge of environmental racism sophisticated, intricate, and complex.

    Dick Gregory is going to officiate at his funeral. He was admired by the activist community in this country and everyone benefits from his life's work every time we breathe, literally.

    Mr. Coleman, just one more voice of thank you for your tireless and strenuous effort in life.

    Rest in peace.


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