Have you heard of Sir Ivan? He's a well-intentioned performer of techno music with an interesting background (see below).
I really wonder just what Sir Ivan was thinking when he made the following music video. He appears here in his getup as "Peaceman" (complete with billowing cape), who springs into action to spread world peace by, um . . . getting tribal Africans to stop fighting and start loving?
Will this tired setup of individualized white performers backed by anonymous black people, in jungles and other settings, ever die?
At least when the California Milk Processor Board made a video like this to promote milk, they seemed to be parodying such racist, colonialist configurations (but then, maybe not).
"Sir Ivan" is the creation of a U.S. citizen named Ivan Wilzig. According to Wikipedia,
"Sir" Ivan L. Wilzig (born c. 1956) or Peaceman is a musician who is best known for techno remixes of 1960s songs such as "Imagine" and "San Francisco". He is also founder of the nonprofit Peaceman Foundation. . . . Wilzig is the son of the late Siegbert (Siggi) Wilzig, who as a penniless German Holocaust survivor earned a fortune through finance. 59 of Ivan Wilzig's relatives were killed during the Holocaust. Ivan was born in Newark and grew up in Clifton, New Jersey as the oldest of the Wilzig children. . . .
He and his brother, Alan Wilzig, assisted his father in running the Trust Company Bank of New Jersey. Most of Ivan Wilzig's work at the bank was in public relations and marketing; he tried one year as a corporate lawyer but hated it. In 2000 "Sir Ivan" abandoned his banking career to begin a career in music.
According to Sir Ivan's web site, he also established The Peaceman Foundation,
a private foundation which supports an array of charities dedicated to fighting Hate Crimes and treating the victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sir Ivan is donating 100 percent of his recording artist net profits from his album to his Peaceman Foundation. To further promote peace through his music and foundation, Sir Ivan always performs in peace capes, which has earned him the title “PEACEMAN,” the rock star superhero fighting for peace.
These efforts seem noble, and Sir Ivan's music has apparently acquired a fair number of fans, so charity funds are presumably reaching some people who could use them. Nevertheless, this video for his version of "Kumbaya" needs to be called out. Its arrangement of one white body and a lot of black bodies revives, as if from a collective white unconscious, a fantasized, paternalistic relationship. This is an old dream, a fantasy about superior white men who bestow their benevolence upon inferior, primitive, alternately childish and hypersexualized African "natives."
The problems with this fantasy are, of course, multiple and complex. The presumptuous white supremacy that has helped to justify several centuries of suffering and resource-plundering remains within the collective white psyche. This lingering presumption provides white people, even those with the best, most "charitable" intentions, with ready-made narrative structures. These narratives place white individuals at the center, and non-white, non-Western people at their service. Even today, as Sir Ivan and his Peace cape demonstrate, inserting oneself into such a narrative structure tends to produce little more than self-aggrandizing displays of white Western oblivion, arrogance, and ultimately, abuse.
However sincere Sir Ivan's philanthropic efforts may be, he does Africans (and other colonialized people) no favors with this portrayal of both them, and of himself in relation to them.