‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Needs To Be Canceled

A terrible, racist song which led to ruin

Indi Samarajiva
Dec 4 · 6 min read
After colonialism, they inflicted us with this

Throughout history, someone has always been canceled, so I have no problem with cancel culture. Usually, the victims or people that can’t speak up are canceled — this is the default — and what people dismissively call cancel culture is a repudiation of that.

So, to that altar I would like to offer the song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ produced by Bob Geldof and featuring Boy George, George Michael, Sting, Bono, and Simon Le Bon, this bunch of white men singing ignorant, racist nonsense at Africa needs to stop.

Jesus lived in Africa, North Africa celebrated the first Christmases and, today, Africa is home to the largest Christian population in the world. I think they know it’s Christmas. We can cancel the stupid song now.

The Abominable Lyrics

[Paul Young]
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade

OK, this is literally just racist, but this is still one of the more excusable lines. Singing about Africa and banishing shade is metaphorically dubious, but maybe they didn’t mean it that way.

[Boy George]
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

Oh no, they did. So not only are they lighter than Africa, they are also richer. Wonder how that happened. *Cough cough* colonialism.

[George Michael]
But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard

This is the only tolerable verse.

[Simon LeBon (Duran Duran)]
But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear

If you’re ignorant then Africa is one place, uniformly full of dread and fear. But this a great disservice to a giant continent and diverse population.

[Sting]
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears

Sting. How could you? I thought you were woke before woke. Africa has and always has had non-tear based water supplies. I understand that this is metaphorical, but it’s an offensive, ignorant metaphor which again completely others Africa as a place of complete desolation. It’s not Mordor.

[Bono & Sting]
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom

Wow, Bono and Sting. Clanging chimes of doom. I guess we’re leaning into Mordor then.

[Bono]
Well tonight thank God it’s them
Instead of you

Um what. This feels like a rather dickish way to pray.

[Boy George & Others]
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

It does snow in Africa, which is a continent

So, this song is talking about a famine in Ethiopia, but generalizing it to all of Africa. A horrible place where nothing grows, there is no water (besides tears), and no one knows it’s Christmas. And it doesn’t snow.

I mean, this is all wrong. It does snow in Africa, although not a lot. Food does in fact grow on the continent, they do have water, and North Africa, as part of the Roman Empire, was celebrating Christmas centuries before England. Perhaps they were thinking of Antarctica?

You can say it’s all a metaphor, but what does the metaphor communicate? That Africa is a desolate, dark place which white men have to get together and save?

You should all be ashamed of yourselves

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Here’s to you

[Paul Young]
Raise a glass for everyone

[Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Here’s to them

This explains some of it. They’re drunk.

[Paul Young, Marilyn & Glenn Gregory]
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Yes, you idiots. They know.

The Reality

Africa is a continent. There is more genetic diversity within Africa than between Africans and Eurasians. There is huge linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. There are many people living many different lives. It is a continent.

And it’s not as if it actually was Mordor in the 80s, Africa has been a functioning piece of Earth for years and populated by diverse humanity since the beginning. In more recent history, Jesus lived in and spent time in Africa as did his disciples. As part of the Roman Empire, North Africa would have celebrated early ‘Christmases’.

In modern times, Africa overtook Europe as having the most Christians around 2018. By an order of magnitude, they are more Christians in Africa than in the UK. They presumably have a passing awareness of Christmas, if they can take a break from crying to fill the bath.

While Europe becomes decidedly more atheist, it is actually Africa which will come to define Christianity in the future. Today three out of the top 10 Christian-populated nations are in Africa. By 2060, it will be 6 — a majority.

Meanwhile more than half of Britons identify as no religion, though you could also say that this weird holly and snow holiday to celebrate a Middle-Eastern birth is, itself, not religious anymore.

Time To Rip The Band-Aid Off

It’s not just that these lyrics haven’t aged well. They were never good at all. They take an ignorant and colonial attitude, more about making white people feel good than helping anyone.

At the time the money raised by Band-Aid and Live-Aid likely caused more harm than good.

Keating reported that Geldof was warned, repeatedly, from the outset by several relief agencies in the field about Mengistu, who was dismantling tribes, mercilessly conducting resettlement marches on which 100,000 people died, and butchering helpless people. According to Medicins Sans Frontiers, who begged Geldof to not release the money until there was a reliable infrastructure to get it to victims, he simply ignored them, instead famously saying: “I’ll shake hands with the Devil on my left and on my right to get to the people we are meant to help.” (Spin, from a re-issue of a 1986 report)

Today Bob Geldof has reincarnated as a rapacious Venture Capitalist, avoiding taxes in Africa while pretending to help. But VCs are not humanitarians, they’re just capitalists with better PR.

And Band-Aid wasn’t a great humanitarian gesture. It was just the same colonial attitude, with better PR. Portraying Africa as dark, bad and desolate and white people as rich, kind and beneficent. It was the worst sort of ignorance, which led to disaster, and makes people actively stupider for having heard it.

‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ is a terrible song and it gives me a conniption every time it appears on a holiday playlist. This song needs to be canceled.

Indi Samarajiva

Written by

Colombo liberal. Writer, father. Founder of YAMU and Kottu.

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