Today the Black interwebs erupted in a bit of an uproar surrounding a new ad campaign by Alicia Key’s HIV/AIDS organization, Keep A Child Alive. The new campaign aims to raise awareness for the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa by photographing stars in “traditional” African dress with the tagline, “I Am African.”

Sounds cool, right? Well…not so fast. Some find the ads disrespectful to the diverse cultures of Africa.

The ads feature Sarah Jessica Parker, Richard Gere, Liv Tyler, Heidi Klum and Seal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elijah Wood, Iman, Tyson Beckford, Lucy Liu, and Lenny Kravitz, among others. The celebs are shown adorned with tribal face paint and traditional “African” headdresses, and stare longingly into the camera.

So why are the celebs playing dress up, instead of just lending their star-power and substantial cash to the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Well, according to the Keep A Child Alive website, it’s simple: “Each and every one of us contains DNA that can be traced back to our African ancestors.”

Hmm. True, but…I still feel some type of way about celebs dressing up in traditional African garb to mug for the cameras—even if it’s for a good cause.

Today, CLUTCH Content Manager Geneva S. Thomas underscored the awkwardness of the ad campaign in her piece for AOL Black Voices.

Thomas writes:

“Seems we could use that message to help bring attention to a number of issues, like, say, racism, but oh well. The campaign is meant to spread awareness about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It’s a noble campaign, an epidemic is an epidemic — the more awareness around it, the better. Still, the photographs raise some questions. For starters, why is it necessary to pose a formulaic African aesthetic in order to be compassionate?”

While I commend these celebs for stepping up to fight HIV/AIDS, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how off-putting this ad campaign is. As The Root mentioned, why couldn’t the ads emphasize the need to support the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic simply on the basis of being human? Moreover, I wonder if the ad’s creators even considered how this depiction—of celebs looking vaguely “African”— would play out with our brothers and sisters on the continent and in the Diaspora.

There is no denying that any assistance to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa (and around the world) is definitely needed. However, these ads seem to serve as more of a distraction rather than catalyst for change.

What do you think of the “I Am African” ads? You tell us!


  • kayo

    are you seriously offended by this?

    “why couldn’t the ads emphasize the need to support the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic simply on the basis of being human?”
    - they could but they chose a different way to express their connection to the african diaspora.

    “Moreover, I wonder if the ad’s creators even considered how this depiction—of celebs looking vaguely “African”— would play out with our brothers and sisters on the continent and in the Diaspora.”
    - Yes they look a little ridiculous but so what? Community service often requires us to leave our comfort zone and do something we might look ridiculous at. I’m Ghanaian and Ugandan and I can tell you that we are fine with the ad over on the continent. Thank you for caring.

    I think you feel some way about this because this doesn’t happen frequently. That doesn’t make it bad. Its good they are doing something to raise awareness and save lives.

  • Rebecca

    I swear you guys get upset about everything. Like honestly…show me how many ads, commercials, campaigns, songs, movies, etc black people have made in order to bring awareness to issues in Africa…please. If the problem hasn’t yet been fixed, why is it a problem that people, who happen to be white, oh yea and all sorts of Asian — you guys forgot that! — are stepping up to bring awareness? Why is the title simply about white people when I can count so many races…including Africans!

    Instead of looking at the negative, why not see this ad as a push for people of all races to contribute to one common goal that could save millions of people. Why not look at the positive message that the creators were going for. Like I don’t get it. People are really upset because a group of diverse individuals decided to come together and help a cause…I just don’t get it.

    Do you really think that only black people should make an effort and show their support for this campaign and other ones? Ask yourself how worse off Africa would be. Like honestly, how impersonal is using ‘star-power and substantial cash’? Do you know where all of that money even goes? Like seriously, all the aid Africa gets, please ask yourself where all that money goes. Please. There needs to be bodies in Africa, not money. Trust me there’s enough money.

    Rosa Parks once said “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change you’re attitude. Stop Complaining!”

  • African Mami

    I’m African and I’m not the least bit affected by their non-African lookingness or non-African non-upbringness or non African cultural attributes. They are doing it for a noble cause! Quit looking for something to nitpick on and instead highlight what this means to the cause! SHEEESH. Everything is not about color! uRRRGH.

    To answer your question, the “I am African” ads tell ME that we are not alone in the fight of the scourge in the motherland. There are people all over the world who are concerned and doing something positive with their influence (celebrity power) to make a difference.

  • jelisad21

    Ok I really love clutch but seriously you guys think everything is somehow racially offensive.

  • tabula rasa

    I would have appreciated the ad WITHOUT the paint and headdresses, just with the photographs. The words ‘I AM AFRICAN’ are important since we all do have African heritage, however far removed, which is a fact that people are either unaware of or have forgotten about. Therefore, this campaign can serve a teaching tool, a reminder, and a call to action because Africans are everyone’s people and people worldwide should feel a connection.

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