I have been here in Leuven since September and as with most places, a small window into the community you are entering can be gleaned from the way your dating apps change from place to place. At one ‘Speakers Corner’ (discussion events held in Pangea, every Tuesday evening) last Semester we discussed the impact of tinder on sexuality and society, but amongst this debate we failed to recognise something that has struck me about Belgium more than anywhere else I have travelled.
When swiping through the Tinder for example, you will gain a snapshot into the public (or catfish) persona that this first named, 6km away individual chooses to share with the community around them. Each profile framing the personality, hobbies and interests of the individual concerned. Yet after a while I began to notice a theme in the profiles. One that I had not seen so much anywhere else. With every few swipes you will see a profile with a distinct, stand-out photo. Often their first. Beaming smiles from everybody in the picture. Often embracing and happy. But there is no doubt about who are the crowds surrounding the Belgian.
The photos feature a Belgian in amongst a group of cheerful African children or hugging or holding an individual child in their arms. Whilst initially, these nice photos with largely cheerful individuals within it seem inoffensive and nice. But as I saw them repeated more and more and more I began to think about the deeper implications of these photographs. I have no doubt that some of these individuals will have done great work on their trips abroad to help these communities, whilst others might be funding voluntourism that perpetuates underdevelopment. This is a debate on the role of development, but whichever way the impacts on the ground fall, I found it increasingly morally questionable to see this staple feature of African children in Belgian Tinder profiles.
It is hard not to recall ideas of a ‘white saviour’ colonial-mentality and a certain degree of back-patting and self-appreciation in the use of these acts of charity or assistance as a selling-point to score points on a dating app. Even if this is not the case, if these acts are performed consistently and involving local people they are not just or by any means good acts to undertake. But instead, using this work as a method to achieve the ends of sexual and romantic gratification, to me, is disrespectful to the truly awful conditions that many of those photographed and their communities and their continent will continue to experience. This small window of Tinder may seem a trivial complaint, but it fits into a wider collage of subconscious post-Colonial European mentality that emanates from much of our conceptualisations, engagement with and use of ex-colonies for our own moral identities rather than building genuine partnership for future project.
Ultimately, it is not the Tinder user or voluntourists fault, for the most part, that this symptomatic sale of charity and aid in Africa takes place. It is an embedded view set by an education system in Belgium, and across Europe, that fails to teach in any true depth on the repeated horrors and gruesome history of colonialism. This is then sustained by the public affairs campaigns of development and charity organisations alongside asymmetric and exploitative trade relations that Western moral superiority in tandem with Africa’s sustained poverty.
For now, all I know is I would rather not swipe past another photo of poor children in Africa surrounding a Belgian girl sandwiched between photos of her on holiday in a bikini in Lisbon and drinking in Oude Market...