If we could all conjure up memories of our K-12 education, we will remember that at some point in time, we were forced to work in a group and offer some sort of peer critique. In order to do this effectively and productively with minimal tension, teachers would talk about something called “constructive criticism,” this wonderful term euphemistically suggested that you “don’t be an ass.” Its purpose was to suggest that your criticism should be helpful. You should not solely talk about what is bad about a person’s piece of work, but offer suggestions, tips, hints, in essence, the goal was to offer solutions, not just criticize.
I am a tad bit frustrated, because I feel that recent critics of the newly emerged KONY 2012 campaign have forgotten about this useful adage.
If you haven’t yet heard of KONY 2012, I welcome you back from your cryogenic slumber. Essentially, KONY 2012 is an international movement, spearheaded by the Invisible Children organization with the purpose of raising awareness about Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, rebel leader of the LRA, and who, over the past 30 years, abducted more than 30,000 children from Ugandan homes and forced them to work as child soldiers. Invisible Children has been around for a while, but due to a new social media campaign centered around one video, the organization has been able to galvanize huge media attention around this issue.
Sounds peachy, right? Not exactly. The blogosphere lit up in a torrent of criticism against Invisible Children and the campaign. I’ll give you the top three critiques.
- Joseph Kony is not even in Uganda anymore and that the campaign ignores other more pertinent issues, (so is the issue less bad? Does that mean ignore it?). This argument is that the problem is over-simplified.
- The organization spends too much money on filmmaking and staff. (Apparently spending only 32% of 8 million dollars in earnings one year on d irect service— I mean, that’s a third, but ok, I’ll bite.).
- And lastly, my favorite, that this campaign “commodifies the white man’s burden,” (read: another white liberal painting a narrow view of African agency and then using his white savior ideology to further advance a Western neo-colonial framework).
Okay, now I am all about nuance. And I love the word “problematic,” just as much as anyone, and would normally be the first to point out the flaws in benevolent racism. But here, I just can’t do it. I can’t. Our past weighs heavily on us. I get that. Scientific racism, Jim Crow, colonization, these were all undertakings that used benevolent philosophies (bringing civilization, Christianizing, etc.) to guise the most horrific acts in humanity and fuel European greed. These past acts make it difficult to trust any notion of help from Westerners (read: white). We are fearful that in helping, others, white people might forget that there is more work to be done, and that just because you buy a bracelet or hell, “save” a classroom of 30 black and brown children, does not mean that you can pretend racism doesn’t exist, or that you cannot challenge your own privilege.
I get it. I really do. But at what point, can we as humans, begin celebrating the victories we accomplish? At what point do we realize that our academia-cizing critiques against racism actually might keep us apart rather than coming together. When I see KONY 2012, I see a movement that is causing millions of people—who otherwise might not care—to learn about an issue that many people care about, not just white liberals. I am sorry—KONY 2012 is not a white savior movie, it’s an immense effort that spans across all colors and creeds to fight against a problem that affects all of us. The video in itself is creating a conscience of community and unity against one issue. That’s what it’s doing. And to reduce this to another white liberal attempt shows a misunderstanding of both the problems of white liberalism and what it takes to fight against racism. The goal, I thought, was unity?
And lastly, even if KONY 2012 is problematic, I want to see counter solutions. It’s frighteningly easy to criticize. I can say McDonald’s is nasty, but I couldn’t tell you how to make a better burger. I do not mind the criticisms, I mind criticisms devoid of new pathways of moving forward. And this might be a little unfair, but I feel that much of the criticism is coming from people whose work and opinions might have never had the same impact as this movement. And now even their criticisms are only getting attention because of the enormity of this campaign. Nevertheless, if you have a problem with KONY 2012, I implore you to take a new course of action, start your own campaign, tell people what’s wrong with it, and what you think should be done.
So yes. I like nuance and I like criticism. But without solutions, you’re voice gets lost in the swarm of naysayers, and frankly you just sort of sound trivial.
Check out the links to get informed about the different sides of the issue, and you can form your own opinion. Feel free to share you thoughts below.