The blogosphere has been very busy the past few days, and on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and many other spaces, the most spoken word is probably Kony.
As another one of our bloggers has described, Joseph Kony is a truly despicable human being, and made extremely famous after a non-profit called the Invisible Children popularized a video called “Kony 2012″ – a misleading title, as no one is trying to elect this man but rather depose him and stop his child-kidnapping practices.
Kony is a terrible man. About this there is no doubt. But the shocking spread of the IC’s video, like wildfire around dashboards and blogs around the world, while doing its job in spreading awareness, has shown something remarkably negative about “first-world” countries’ affinity for schadenfreude.
Invisible Children is not a respectable charity by most standards. They have been extremely shady with their collected donations, they seem to spend most of their money on production videos, and while awareness is indeed the first step to fixing any problem, they haven’t taken much of a second step, or even a slow crawling motion. In fact, so much of their information is five years outdated and their video non-reflective of Ugandan measures taken against this villain it seems they seem to want to raise awareness of their organization more than the crisis itself. (Subjective, I guess, but if the crisis fits…) In fact, recently they have put out a defensive statement that essentially says, when boiled down, “You’re wrong! We’re helping because we say we are!” They refuse to let their financial information to be audited despite claiming they are financially transparent. They claim to be involved with “on the ground operations” which mainly seem to be providing arms to the Ugandan government, and (questionably) less than a quarter of their money goes to that. It’s… very sketchy.
But more important than IC’s rather publicized failings, the first-world reaction to this problem reeks of colonialism and a certain innate racism in our reactions to this “third-world problem.” The IC’s video shows white people saving the poor, incapable Africans out of their struggles. This kind of thinking is so ingrained in the American and Western World’s way of thinking that it is probably not surprising to see (at first, I didn’t give it another thought!)
However, on further inspection into other crises in many other countries, the White Savior trope so often seen in movies (Atlantis, anyone?) fails when it comes to reality. Ugandans don’t need a bunch of “educated white people” to drop by their country and fix it up. (We can’t even choose a GOP candidate for an election in 8 months!) Their own governments and charities are actually completely capable of aiding their own people. Giving to a group like IC only enforces the idea in our society that people of color can’t solve their own problems without a whole truckload of white people helping. (As George Takei said on Twitter about the movie The Help: White People Solve Racism may have been a more apt title.)
The sensationalism surrounding Kony 2012 also highlights how fast we Americans are to forget about other crises. Once we’ve given our five dollars to some American organization that thinks we know best, we don’t bother to follow up. Does anyone even talk about Darfur anymore? How about the many other human rights abuses that could use our help? (That link is pretty condescending, and I don’t appreciate the tone of voice the post takes, but they still exist.)
We love to feel like we can help those in misery – it makes us feel good, it helps those oppressed, and there’s actually nothing wrong with that. But exploding it into a celebration of the sophisticated, learned white over the powerless barbarians in Africa, as this has become, is nothing less than schadenfreude – taking personal pleasure in other people’s pain.
There are better charities than the Invisible Children that actually help these situations and put their money where their mouth (or expensively produced video) is. But more importantly, and this is what I’m trying to get across: We are not the saviors of the world, nor do we have the right to pretend we are, just because we come from a country that has been dubbed “first-world”.
Do not misunderstand me. Awareness is extremely important and spreading awareness is good, but a charity solely about spreading awareness isn’t doing enough good just by letting people know – like a poke on the shoulder. “Hey dude, heard what happened in Uganda?” – walks away swaggering.
So. It’s time to stop acting like we can just by making pretty films, and actually remembering that charity must be intersectional and broad. Focusing on the hip issue of the day isn’t helpful – giving money to groups that actually understand the complex culture of these crisis areas is. Most importantly, the most helpful thing we as a culture can do right now? Be humble.
Stay informed and get involved with the discussion!