Kony 2012: Lessons in activism and ignorance

Posted on March 21, 2012


The entry below is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written this year. It’s part of my weekly “THE BUCK(MAN) STOPS HERE” series, all of which you can find on the Red & Black website.

When you think about it, it’s formulaic.

Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” has it all: a dimpled white toddler, African children in school uniforms, pictures of white people posing with said Africans, sick graphics, a sample from a track off “Watch the Throne” — not to mention the easiest 30-minute explanation of Ugandan politics you’ll find anywhere — it’s a flawless, passion-inducing spectacle brought to you by Final Cut Pro.

It’s a recipe for pathos, spoon-fed to privileged youth masses, and it tastes so sweet.

And it comes to no surprise that “Kony 2012” is easy to digest. The film, posted online Monday, went wildly viral — undoubtedly among the most effective human rights-related pieces to do so — and has garnered over 56 million hits on YouTube alone. That’s because Invisible Children’s formula works. It’s a chocolate-layered call to action whose insides ooze with factual misleading and the building blocks of a white savior complex.

Not that I blame anyone who watched the video, felt compelled by it and shared it. In fact, I applaud my generation for finally caring about something. Causes like corrupt politics, child soldiers and sex slavery deserve our attention.

But it’s more complex than a fast-paced montage of captivating stills. And “Kony 2012” brings to mind a host of other problems, too — ones I have with my demographic.

Once the video had acquired nearly as many skeptics as it had supporters, an outpouring of examinations of Invisible Children and the state of Uganda sprung to life.

It was widely discussed that the three head honchos of Invisible Children make nearly 90 grand a year (at a nonprofit, mind you) and that the organization has transparency issues [“Should I Donate Money to Kony 2012 or not?” VICE, March 7].

More importantly, others debunked the “myths” of the video, for instance the suggestion that Northern Ugandans want American help (not all do), that the conflict is one-sided (it isn’t), that stopping Kony will mean instant justice (it won’t) and that Ugandans are in a period of enormous strife (they widely consider themselves in a period of peace) [“Taking ‘Kony 2012’ Down a Notch,” Justice in Conflict, March 7].

But, believe it or not, who’s right or wrong isn’t even my problem here. I’m not arguing doing nothing as opposed to doing something. I don’t mean to condemn Invisible Children.

What I’d like to instead remind — nay, shout at — my peers is this: activism cannot and should not propel blindly. Idealistic, under-informed activists are tantamount to morally bankrupt do-nothings. If you are to attach yourself to the Kony 2012 cause, learn about it. Don’t just buy a $30 action kit and paint the town with Kony’s face without understanding the history and convoluted politics of Uganda.

Moreover, I beg my peers to consider this: what if we, as a demographic, were as impassioned about everything as this video can make us?

What if we arose from the depths of the woefully under-informed? What if we possessed the implicit motivation to inform ourselves on — to know, to be able to debate — every important issue?

Imagine the world we’d prepare ourselves to live in.

Coincidentally, many of my peers shared “Kony 2012” on Super Tuesday — few, if any at all, had discussed the elections at hand.

Many University students are on the cusp of graduation — of financial independence — in which today’s issues of health care, economics and natural resources will start to affect them.

Atlanta, an area around which many University students reside, is one of the sex trafficking capitals of the world. And I don’t think advocacy for that issue has nearly gone viral enough.

The issues of our nation and the world at large are often vague, ideologically multifaceted and tough to swallow. Facing them won’t make you feel as good as “Kony 2012” did.

But it’s imperative that we ultimately do. Otherwise, point blank, we risk plenty of conflict of our own.

Whether “Kony 2012” amazed or infuriated you, use it as inspiration. Become active in whatever issues you find critical.

Just make sure you understand them.

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