So, the Kony 2012 Campaign is taking some heat. Got me to thinking about these paragraphs I wrote a while back:
Already I can hear a self righteous voice on Facebook piping up in defense:
“At least they’re trying to help!”
This refrain is as familiar as it is ridiculous. I suppose that implicit in this locution is the moral condemnation of a populace that is very often not moved to caring action. In this manner, it is often uttered as a self reprimand that deifies the seemingly awesome actions of others as it defends against critical attacks upon them. Thing is, these critical attacks, properly applied, are also a way of helping. People who want to “help” need to know above all how easily they can fuck things up. In addition, it may in fact be the case that those ethereal aid workers you love so much aren’t helping at all and it is just your ‘they can do no wrong’ defense that keeps the planet blind to the style. The bottom line here is that we should be critical of everything. Of efforts to help, of our own need to defend, of our own motivations, everything. If we are going to criticize senate bills that claim to help Americans, then we should criticize the fuck out of Westerners who want to roll up into foreign lands bearing gifts. We should criticize the fuck out of natives in foreign lands who welcome this help with uncritically open arms. And they should listen intently.
And please give up this notion that you are good on your helping mission because your guide or fellow missionary is one of the natives. This beef I am describing is not about race or ethnicity; it is about ideology. When a woman told me one day that her ex-boyfriend (who was darker than me!) didn’t have a major problem with cats flying the Confederate battle flag, it struck me that she thought his claim had equal or greater weight than my own stance for no other reason than his also being black. Yeah. It doesn’t work like that. Anybody can hold a damaging or ignorant interpretation. Anybody can fail to establish context or locate their place in the grand scheme. And above all, anybody can be made to sell out. Remember what Kunta Kinte said…
So yeah. Don’t roll up in Africa with no knowledge of colonialism. Don’t think that the fact that all of these African natives have European or straight up American names is cool. Because that shit is problematic.
Don’t act like the genocide in Rwanda was in no way exacerbated by colonial and missionary power moves that arbitrarily divided ethnic groups according to property ownership. Because that would be a misattribution of historical causes.
Don’t neglect the mountain of anthropological literature on the problems of representation and cultural contact in favor of a late night infomercial about naked starving kids. Because that would be letting your suspect emotional response win out over your rationality.
You, like everybody else in the world, are attached to a historical style that conditions your actions even when you are ignorant of it. Come the fuck on. Google that shit.
Don’t "raise awareness" without raising history and its problems. That sediment is deep and it is covered over by good intentions and the dirty, fly-covered faces of children.