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Mar. 7th, 2012


I've been asked over and over to comment on the Kony 2012 thing, and at first I was holding back because I didn't know enough about it. The campaign went viral pretty fast, and props to them for that. It's well made and it definitely does what it's supposed to: inspire an emotional reaction. But it also seemed problematic to me, and I wasn't sure why. I'm not qualified to break it down, but a few things stood out for me in the wake of chanting and tweets, most notably two things… this picture:

And that tweet they had about how they are the voices of Ugandans.

Those things may seem small, but they help shape the rest of the campaign's flow. It isn't just about, "Oh well that's nothing, they mean well": when an entire campaign is built around white guilt and speaking for a monolithic idea of a "people", it becomes problematic. And that's just the beginning of the issues.
Suffice to say, it gave me some really weird feelings, and I'm too new to this to really be able to break it down in a way that is easily communicable. There are hundreds of well educated, eloquent bloggers out there who are qualified to speak on the subject and I'll be linking heavily to them rather than making a fool of myself too much longer.

What's going on with Kony is not a new issue, nor is it [ a unique issue ], but by putting this "evil" face to it who retaliates with horrible killing sprees whenever we've tried to stop him with military tactics in the past, we're setting a hundred thousand people up to just stop and forget as soon as the hype passes as many more die behind them… the same way they did with Darfur, Syria and Libya, and every other popular social issue that's crossed in front of us in the last few years. What happens when Kony is "stopped"? How will he be stopped? It's naive to think it will stop once he's put away, after another historically large and oppressive force has been armed with American weapons? On top of that, he has an entire army, he was a replacement for someone else who was doing it first. It's going to take more than good movie making skills to make a real difference.

Whether or not this issue is currently "the worst" now, or in all of history is also speculative and an oversimplification of a complicated and intense issue. There is also some talk about how this ends up being pretty convenient for some [ other issues ].
Nothing is ever as simple as "lets be the good guys and stomp out evil", and it's not like the people in charge haven't known about this for a while. Reblogging like crazy is not going to do much, if anything, and forcing the hand of a madman will probably do more harm than good (and it already has). It was almost laughable for the movie to spoon-feed us the revelation that after years of public rabble-rousing, Kony "suddenly" knows the USA has sent in troops. As if he is as ignorant about military action against him as the average white college kid is about the politics of war.
I encourage you to support good campaigns actively: give money, give time, have a fundraiser, be a part of something more than simply clicking 'share' or changing your icon and giving yourself a pat on the back. Not everyone is capable of doing all that, and that doesn't mean you suck as a person, but don't fall prey to sensationalism and racist narratives that take the power away from the people who need it. If your ability is limited and you really want to help, take the time to find out the best avenue. These issues are usually a lot more nuanced than we'd like to believe.

[ On Kony 2012 ]
[ You Don't have My Vote ]
[ We got Trouble ]
[ The Visible Children Blog ]
[ Kony 2012 via Vlogbrothers ]
[ The Visible Problem with Invisible Children ]
[ Kony 2012: Causing more harm than good ]
"Why is it the very people you are trying to “help” feel more offense than relief with your aid? “They come here to make money and use us.” “It makes us feel terrible to be presented as being so stupid and helpless.” These are direct quotes. This was the sentiment of the majority of the people that I interviewed in varying degrees. I definitely didn’t see or hear these voices or opinions in your video. If you are to be “saving” the Acholi people, the very least you can be doing is holding yourself accountable to them and actually listening to what they have to say."
[ Think twice before donating to Kony 2012 ] hat tip to Alisa.
[ Do not donate to Kony2012 ]
Video: [ Avoiding scams, and Kony 2012 ]
[ Interview with the photographer who took the photo ] hat tip to Iridescent.Girl. Note: this isn't particularly relevant to the criticisms, it's just interesting.
[ Two visions of 'black' evil, one white gaze: the murder of Trayven Martin and Kony 2012 ]
[ The soft bigotry of Kony2012 ]

ETA: Invisible Children [ has responded ] to the criticisms, sorta.

So have Ugandan people.
[ Growing outrage in Uganda over the film ]
“Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong,” said Javie Ssozi, an influential Ugandan blogger.
“Have they thought of the consequences? Making Kony ‘famous’ could make him stronger. Arguing for more US troops could make him scared, and make him abduct more children, or go on the offensive.”

[ African voices respond to Kony2012 ]
[ Ugandan screening of Kony2012 causes outrage ] Viewers threw rocks before the screening even ended. They are angry.

Also of note, Kony2012 creator compares human rights to getting an oscar :
No one wants a boring documentary on Africa. Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool. …We view ourself (sic) as the Pixar of human rights stories. …They are getting in touch with the Academy Awards. They want this to be up for an Oscar.
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