Trayvon Martin was murdered days before the Kony 2012 campaign went viral, a video that notched 100 million hits in just 10 days. While Martin’s case is just beginning to trend in the media, why has the injustice not captured our attention the same way as the Kony campaign? Here are some possible reasons:
1) The Race Equation.
The “soft bigotry” of the Kony 2012 video reinforces a long-standing paternalistic and colonialist narrative that white Westerners could "save" Africa by galvanizing an army of well-meaning activists across the pond. The story rests on an implicit framework of good (white) and evil (black) that says black violence threatens humanity and can only be defeated by well-intentioned, privileged Westerners. This equation is disempowering and contradictory by design. It implies that Ugandans and African are too weak to solve their own problems. Equally as important, it does not offer us as simple of a solution when the evil is white (read: George Zimmerman) and good is black (read: Trayvon Martin).
2) Lack of “A-list” celebrities.
The Kony 2012 campaign successfully targeted a number of the top 20 culture makers on their list, including Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber, to spread their word. Stars like Spike Lee, Russell Simmons, Gabrielle Union, and Mia Farrow have spoken out on Martin’s murder, but the campaign has not (yet?) enjoyed support from the same heavy-weight backers of Kony 2012 to make the campaign similarly ubiquitous. Before Trayvon Martin supporters try to get celebrity-backing, though, they should think twice: George Clooney’s foray into political activism and Madonna’s recent spat with the government of Malawi may have done more harm than good, including to add more fuel to the white savior argument fire.
3) It’s not exotic.
It is just sexier to help poor, disenfranchised people in another country, especially if it’s in Africa. It is much harder to face our own problems at home. Acknowledging that we have a race problem requires a depth of conversation, self-reflection, and controversy that many of us may not be willing to undertake. In on-going arguments about whether or not we are finally post-racial – especially after the election of an African American president – it is clear that we are more comfortable talking about problems in other countries than facing our own beliefs of race in the U.S.
4) The Kony 2012 video was slick.
Trayvon Martin’s case is garnering substantial support (the Change.org petition is driving the second highest amount of traffic on its site), but so far it (and every other public campaign in the history of the world) pales in comparison to the viral affect of the Kony 2012 video. Whether or not you support director Jason Russell’s appeal, you cannot deny he did a bang-up job of making its message personal. It had a cute kid, fast moving footage, compelling moral appeal, and easy ways to make a difference that connected the budding activist with peers. In fact, the video provides such a full-on visual experience that the average American watcher would be almost heartless not to order the action kit, or at least, tweet about it…twice.
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