“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”—Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1888)
It’s interesting to note that many of the same people who are trashing #CrimingWhileWhite on Facebook today, were trashing The Ice Bucket Challenge earlier on this year, and Movember a month or two before that. Regardless, their criticisms of these three initiatives are strikingly similar, and they all seem to boil down to these three concerns:
- this campaign steals attention and resources away from more important issues and campaigns
- the success of this campaign is a function of some sort of privilege (e.g., race, class, gender)
- the people participating in this campaign are doing so for selfish, self-seeking reasons. Each of these three criticisms has merit, and is worthy of a reasoned response.
1. Stealing the Spotlight?
A mistaken assumption behind a lot of the criticism I’ve heard is that the resources (e.g., time, money, attention) mustered by these campaigns are a kind of raw energy which can be easily converted into other (presumably more worthy) causes. That simply isn’t the case. It’s not as if people are doing THIS when they ought to be doing THAT. It’s more like people are doing THIS as opposed to doing NOTHING. For instance, it’s not as if people are reading #CrimingWhileWhite tweets when they really ought to be reading #AliveWhileBlack tweets. It’s more like people—who are, for one reason or another, normally unwilling to hear this message—are hearing it now, perhaps for the first time, and taking it to heart. Is it sad that it’s taken them this long? Sure. Is it pathetic that they have to hear it from a white person? Sure. But, as your pragmatic grandmother always used to say, better late than never!
If the history of moral progress teaches us anything, it’s that consciousness-raising is catchy and contagious: people who march for the abolition of slavery this year often end up marching for the emancipation of women next year. My guess is that Fox News watching folk who read #CrimingWhileWhite tweets this week will be far more likely to be receptive to #AliveWhileBlack tweets next week. Regardless, it’s important to remember that dramatic conversions on the Road to Damascus are rare in the City of Man. Change, in this real world of ours, is a painfully gradual process. Is this sad? Sure. A little pathetic? Yep. But what’s your alternative? Mass extermination of the unenlightened? Ethnic cleansing of the ignorant? Round up all the morons and ship them off to Siberia? Antarctica? Look, whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together; and we’re going to have to find a way to muddle through this madness together. There is no other way out of this nightmare. We didn’t create this mess—this mess of world-historical proportions—but it’s ours to clean up.
2. A Privileged Pursuit?
Is the success of initiatives like Movember and The Ice Bucket Challenge a function of privilege? Of course it is. How could it be otherwise? Is this sad? Sure. A little pathetic? Yep. But so what? Complaining incessantly about privilege is like complaining incessantly about bad weather: it gets us nowhere. Do you want to change the world OR merely interpret it in different ways? If you want to change it, then you’ve got to work—in the here and now—with imperfect people living in an imperfect world. And you’ve got to harness the power of privilege whenever you can. Privilege, like money, is not inherently evil: it can be used for good or evil. As such, rather than railing against privilege, why don’t you use whatever privilege you have for the good? Does this mean that we have to give up on our dream of a more just society? Does this mean we’re selling out? Of course not. It merely means that we’re striving for a better world whilst making the best of a bad situation.
3. A Selfish Pursuit?
Are some of the people involved in these initiatives doing so, in part, for less than noble reasons? Of course! How could it be otherwise? People are selfish and self-seeking, fickle and flawed; people like attention, and they like to show off (some far more than others)—and our motives are invariably mixed. But so what? If you’re waiting for a holy army of selfless saints to save us, you’re going to be waiting for a long, long time. This is the world we have. These are the people we have. We can choose to forge a more perfect world with these imperfect instruments OR we can sit at home and wait for some secular version of the Second Coming. You can choose to go down into the messy, frustrating, and frequently disappointing City of Man OR you can retire to the comforting simplicity of self-righteousness and cynicism. The choice is yours:
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015) * * *1Tony Hoagland, “Poem for Men Only,” Sweet Ruin (1992) * * *We are reshaping global perspective. Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly. Photo: Shareheads/Flickr
“Go back to the beginning. Think about it. Take, if you like, all day.”(1)