Monday, March 19, 2012

When outrage isn't enough to get your cause heard

A powerful article on Global Grind, titled White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin, is getting a lot of attention on Facebook and the Blogosphere. 

There are many points made in this article about discrimination that I've seen first hand. If the mistreated is identified as black, or an immigrant, or a Muslim, the story usually doesn't get much traction with the public. A lot of subtle stereotyping goes along with being part of these ethnic communities. However, there is one thing I will mildly disagree with, and that is regarding the comparison between the Stop Kony 2012 movie and the recent killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, innocent black youth, gunned down by a security guard: 
Race. America's elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn't sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude [sic].  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.
Read more: 
If you haven't seen the Stop Kony 2012 film or know about Trayvon Martin's killing, see the following clips:

Stop Kony 2012

Young Turks clip related to the killing
of Trayvon Martin

Both clips make use of moral outrage to get their point across. Both movies also can be viewed in high def. But the kind of reaction they are getting is very different. Real racial issues aside, there are strategic issues why the Stop Kony 2012 movie took off and media related to the killing of Trayvon Martin is taking longer to get the same attention. 

If we look at this situation from a social media strategy perspective, the Stop Kony film is tactically designed to outrage viewers with the goal of getting them to fork over money. It is actually designed from beginning to end to affirm how good viewers are, not so much about actually making a change in Africa, not moral outrage. This is not to focus on the pros and cons of the Stop Kony movem
ent, but it does help in identifying the social media strategy involved. Also, the movie was produced in such a technically awesome way that a person really could easily get caught up in it. A person who knows a bit more about Uganda knows that the Ugandan government also uses child soldiers and that Joseph Kony is out of the country and possibly even dead.

With Trayvon's killing, there is plenty of outrage, but there has not yet emerged a very focused effort to explain what viewers should do about it, except "fight", in the words of the author. Also, there is a lot of loose talk by minorities about "us" and "them", that can alienate white would-be allies. True, there is plenty of reason for outrage over Trayvon's murder and I understand first hand the frustrations of discrimination. Yet, efforts to mobilize should be done in a way that exercises our rights as citizens and at the same time organize around a few viable tasks in a way that brings us together, not force us apart.

Trayvon's life should be documented and marketed as a film, and it needs to be done in such a way that viewers feel empowered to do something about it, not just be angry. Otherwise this whole story will get lost in the next news cycle like any other story. I hope I'm wrong, but that is what usually happens.

[Edit on March 30, 2012: Trayvon Martin's girlfriend has testified she was speaking to him on the phone before he was gunned down. This could be the evidence that proves Trayvon was killed in cold blood. More information on The Guardian here.]

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