I sometimes catch myself having an unabashed chuckle over a post from Stuff White People Like. The blog satirically lists and describes things that white people like, including TED Talks (which allow us to feel smart without requiring work, time or effort), pea coats in winter (because they are European, Coastal, and vintage – 3 of white people’s favourite things), and comparing politicians to Hitler (but make sure you don’t use the names of other dictatorial figures or you might get a blank stare).
Recently I read a SWPL post about how much people love awareness. I think you should read it. But here’s a sneak peek:
What makes this even more appealing for white people is that you can raise awareness through expensive dinners, parties, marathons, selling t-shirts, fashion shows, concerts, eating at restaurants and bracelets. In other words, white people just have to keep doing stuff they like, EXCEPT now they can feel better about making a difference.
This goes hand-in-hand with what has become known as slacktivism, where, as Malcolm Gladwell points out, casual observers can participate in social change through low-cost activities, like joining a “Save Darfur” facebook group. It has become easier for us to express ourselves, but harder for that expression to actually have a real impact.
As a blogger who loves social justice, this has sent me reeling into a whirlwind of questions. What is true activism? What is true awareness? Does blogging count as raising awareness or activism? What about going to an anti-trafficking event? Or marching for justice in a community walk? Or writing a play? Or wearing one dress for 6 months? Or sending post cards to human trafficking victims? Or writing a book? Or signing a petition?
Over the last week I have put some serious thought into the purpose of blogging about sex trafficking. Here is what I came up with:
- Awareness leads to accountability. People can no longer say, “I didn’t know” if they are caught being part of the problem.
- Awareness in some cases can lead to inaction. In regard to sex tourism and paying for sex, some men will be persuaded by information to not act on their desires to use a prostituted woman or child. This is good.
- Information hopefully leads into conversation, through which opinions are formed. My hope is that HFTS will become a place you feel comfortable commenting and starting conversation. I had a woman come up to me at a recent event and say that she came that night thinking prostitution should be legalized, but after the conversation left believing that it would exploit the vulnerable. Her actions will now reflect this new opinion.
- Spreading awareness reminds people that the world does not revolve around them. There are issues bigger and more worthy of our time, money, and passion than pursuing self-centered goals that ultimately result in stagnant, boring lives. Selfless people are more likely to act on behalf of others, and it is awareness that initially equips and inspires them into action.
One thing is for sure: awareness should never be an end in itself. As Clay Shirky says in “The Political Power of Social Media,” awareness and the use of social media to spread it should not be a “replacement for action as much as a coordination for it.”
This is a reminder that we should not have misguided optimism about changing the world just because we join a facebook group or tweet about a social justice event. In the same way I must be careful that blogging does not become something to hide behind instead of living differently and taking action even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. But for me, this is what it boils down to:
Social reformation always starts with awareness, and that is why I write.