A friend of mine has a non-profit in which he raises money to provide academic scholarships to kids in South Africa. It’s a terrific organization doing terrific work. He raises funds on the platform of Academic Equality, and mostly mobilizes college students to host parties and fundraisers then works closely with students who are being provided scholarships. As he started his organization, I couldn’t help but notice it grew much more quickly than The Mentoring Project, an organization I started to provide positive male role models for kids growing up without fathers. I couldn’t help but wonder why.
As my friend and I talked about it, we wondered whether organizations that simply raise money in America and send that money overseas weren’t easier to grow because, quite frankly, they don’t require you to change the way you actually live? I know that sounds harsh, but think about it, if you could feel like a humanitarian for simply wearing a t-shirt and attending an occasional rally or updating your facebook status, or if you could feel like a humanitarian for taking a few hours a week out of your life and working with an actual child in an after-school program, which would you rather do? In other words, would you rather wear a t-shirt that says you are a humanitarian, or would you rather be a humanitarian?
My friend shared with me a term he’d learned that summed up our current dilemma: Slacktivism.
Are you a slacktivist?
Now to be fair, organizations building wells and freeing child soldiers and stopping sex-trafficking are doing extremely important work, but I don’t think we should feel all that altruistic for throwing them a twenty in exchange for a t-shirt. People need more than money, they need other people.
What if you laid out all your non-profit t-shirts and asked how you were directly dealing with the issue? And what if you no longer considered yourself altruistic unless the causes you supported were actually making your life more complicated? What if slacktivism wasn’t actually social change? What if it was just another way of exploiting the poor and marginalized, using them to foster our own false identity as humanitarians?
Does your activism cost you anything besides money? And in exchange for that money, do you get a social commodity and identity as an activist?