Let’s Talk About Kony 2012
Have you seen the Kony 2012 video? If not, you’re missing a perfect example of a vibrant social justice effort that stops unfortunately short of Unitarian Universalist principles. Produced by an advocacy group targeting Joseph Kony, the violent rebel leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for arrest and prosecution, the 30 minute video does a great job creating awareness about a compelling social justice issue and making us feel there’s something we can do about it (which is to join their media campaign). So what’s the problem?
Well, this powerful story is laced with questionable assumptions, inaccurate information and troubling racial stereotypes. Plenty of folks have already waded into the debate, but what I want to point out is how this discussion highlights the need for partnership and accountability in social justice efforts. This is key to the UU approach to social justice. Being an ally for those who are suffering, instead of acting without listening and learning, is one way we affirm the inherent worth, dignity, wisdom and strength of victims like the Ugandans who have been displaced by the LRA violence. It’s no accident that the film oversimplifies the situation, because it’s easy to make mistakes when you act alone and out of your own sense of righteousness without connecting with the folks you are trying to help.
Youth and young adults are the prime audience for the video, which makes it a great topic for discussion among youth groups in UU churches. Here are some questions to consider:
- What did the video make you feel when you watched it? How can we be careful viewers of emotional media pitches?
- Do you agree that putting up posters and wearing bracelets will solve the problem? Could there be unintended consequences?
- Where can we learn more about the issues raised in the video?
- What would it mean to truly address injustice in that part of the world?
We should be glad that Americans who watch the video may learn something about a terrible tragedy, but awareness by itself is not enough. Our UU values and theologies teach us that working for justice is a lifelong commitment – incredibly unjust and complex situations, like the one going on in East and Central Africa, don’t change overnight because we want them to. Change usually requires sustained energy and resources from broad coalitions. Here are some resources that illustrate this type of relationship:
- Stories of UU congregations building coalitions to work for social justice in their communities
- Inspired Faith, Effective Action workbook for UU congregations (check out tips for being an accountable partner on page 11)
- Heeding the Call: Qualities of a Justice Maker curriculum for younger teens
By contrast, the Kony 2012 video seems to be more about the American narrator and his campaign than about the truth of the situation in Uganda. The filmmakers would do well to consider the parable of the rabbi who, while walking with a student on the way to the temple, gives a dollar to a homeless man who is asking for spare change. On the way back, the rabbi gives him another dollar. The student asks the rabbi why he gave to the same man twice, and the rabbi answers “The first time I gave for myself, but the second time I gave to help the man.”
This is about us and how we approach social justice, but it can’t be just about us and what we think. It also has to be about other folks, the folks we care about and are trying to help, and the hopes and needs they articulate for themselves. As allies and justice workers we have to be willing to listen, to learn, and to risk having our assumptions questioned or our approaches transformed if we want to practice our Unitarian Universalist values and have an impact in the world.