Instead of discussing “Kony 2012” directly, I want to quickly look at one peculiar defense of it. Recently, Brian McLaren defended Kony 2012 and Invisible Children, saying
For all their imperfections, projects like Kony 2012 can be a kind of Gateway Activism … involving people in causes that they might have never engaged before. Just as arresting Kony will only be a small step in bringing a better life to Uganda’s children, many projects are only a small step. But they get people caring, and that’s big.
Projects like Kony 2012 can help young people choose an identity of activism, in solidarity with people on the other side of the road or the tracks, or the world. That can be a gateway to a whole new perspective on life.
It’s a peculiar defense, and troubling. I read it having just finished the first chapter of Jennings’ book on race and theology. Jennings has a quote from Toni Morrison that should echo in our minds when we hear this unqualified confidence in American activism (at the site of African tragedy):
For the settlers and for American writers generally, this Africanist other became the means of thinking about body, mind, chaos, kindness, and love; provided the occasion for exercises in the absence of restraint, the presence of restraint, the contemplation of freedom and of aggression; permitted opportunities for the exploration of ethics and morality, for meeting obligations of social contract, for bearing the cross of religion and following out the ramifications of power. (Jennings quotes it on p. 62; it comes from Morrison’s book, Playing in the Dark, p. 47-48).
I don’t want to uncharitably read McLaren as offering us nothing but this kind of Africanist discourse whereby Africa becomes the location that allows a white Christian ethics of activism (“bearing the cross of religion and following out the ramifications of power” through activist intervention). His post is honestly too brief and I, quite honestly, need to get to work. However, I thought it was worth highlighting his post as a symptom of a larger “activist” trajectory and to ask that we think through this activism with Toni Morrison’s words fresh in our minds.