It’s not unusual for me to come across circumstances or phenomena that make me seriously question whether I live in the Twilight Zone or not. This past weekend I got a double dose of “Is everyone crazy or is it just me?”
Charity. Date. Auction. Need I say more?
Probably. So, here goes:
1.) The Problem with Charity
“We have previously suggested that philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr
Charity itself is problematic as most people involved in justice work know. If you’ve somehow missed the memo, here’s a brief sum up: Charity generally doesn’t talk about justice. Redbandaid aims to “make the world a happier place for those who can’t manage themselves.” Those who can’t manage themselves. This is the problem identified. Not inequalities of power, economy, status and so on. That’s because the nature of charity doesn’t usually invite questions or encourage critical thinking about social relationships. It does not address structural causes of the tragedies it rushes to “aid”. Charity involves patching up the wounds created by the skewed values and structural injustice inherent in society. Unfortunately, Redbandaid Foundation literally epitomises this idea with a mission to “heal the world one bandaid at a time”. Nevermind the fact that bandaids don’t heal. This is a recipe to treat symptoms, not causes.
2.) Missing the Point
And no one has a problem with this? Well, of course not because, as previously mentioned, charity doesn’t invite critical thinking but also, look at the way the audience is targeted: “Every event will be different and have special extras to keep it exciting…” and “We wish to raise awareness in a fun way…” Note to future humanitarian entrepreneurs: When the cornerstone of your approach is fun and excitement, you’re in danger of losing sight of the cause.
How come? Well, eventually you’ll find yourself trying to cater to and anticipate the whims and preferences of donors. Eventually, you’ll find that the donors are the focus of your events/projects, not the recipients. Unsurprisingly, the page of the charity date auction was full of the auction. The only mention of the “cause” was the name of the orphanage the proceeds would go to. One guy I spoke to said, in its defence, “At least it’s for a good cause.” I asked what the cause was. He had no idea. So, what about this orphanage then? What’s its story? Who are these girls? Do the caretakers know how you’re raising funds for them? Do they know it involved objectification of persons and an “after party”? Do they know that you’ve taken the opportunity of this good cause to advertise alcohol? I’m just wondering cause the orphanage has a Muslim name…
But I’m going off on a tangent. The point of doing good/the right thing or ameliorating instances of injustice is not fun or excitement. It’s an end in itself. Doing good is the point, the whole point. It’s not an afterthought or a bonus or excuse for yet another party. When you’re trying to lure people in by promising them a good time, you’re sort of bribing people. Bribery is not philanthropy’s best method.
But people aren’t interested in doing good unless there’s something in it for them, you say? You have to trick them into wanting to help, you say? Personally, I think that’s a pretty cynical point of view. I think plenty of people want to do better, do good – they just don’t know how or they feel incapacitated. I’m pretty sure that the founders of Redbandaid want to do good – as do some of their friends – and that’s enough to start with. But when people are only in it because they’re getting something out of it then they’re probably not the best people to be working with. Generally, you find some people trying to work off their guilty conscience or ambivalence or whatnot. Some are trying to lose themselves. Other people are playing the politics game. Some are just following the crowd. Then there’s this sort of event which allows for even less noble sentiments such as: the desire to hook up. I heard two guys talking about the auction and the conversation went something like this: “Budday they selling people – and it legal!” “What where? Let’s go!” Finally, and I’m not sure how anyone can miss this point: when you resort to bribing tactics, you end up compromising the whole endeavour. You, inadvertently or not, accept the status quo attitude of indifference to injustice and seeking to work around it instead of confronting it. This does not help anyone in the long run. It actually contributes to an environment that enables injustice to keep occurring.
I’m not saying that the organisers aren’t smart ladies. I understand that people sometimes think that if something’s fun, it can’t be harmful. Even though I’ve never met these women, I can’t help feeling that they’re big sweethearts who want to do a world of good. Gut feeling. However, it has to be said that sometimes fun is harmful. So, I’m going to throw out a few words on my thoughts on this concept of a charity date auction:
- objectification of persons
- self promotion
- sexing up a very non-sexy, very somber situation
All that being said, do you forgo charity completely? Not at all. It just needs to be accompanied by an understanding of the structure of injustice – how far it reaches and how we ourselves perpetuate it. It also requires humility, research and is hopefully part of a greater plan to address root causes of problems.
I think Redbandaid has good intentions and its heart in the right place. I’m really glad to know that some people my age are trying to do something more meaningful than just pleasing themselves 24/7. I would love to see them revise their approach and go at it with the enthusiasm they currently have. They are in a unique position amongst their peers to really make a difference and I hope they seize the opportunity. Best of luck to them.
Update: The featured photo has been cropped at the request of one of the “sweethearts” who didn’t want her face to be seen. Some information got cropped out as well as a result – at the bottom of the page was the name of the orphanage proceeds went to (Shaheed Girls’ Orphanage).