Slacktivism: When Your Activism Isn't Really Activism

Activism or SLACtivism

Stop with your modern and stylish bag and wallet made by at-risk women in Nepal. Please do not feel so self-satisfied, thinking you are giving someone a better life by giving yourself a brand new iPad sleeve. 

Uncle Dave slaps a rainbow filter over his profile picture. That girl you went to high school stars a tweet about how #blacklivesmatter. You get an email from a coworker begging you to stop modern-day slavery by buying a bracelet. Call me a cynic, but count me among those that say that “liking” isn’t necessarily helping. Sometimes “harmless activism” is actually not harmless at all.

There’s a word for political action that requires very little action at all and that word is slacktivism. As organizers, we think that engaging people in a small way will lead to greater engagement but, according to experts, that’s not how it works. As good people hoping to make the proverbial difference, you think that doing anything is better than nothing but, in some cases, you’re wrong.

But for me personally, one of the most annoying slacktivist causes is human trafficking. As a women with experiences in the sex industry, I exhaust myself explaining the difference between forced and voluntary prostitution and how even the most vulnerable sex workers aren’t asking to be rescued — they want rights. Last week, Amnesty International drafted a proposal that would recommend the decriminalization of prostitution — a major win! Until Big Name Feminists and other celebrities signed a petition in opposition, at which point sex workers and their advocates had to scramble to come back with the virtual slapdown.

Look. We know you mean well. But just, stop. No, seriously, stop

Especially stop with your conspicuous consumption masquerading as politics. Stop with your modern and stylish bag and wallet made by at-risk women in Nepal. Please do not feel so self-satisfied, thinking you are giving someone a better life by giving yourself a brand new iPad sleeve. To be fair, I am not personally researching the claims these products make about where their profits go. But that’s just my point: Neither are you. Let’s just agree that it’s a bad sign when their websites are pimping pictures of white women enjoying the products juxtaposed against pictures of disembodied brown hands. It’s even worse when survivors are being introduced by name in a way that is skeevily similar to how escorts are oftentimes marketed.

So enough with those “African Sun” and “Chocolate Cheetah” earrings. A cursory dig discovers the mastermind behind those offensively named earrings is — surprise!— a white woman from the midwest initially inspired to get involved in the issue of sexual slavery in Africa after documentary on the topic “hit home.” One woman’s poverty and vulnerability should not become another’s birthday cards and baby shower invites.

I let your “Je Suis Charlie” avatar slide, but trust me: I unfriend people who can’t tolerate a complicated view of women’s participation in the sex trades and who don’t let “victims” speak for themselves. It’s like Zuckerberg is purposely trolling the way all those ads for PUNJAMMIES™ are constantly appearing in my Facebook timeline, claiming my purchase of their culturally-appropriating pajama pants will help some sad, far-off Indian women forge a new life. Without evidence, let’s just assume your PUNJAMMIES™ purchase is an investment in some ugly pajamas.

Sometimes I feel like an asshole when I don’t dump a bucket of water on my head or wear pink to support breast cancer or, I mean, breast cancer research, or remind me again what the cause was behind that one because, honestly, I don’t know — which is exactly my point: political issues are typically more complicated than they appear at face (book) value. I don’t get involved if my point of view isn’t educated— and neither should you. 

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