I can’t drink the Kool-Aid and get on the ALS Bucket Challenge train when all I really want to do is dump ice on my soul to cool the rage.
Yesterday, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and instead of the usual IG fare of selfies, food, weekend scenery, art, and fashion, I spied a plethora of videos in which people dumped ice water on their heads to raise money for ALS. Now if you don’t know about the ice water bucket challenge, it has gripped social media like crazy, garnering popularity and 15.6 million in donations in less than a month, all in the name of ALS research and awareness. Celebrities have really taken to this challenge, with powerhouses like LeBron James, Oprah, and even Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J participating.
This is a nice effort. But to be completely honest – it is a rare disease. One-to-two out of 100,000 people develop it. Likely, you don’t know anyone who has it. And frankly, I am confused and disappointed in the public’s fervent upsweep, reflected in donated dollars, of a comparatively needless health campaign. When there is a current health emergency – the 2014 Ebola outbreak – and folks are dealing with more urgent and relevant issues at hand, why has this challenge gotten so popular in the past few weeks?
I don’t have a problem with funding for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), popularly known as Lou Gehrigs’s disease. It is terrible and more research should be done to eradicate it and increase the quality of life for those who have it. However, it ain’t going nowhere. It’s not about to bring the United States down to its proverbial knees. Even more, rates are higher in Caucasian populations striking mostly middle-aged men. So statistically speaking, it is a rare old white man’s disease.
All the while, we have some urgent states of domestic and global affairs. People are talking about Ferguson, and the multiple victims of police brutality: Michael Brown, Ferguson, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, and Donte Parker. People are talking about Israel and Palestine, as Israel continues to pummel Gaza. People are talking about mental illness and suicide, at the news of my childhood favorite, Robin Williams. Earlier this summer, people were talking about the epic child refugee crisis at the U.S – Mexico border. Despite the fact that the news is heavy on the heart, we are having some critical conversations.
People are talking about the long-standing deep structural issues that give rise to big stories, which are often the tips of the iceberg. To illustrate, scholar Merlin Chowkwanyun frames the Ferguson protests within the history of civil protests in the 1960s in reaction to American’s explicit racial exclusion policies and practices. Ferguson, and other incidents of civil unrests in major cities, is not only about Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of police, it reflects the frustrations of those without access to hear their voice heard. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Others have pointed out the gross militarization of the police and the disparity media’s representation of Black victims and white suspects.
People are engaged. They are talking and mobilizing. Some people may say talk is cheap, but dialogue is essential to organizing and a precursor to dramatic change. No social change happens without a critical mass voice – when lots of people get together to say, “FUCK IT. Not anymore.” Collective voice, collective action, collective compassion, and collective consciousness are revolutionary. But when the mind is distracted, it is not engaged.
What is even more bothersome of the upsweep of this campaign is what it reflects. Ferguson was put on the map by social media. Now social media is inundated with people throwing ice water on themselves in name of a disease that really isn’t a priority anyway you slice it. ALS is safe and apolitical – essentially due to its randomness and whiteness – unlike other social challenges that are systematic and based in social stratification. People can participate in this fun feel-good challenge without getting too serious, politically, and socially charged. Meanwhile, several West African countries are in a state of emergency due to the inadequacy of their health infrastructure to handle an epidemic, while water is a scarcity in many of those countries and here at home. Goodness, what about all of the celebrities who claim California as their home but dump clean ice water on their heads in the middle of a drought?
In the global village, we look like fools. And it is embarrassing.
What the fuck is wrong with us?
This country is a big immature child who refuses to expand its emotional capacity to process pain, injustice, and trauma. Privileged folks have a nasty habit denying injustices and distracting themselves from serious issues, mainly because they can. And as a privileged country, we do the same. We refuse to keep it all the way real and instead just sweep shit under the rug, which only perpetuates our inner pathology. We don’t do the emotional work. We reach for the shiny new toy to self-soothe our tantrums. We cover it up, deny it, and dust our hands, all the while saying, “Everything is fine! Ferguson, what? I just donated money to ALS!”
And the privileged few among us are especially guilty. No wonder the participation in the ALS Bucket Challenge is highly racialized and classed.
It’s time to fucking grow up, America, and cut the bullshit.
This is what’s real. The United States has one of the most embarrassing maternal death rates among other developed nations – 18.5 women die per 100,000 births and the rates are rising. Meanwhile, 4,347 non-Hispanic Black men are incarcerated per 100,000 US residents. While celebrities and social media whores dump ice water in an effort to raise now15 million dollars for ALS, these issues are simply unaddressed. In keeping in all-the-way-public-health real, a disease like ALS is a non-motherfucking factor. So I urge you to think about what it is that has made this campaign a 15 million dollar factor and how we can keep this country on track with the right conversations at the right time.