13 Mar 2012

The problem with Kony 2012

I feel like I know what IC is all about, and why their accuracy is disputable. Beyond the hard facts and the opinions and intentions of the people of Uganda, the main beneficiaries of this campaign, there are certain tell-tale signs in their documentary that made me avoid the share button. 

When I was in high-school, our American exchange teacher took us to see an American-made documentary about the Rroma people. The message was admirable, but the movie was horrible. I understood the message of compassion and tolerance it attempted to convey, but speaking to an audience who had grown up with these people, it was clear how one-sided and irrelevant their attempt at awareness was. First of all, the documentary featured the Rroma living in the Transilvanian region of Romania, a much more sedentary and well-adjusted population than the one in Bucharest, which the movie aimed to make viewers more tolerant towards. The entire film was so lacking in context because it was made by pretentious foreigners who thought they had a firm grasp on decades, if not centuries of ethnic issues, and they lacked any sort of historical or sociological context.

I grew up with the Rroma in Bucharest. As I child I grew up fearing them. It wasn’t circular reasoning that made me or my generation avoid them. We weren’t taught to fear them out of prejudice. It was experience. Their people had a perceived tendency towards muggings, beatings and their own intolerant, uneducated attitude towards non-Rroma. Rroma-preponderent neighbourhoods have always had larger crime rates. We saw their culture as one of opulence, loudness and prejudice, and a significant lack of even basic education. Most of them didn’t have national ID cards and very few of them even had basic education. It’s not something I blamed them for. I didn’t think it was their fault they were born in poverty. It was not their fault that their own lack of education and means of  emancipation put them in an unfortunate vicious circle where many individuals succumbed to crime. But sadly, it was these individuals that have shaped my perception of their culture.

And I had my share of personal, negative experiences with Rroma too. I knew so many kids who’d been picked on for being different, kids being bullied and beaten for carrying guitars or having long hair, kid’s who’d been mugged or even beaten without any reason. Kids who’d tried to fight back or run away only to have a revengeful group of Rroma kids waiting for them outside their school or home. So much of this happened to me too. I lost phones, wallets and clothes to Rroma muggings. I was injured and robbed in broad daylight in a central park in Bucharest. In middle school, I was chased by knife-wielding Rroma children a few years younger than I was at the time.

I know this kind of fear often develops into hatred and racism, and I like to think I’ve grown into a tolerant, enlightened adult. I know you can’t judge a people by the action of individuals, and I know there are so many succesful, educated and well-adjusted people of Rroma descent living in our city and country. All I’m saying is that there was more to the Rroma issue than these foreign film-makers understood, and the bad reputation some of those individuals gave their culture was a hard thing to wash away.

And here was this documentary depicting an entirely different Rroma culture from an entirely different part of our country. This was a Rroma community that was hard working and well-adjusted. And the people who’d made this documentary, after spending a few weeks filming in Transilvania, felt they had reached complete understanding of the Rroma issue in Romania and were now trying to rid us of our irrational fear and prejudice of the Rroma people in Bucharest. It was so pretentious, self-indulgent and misinformed it made me sick.

This is what I see when i watch Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 documentary. A bunch of well-intended but pretentious outsiders who think they have a clear grasp of decades of struggle in someone else’s country. If you do a little bit of research, you'll find that the opinion of the Ugandan people is entirely different. More on this in my next post.

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