The issues I feel surrounding “ice bucket” and similar “awareness” trends

Many of you have probably heard about this new “ice bucket challenge” trend, which is to apparently raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Similarly recently there was the “no make-up selfie” campaign for breast cancer. I’ll make this point here at the beginning: 1. This post doesn’t concern everyone who did the challenge and donated or shared information to raise awareness. 2. I’m not ungrateful for the money that these campaigns do raise. I’m not just shitting on people who did this, but hopefully some will see the issues behind it that some of us in the disabled community finds and finds uncomfortable. Others do share my views, but everything in this post is written for my two cents on the topic.

I think my first point is that many people are doing this under the guise of “raising awareness”. Naming a disease does not contribute much to awareness, which is so much than knowing a disease’s name and that it exists. If you’re fundraising, then call it that! Fundraising itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the same as raising awareness. For the breast cancer selfies and various other breast cancer campaigns, what does naming the disease tell anyone? I know many people *did* share information, such as information about the disease itself but also how to check your breasts for any changes and so on. This is good! That is raising awareness! Not everyone who has taken part in these trends comes under the group of people simply taking part in a trend and feeling like they’ve done something.

But some do. Day in, day out, we disabled people deal with so-called allies like this, people who make out they’re “on our side” and are fighting the fight with us, but when push comes to shove, they’re nowhere to be seen. When we tell them that something they’ve said or done is problematic, unlike a true ally they switch off from the conversation and take offense, instead of listening, apologizing, and doing all they can to change the way they think about that particular aspect. They are in it for the “ally cookies”; they do a little bit, feel it’s enough, but then when they’re called out, apparently one disabled person whom they saw as rude is enough to have them give up for the entire community. Not exactly an ally!

There’s no doubt that not everyone doing these trends are ableist or false allies. I’m not saying that, and if you think I am, you might as well stop reading right now. In case anyone would like to derail this, I will state here, in bold, that these campaigns *do* raise both money and to a smaller extent awareness. But to me there are broader issues. Most people, if not all, doing these trends have good intentions, but there’s something in there of people getting their kudos for doing something against diseases but then not actually giving a shit for its sufferers right here, right now. There is a focus on treatments and hypothetical future cures–which of course we all want anyway–but then the same people don’t care for the disabled community as a whole around them. And I think that’s why these things make me uncomfortable. I don’t doubt there are people who have done this challenge who have or will still go on to make fun of Stephen Hawking, who has ALS. Many of us in the disabled community will tell you that while we are disabled by our diseases, issues of ableism make our lives more difficult in many aspects, so there’s something off, to me, about people joining these trends to do their little bit for these diseases, but then continuing on with gross ableism and not actually caring about sufferers or the disabled community beyond that.

If you think this is me not caring about research, then you’re wrong. As both a lupus sufferer and an anatomist, I know how vital research is. I know it’s not just millions of pounds going into vague research ideas about a cure that may or may not exist. My issue is not with the researchers, nor the charities raising money for research, nor the people who do care beyond the trends but who also have contributed to them. If you’re still getting this message, I can’t help but feel you’re plugging up your ears saying “la la la” because you feel you’ve done a good thing by contributing to fundraising and awareness; you have. Believe me, I’m fully aware that there may be no cure for lupus, but I know that research is about more than just a possible cure. If there was a trendy campaign for lupus, I’d be grateful, both for the money it raises and for the awareness, even if small. I’ll spell out again that I’m not saying these campaigns are useless, nor that they don’t do what they’re designed to do, again, even if lacking on the awareness side. The issue to me is people thinking that they’re not ableist or that they’ve done all they need to do by joining a trend and giving a few pound to charity. I’m aware we can’t do everything, we can’t campaign and share information and fundraise for every possible disease.

It’s not that the research shuns the living community in favor of a hypothetical cure. It’s the false allies who do, and it’s the false allyship that I have a problem with. It’s a sad fact of life that disease research needs so much money–big pharma etc. is another issue altogether. I guess this whole thing is less about the trends themselves and more about false allies, or people who don’t actually care about ALS but who just want to jump on the latest trend. <strong>If this doesn’t apply to you, then I’m not talking about you.</strong> I’m not saying we don’t want your money either–hell, I’m grateful for research money wherever it comes from, as, cures aside, research leads to new treatments that greatly improve the quality of life for people suffering all sorts of conditions. But remember that supporting the disabled community goes far beyond giving money for research, and if you don’t care beyond the faceless name of a disease and its possible cure, definitely if you’re ableist in any way and would use the fact that you did donate to derail all of these arguments, then just know that you’re not helping the community as much as you think. In any social justice fight, I’m aware that we do what we can and often that isn’t a lot, but I won’t stand for the way so-called allies try to force us to feel grateful for a tidbit, for scraps, while they continue ignoring the disabled community, people who basically say “but I said something good against ableism, you can’t dismiss anything else I said”, and believe me, I’ve had those. It’s not a case of saying everyone has to suddenly become advocates of every disease and that the general public doing a little bit here and there isn’t effective. It’s a case of the people who shoot us down, derail us, basically tell us we’re wrong about our own experiences while claiming kudos because they fulfilled some trend for some disease at some point.

Caveats. (Fairly intuitive, I’d think, but there’s always someone who misses chunks and will shoot me down for being ungrateful.)
1. I don’t speak for all of the disabled community, obviously, and not for those with ALS.
2. Any offense on my part is not geared toward everyone who took part or everyone who is grateful for these campaigns.
3. I’m not saying we can’t all do our little bit and dismissing you because you’re not a full-time disability advocate.
4. I’m not saying that everyone who messes up and says something ableist is a false ally.
5. Finally, what I call false allies is not always people purposefully just jumping on bandwagons and wanting kudos when they know they blatantly don’t care. Often they have good intentions but again and again derail and silence disabled people on disability and ableism in general in favor of their own views.

Some links about ALS:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amyotrophic_lateral_sclerosis
http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/amyotrophiclateralsclerosis/detail_ALS.htm
http://journeyonwithroyce.blogspot.co.uk/
http://thealsexpress.com/my-blog/
http://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/neuro/specialty-programs/als-clinic/als-resources/Pages/meet-patty-blake.aspx

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About wolfennacht

I'm a 25 year old disabled polyglot who mainly spends time writing novels and poetry, teaching myself languages, and reading too much. I use a wheelchair. I am currently a grad student in biomedical science. I mainly blog about my physical and mental illnesses and procrastinate writing on my crochet blog!
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