I have to admit, at first the little red squares on people’s Facebook profiles made me cringe. There were two reasons: first, this sort of thing has always triggered my most cynical side. Even in the 1990s, when people started wearing red ribbons to express solidarity with HIV/AIDS patients, I had really complicated, ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, it was a definite improvement over the dominant attitudes of the 1980s, which ranged between malign neglect and homicidal scapegoating. But on the other, the red ribbons seemed to quickly become more of a fashion accessory than an active political statement. Sometimes they seemed to be more about the person wearing them than the people who were at risk. It was even worse when Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” bracelets hit the scene. Imitators hit the scene before everyone had completely absorbed the idea of the originals. Even more than the red ribbons, they came to represent marketing more than social justice.
I have more examples of that sort of thing than I care to think. Every other day, it seems like we’re being asked to tweet a hashtag, recolor our avatars, or buy a special product to show what good people we are. We do it, and nothing changes, because we’re not really doing anything. [Read more…]