A New Kind of “Color-Blind” Human Rights Discourse in a “Facebook World”: Unpacking the Hierarchical Humanitarian Sensibility of Kony 2012

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 17:00
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Benjamin FOLEY, Rutgers University, USA
Human rights discourse has never been politically or culturally neutral. It has always been an ideology that formulates a racialized hierarchy between the savior and the saved. Here I explore how the online advocacy film KONY 2012 utilizes a sort of “color-blind” ideology associated with the “Facebook”  demographic/ generation to reinscribe a racialized hierarchy between the savior and the saved. To do so I examine KONY 2012’s representation of the “Facebook” donor’s/ viewer’s obligation to help others. I explore how this myopic lens emphasizes improved “race relations” while at the same time naturalizing the racialized politics of humanitarian intervention. Through a content analysis of the film, I argue that the “color-blind” humanitarian sensibility of filmmaker and narrator Jason Russell and KONY 2012 campaign supporters obscures the agency and autonomy of other humanitarian allies as well as Ugandan beneficiaries represented in the film. It also conflates American military power with the defense of human rights, and formulates a racialized ranking of “unacceptable” and “acceptable” suffering where a warlord merits organized protest, but poverty in resources does not. By employing a savior trope in a color-blind ideological frame, KONY 2012 is, I argue, a global racial project that reifies racial hierarchy without directly appealing to racial language.