Ice Bucket Challenge: Did We Forget about Ferguson?


THE VIRAL video Ice Bucket Challenge has raised a significant amount of money for The ALS Association (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), currently reporting a whopping $15M in donations at the time of composition.

But where does one donate relief for the people of Ferguson, Missouri?

The embattled community will need bail and defense expenses for dozens of unjustly arrested citizens (reports vary wildly, between approximately 30 to as high as 78) and to feed and support their families, recovery for business owners whose establishments were looted. Add in the blow to educators who’ll lose their income while the area schools are shut down for the week amid the dangerous climate, as well as working moms now stuck for daycare and extra meal expenses while the kids are confined home for the week. Don’t forget that a family and community will need to come together to cover the cost of a burial and memorial for the murdered teen at the heart of the conflict.

“There are different devils behind these two ways a man can die in America. ALS is the devil that leaves us blameless, and Ferguson is the devil that is us, the one we dance with every day.” ~ Jia Tolentino, Time

The catalyst of the on-going standoff between police militarized to the teeth and enraged protesters, remember, was that 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot six times from a distance, with one bullet piercing through the top of his skull. He was walking through a street in his neighborhood, unarmed and black.

They’re concerned with social issues, inviting change and awareness, enough to accept the ALS Challenge, but it seems like those with their heads in an ice bucket aren’t doing a lot of chatting about Ferguson, though. I’m not the only writer who has noticed. “This is purely anecdotal,” Jia Tolentino wrote for Time, “…there appears to be an extraordinarily small overlap in terms of people who are seriously interested in both….Maybe for your own social networks the divide is starkly blue and red; it is, very much, for me.”

I see people, not celebrities, but everyday people, sharing their self-congratulatory Ice Bucket Challenges– too many glaringly neglecting to even mention the ALS fundraiser, too busy starring in their own hilarious viral video– and it looks a lot like begging for a pat on the back in the form of likes and shares, a.k.a. popularity and validation, more than a plea for awareness.

My social media experience this past week echoes Tolentino’s. How many African Americans really seem to be participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, celebrity or otherwise? There weren’t many visible among a quick look at hashtags today. How many of my own black friends and folks I follow on social media did the ALS Challenge? None.  Purely anectodal, like Tolentino mentioned, sure, but what does it look like in your feed?

Doesn’t it smack of a certain kind of privilege, let’s go ahead and say the white kind, to share videos of your family and friends laughing in a backyard about getting doused with cold water to “do good,” which it has, but not sharing awareness about our gun violence epidemic and racial tensions?

It feels akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Is there an ice bucket hefty enough to hit us over the head with the rampant racial inequality in the world, to stand up for one another’s basic human rights? How about to carry our weighty gun violence statistics? 12,042 U.S. citizens died of gun violence in the one, single, year that followed the Newton massacre.

According to LA Times economist Michael Hiltzik, the CDC estimates that in the U.S. ALS affects about 12,000 people. Just a few less than the number of those who died in that one year after Newton. 

Not to say that the loss of ALS isn’t devastating. One form of loss isn’t superior to another, but can’t they be shared? Can’t the giddy Ice Bucket camp of good-intentioned everyday folks and celebrities find some somber urgency in the smoldering Ferguson neighborhood, mired in racial injustice and struggle? 

“It would be gauche,” Tolentino decided, “to ‘challenge’ our friends to deal with police-sanctioned murder, particularly when so many of our ‘friends’ may believe what many cops have believed before us: that black bodies insinuate a crime… There are different devils behind these two ways a man can die in America. ALS is the devil that leaves us blameless, and Ferguson is the devil that is us, the one we dance with every day.”

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