studying the city (Annette Koh)

Public space, the right to the city, and civic engagement. How can we improve equity and access through participatory urbanism? Ph.D. student in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Former resident of Seoul & San Francisco.
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So in a kind of amazing Jedi internet trick, visiblechildren.tumblr.com has unexpectedly become the antidote to the deeply problematic 2012 film & campaign by Invisible Children. As of 5:45pm on March 7th, Hawaii Standard Time, the post has 32,614 notes. Other bloggers may have greater credibility, the Visible Children tumblr is by a political science student, not an aid or development specialist. But by simply being on social media, Visible Children has inserted itself into the conversation. I think the closest thing to a debate about aid & Africa on social media I’ve seen before this was with that guy who wanted to send 1 million shirts to Africa and development experts waggled their fingers at him.

I watched the first half of Invisible Children’s latest video early this morning, off a blog post at Contrast MagazineIt triggered all of my misgivings about this type of talismanic activism. I don’t know anything about Uganda, or the actual geopolitics of running a war criminal to ground— check out Backslash Scott for probably the most complete list of critiques based on content. But I am incredibly stressed out by how international activism is now a matter of consumption or consumer-like behaviors. If we have the bracelet, we have the proof of our own goodwill. If we buy the shoe, we save the village. Remember the tshirt guy? More consumption as salvation.

As usual, Africa is a Country pulls no punches:

The problem with the “awareness” argument is that it suggests that interest in the war in Uganda can be separated out from the experience of intensely racialized and charisma-driven moral masturbation, an experience which turns out to be, more than anything, one of the most intensely satisfying kinds of identity-formation.

These heartfelt appeals to help the orphans, these images of traumatized children, are exactly what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie called the danger of the single story. It’s why I get so frustrated when I stand in an American bookstore and see that the single story for Korea is still more often than not the Korean War, even though as a history student and a second generation Korean American, I find that particular story incredibly important.  Yes, US Army surplus became a cottage industry in post-war Korea. Yes, my relatives were sponsored by Midwestern Methodist churches who brought young Korean students over as part of their charitable work. But the danger of the single story is also why my parents repeatedly had to explain to acquaintances in 1980s Illinois that Korea was no longer a pile of rubble and yes, they knew how to use a TV remote.

From Innovate Africa:

The work, consequence, and impact are all focused on Uganda, but the agency, accountability, and resources lie among young American students. Clearly a dangerous imbalance of power and influence; one that can have adverse lasting effects on how and what people know of Uganda. It reduces the story of Northern Uganda, and perhaps even all of Uganda, into the dreaded single narrative of need and war, followed by western resolve and rescue. As we have seen from the past, without nuance and context, these stories stick in the collective memory of everyday people for years in their simplest forms: Uganda becomes wretched war

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