Bullets, Buckets, & the REAL Social Media Challenge

Disclaimer: I have been away for quite some time dealing with some health stuff. But I’m back baby! …with a longer post than usual. Hopefully it’s worth it.

Photo from NBCNews.com
Photo from NBCNews.com

A week or so ago I was out to dinner with a friend when I was asked if I had been nominated for the “ice bucket challenge.” Admittedly, at the time, I had no idea what they were referring to. “It’s all over facebook,” they said.

Well, not mine. At least, not yet.

Instead, my wall had been inundated with posts regarding the death of Robin Williams and the murder of Michael Brown. Then, it happened. As protests continued to increase in Ferguson and around the country, the memorial posts about Williams were quickly replaced by videos of friends who had accepted the ALS ice bucket challenge.

However, it still wasn’t clear to me what this was all about. Did Williams have ALS? If not, then why were these same folks suddenly posting about it? And what exactly was the challenge – donate towards ALS research OR pour a bucket of ice on your head? If so, then why would anyone choose the latter and post a video to prove it? I was so confused.

In addition to my confusion, I found it very troubling, albeit not surprising, to see how very white this social media trend seemed to be. So I asked myself, Why are so many of my white friends willing to pour ice over their heads for “charity” while most of my POC friends are out protesting for police accountability?  

Herein lies one of the problems of the ice bucket challenge. For those of us who have been deeply impacted by what is happening in Ferguson, it feels like a total distraction. It also feels like an easy out for those of us (re: white people) who have the privilege (re: white privilege) of not being constantly racially profiled and shot at by police.

Real T, as a white youth pastor who works with mostly youth of color in Chicago, I have become more aware of this privilege since I started to work with this particular group of young people and have heard story after story of them being stopped for no reason other than their age and the color of their skin.

So, here’s why I haven’t and won’t accept the Ice Bucket Challenge: 

  • First, giving money to disease-specific charities is a bad idea. Here’s why

Also, giving money isn’t the most meaningful or accessible way for most youth to participate in a social justice issue or campaign. So many of these young people are struggling to meet their basic needs (clothing, food, shelter, etc.) and therefore do not have any kind of “disposable income.”

In addition to this, making a donation usually requires some kind of debit or credit card, which few youth have, and even fewer youth of color have access to (read more about lending discrimination).

One of the biggest complaints (re: critiques) I hear from youth regarding social justice and the Church is that the Church either doesn’t take action on the issues that matter most to them (for example: gun and gang violence) OR it speaks prophetically against these issues but doesn’t give them concrete ways to take action.

Some argue that the ice bucket challenge has been successful because it does just that, while others argue that it is the wrong action to take

  • Second, we (Christians, in particular) need to move beyond charity

Sure, the ALS ice bucket challenge invites people to take some kind of action, however, how do we challenge ourselves to move beyond charity (re: the white savior complex) and instead, consider ways to be in solidarity?

In the case of the murder of Mike Brown, we can begin to be in solidarity by recognizing that racism is real, then becoming better allies. With this in mind, before you swing into action, first, check your privilege then consider this invitation to support Ferguson (no, they aren’t just asking for money) from folks who are currently on the ground.

  • Third, more young people die from a lack of police accountability, violence, and institutionalized racism than ALS. 

Yes, ALS is awful and “every day, an average of 15 people are newly diagnosed with ALS…[with] more than 5,600 people per year…Annually, ALS is responsible for two deaths per 100,000 people.” (read more)

However, just this past weekend two young black men were shot and killed by police in Chicago. Add these to the countless others nationwide – countless because nobody knows the exact number of people the police kill each year. We do know, however, that 91% of the people killed by police in Chicago in 2012 were black.

So, what do i/we do with all of this information? (I swear, I’m about to wrap this up) 

Well, it seems to me that when your biggest fear is a bucket instead of a bullet, we have much work to do. This is the REAL Social Media Challenge.

That is, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by quick and easy solutions (re: charity) and social media trends. Creating a more just world takes time (Matthew 16:19). Begin by placing yourself in communities of care and connection that challenge you (that’s me pictured below with my church, back row, far right) to recognize your privilege and use it in ways that bring about justice for all. 

Photo by Yuki Schwartz
Wellington Ave UCC Photo by Yuki Schwartz

For me, this necessarily means using my white privilege to hold Chicago police accountable and finding ways to debunk the myth that more guns and military machinery = a safer community. Until next time, keep it real!

Real T,



One Comment

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  1. This addressed a few issues I had with the ice bucket challenge and more over brought in to light to events and things I did not draw parallels to; good piece.

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