All The Daze Of Awareness
“Awareness months” are not superfluous. At the end of the day, people are being reached, and it’s more than plausible that a handful of people will feel uplifted or inspired by seeing a multicolored ribbon or reading some words on a calendar. Sure. But is that really the way that activism is supposed to happen — and more importantly, does it in any way foster social change?
The first and biggest problem with all of these causes is how many of them there are. There are only 12 months in a year but bafflingly, cursory research reveals over 44 specific commemorative, heritage or awareness months throughout Western society — many of them repeated or contradictory.
September is National Hispanic Heritage Month … it’s also National Honey Month and National Guide Dog Month.
Most months have at least two commemorations attached to them, and that’s not including specific single day awareness events, like August 26’s “Women’s Equality Day” or Independence Day in July.
Some of these are holidays, some of these are government noted and acknowledged or backed by large nonprofits or other organizations, but some are just baffling. Mathematics Awareness Month? National Guide Dog Awareness Month? 44 months squeezed into 12 is confusing and counterproductive, sure, but at least they’re easily identifiable with a few words. Then there’s all of those little, colored ribbons that people wear.
A glance on Wikipedia reveals 48 different “awareness ribbons.” Some of them you’ve seen and know well, like the pink for breast cancer that the Susan G. Komen foundation has slapped on everything from yogurt to marathon races. Others you might be less familiar with — like red and black, for atheist solidarity. Or black, which not only stood for post-9/11 mourning, but also Wiccan awareness, melanoma awareness, transgender hate crime awareness and sleep apnea awareness. There’s the zebra print ribbon, which paradoxically represents the vague “rare disease” awareness. Where does it end?
It’s one thing to trivialize something serious — we can argue back and forth about it. While a little fabric ribbon or a different colored page in a calendar may certainly depersonalize and remove some of the severity and poignancy that a personal narrative conveys, such labelling certainly has the power to reach more people.
But does it spur people to care? People coming together and organizing in their communities, generating social movements; that can cause change. But more prepackaged labels? More corporatized logos to stuff down skulls already chock full of golden arches and “Keyes, Keyes, Keyes, Keyes on Van Nuys?”
Does that sort of thing actually help press forward a cause, or does it simply reduce it to so much more white noise?
White noise, maybe, but still noise. Dedicating oneself to changing or evolving a social, political, or economic construct does not start and end with the days in a single month. But don’t confuse awareness months with social activism.
Not everyone does or wants to dedicate themselves to fostering social change, but awareness months give an admittedly diluted solution to the general public for ease of digestion. Our distinct lives lead us into different situations that garner our attention for different issues.
What we choose to focus on largely revolves around what has affected us personally, or the people closest to us. Therefore, everyone chooses his or her specific battle(s), yet being involved in social change is quite different from being aware of problems x, y, z.
When society is largely aware of issues that affect multitudes of people, there will come an inherent understanding that all, or most, injustices are inextricably linked to one another. If a link is removed, injustice persists. Communists understand this, and that is why most Communist organizations transcend racial and gender divide.
Activism can be a flawed notion of the corporate mindset, and besieges the true individual nature of human beings. Activism ought to be about finding ways to respect and acknowledge our individualism and create social equality by dismantling the oppressive nature of culture.
Culture is oppressive because the conservative nature of culture relies on the notion that people believe what their culture presents for them.
If one falls prey, for example, to rape culture then one may believe consent is something sexy, not mandatory — or that sexual assault cannot occur between two intimate partners, such as a married couple.
This is where awareness months do the job only they can do: introduce an idea to the masses about deconstructing and/or defying an accepted and anachronistic notion.
“Awareness Months” allow people the individual freedom of education and acceptance on their own terms. Awareness months also normalize issues that are often stigmatized. Part of reaching out for support is feeling comfortable in doing so.
Awareness months are a small yet invaluable platform for bringing issues to light.
But sweeping change can only be made through legislation, and when lobbyists and lawmakers are championing to correct certain social injustices, they need the support of the populace.
When a piece of legislation appears on a state ballot, only an informed population will vote, if at all, for the good of its state. It is rare that someone will vote to amend an issue they don’t believe is important, especially if they have never been educated, or aren’t even aware of the issue.
It is unrealistic to believe that people instinctually watch out for the welfare of others. We must make these attacks of awareness personal so people will understand the magnitude of the situation.
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