Dr. “T.L.” Gray is a religious scholar and an environmental activist. He earned a B.A. in Religion from Trinity International University, a M.Div. in Theology from Morehouse School of Religion, a S.T.M. in Philosophical Ethics from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Ethics from Vanderbilt University. He currently resides in Harlem, New York and frequently travels to speak at schools, churches, and conferences concerning the social and ethical obligation of environmental stewardship. A frequent speaker and panelist, Dr. Gray has lectured in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe.
The following is the reasons why he will not be participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge; “Over the last few days my timeline has been filled with videos supporting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Initially it was only a few random friends and a couple of shares of people I didn’t know. More recently, however, this challenge has been joined by celebrities such as Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, Marlon Wayons and several others.
As one who engages in the critique of culture, I am critical of the notion that participation is this cause is merely a fun way of raising awareness for a good cause.
First, I believe any endeavor to raise awareness regarding a social, political, or health issues within society is fundamentally a good thing. However, there are currently 1.6 billion people in the world who suffer from water shortage, water scarcity, or water crisis. Many of these individuals reside in Africa and are without the proper finances, international support, or infrastructure to rectify their situation. Nearly 1.2 billion do not have access to clean drinking water and close to 1 million children under the age of 5 in undeveloped countries die annually from diarrhea. Consequently, the dumping out of clean water by so many Americans in the support of this “good cause” is an example of global ignorance at best.
This picture recently posted on social media helps to convey that reality.
Secondly, as a black man, there are certain issues that are critical to my ethnic community. Primary among these are black male incarceration, also known as the New Jim Crow, rising rates of poverty and unemployment, police brutality, high blood pressure, environmental injustice, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high school dropout, etc. Although finding a cure for ALS is a worthy cause, statistics state that 93% of patients affected with ALS are Caucasian. Consequently, this is far from being a critical issue within black communities.
Given the current uproar regarding police brutality perpetrated against black men and critical attention to the flawed criminal justice system that fails to value black and brown lives, one should ask if supporting a movement to find a cure for ALS is the most efficient use of black’s time and resources? Or does it depicts the normalization of whiteness in American culture, which causes no one to question why so many black people would dump water on themselves in support of finding a cure for a disease that primarily affects white men.
Finally, a word must be said about the trend following and #hashtag culture in which we live that promotes the uncritical support and unreflective participation of any cause that is currently trending. Such practices rarely go beyond the surface of the hashtag or video post they evoke and fail to make any significant or substantial difference. I think about the “hoodie pics” everyone posted when #theyweretrayvonmartin last year and wonder how many are still engaging in efforts to repeal gun laws or to due away with “stand your ground”? Is anyone still #occupyingwallstreet? And what ever happened to the 270 #bringbackourgirls that were abducted in norththern Nigeria?
Until someone answers these questions not only will I not be participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I will not be participating in any other cookie-cutter, fly-by-night, psuedo-ethical social media initiatives that fails to critically engage or substantively improve the conditions in which it seeks to address. That being said, here is an amazing organization that is building wells and bringing clean water to communities desperately in need.”
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