Birmingham is the new Thailand @JoeySare

By Joe Sare 

A few nights ago, me and my brother had an argument. Over a few beers, he was talking about how, himself included, it’s often easy to talk and difficult to act. Most notably, we were talking about activism, compared to just being thoughtful is the ‘taking arms against a sea of troubles’, it’s not just the talk. Yeah, hardly a ground-breaking observation, but after listening to a friend of his discuss a project he underwent for the homeless, I realised it’s more than just doing.

His friend- let’s call him Kermit because I can’t remember his name, spent a week sleeping rough in Birmingham to try to understand what it’s like being homeless. When he came back, his school praised him during a big assembly, the parents were impressed, and the small town he grew up in felt very proud at the change he’d made on the world.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m a modern-day Che, but when he told me, I stared blankly at the table. ‘What a crock of shit, that’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve heard in months’ I said. He seemed taken aback, and explained to me that it was about relating with homelessness and to raise awareness of the problem, to which everyone agreed was the right thing.

But is it? How many of you reading this don’t know already that homelessness is a problem in the UK? Anyone? We walk past and ignore vagrants every day. Raising awareness of the fact that this problem exists is like screaming into a well.

Secondly, how can you understand what it’s like? You’re not homeless, no matter where you sleep for a week. Just as a white male can be a feminist, doesn’t mean that I can ever really understand what it feels like to be a woman in society. As white men, we can still support the cause or change our behavior, but I doubt we can ever truly understand what it feels like to be oppressed.

If you want to make a difference, go collect free food from supermarkets. Help in a soup kitchen. Collect warm clothes for a charity. Go to the source and try to get legislation changed by pushing petitions on the street and online. Hell, if you want to go out and put yourself under some strain, get sponsorship money like you’re doing a fun run. Film it. Get a story, pull the heartstrings of middle-class mothers and fathers by using your societal power as a middle-class child in that position so it’s more relatable. Make them feel, then give a call to action to help. These are just baseline thoughts. Don’t think because you spent a few days without a shower that makes you a revolutionary. At the end of a week of sitting in McDonald’s and scratching pennies together, you can still call your Dad, go home and have a hot shower. You can fill your hunger with the love of your Mother’s food, snuggle into your bed, and feel the warm embrace of a family home. You didn’t take it any further, so you didn’t do anything of real significance.

But he’s not alone in this. The wave of vogue activism runs through middle-class communities is like a drug. It’s a tick in the box of a university application, alongside finding yourself in Asia or ‘building a school’ in Africa. 

I also understand that this can also be something to do on a personal level, to build yourself as a more rounded human being. but regardless,  for me, it still feels a little narcissistic.

I haven’t written this article just to mock my brother’s friend. I’m also partly guilty of this. I too could do more. And although I disagree with how he went about it, I respect him for going out as a 16-year-old trying to make a difference, whatever the motive was. It’s more than most of us do.

But I realised after this realisation that we, as creatives, have an opportunity. The guilt of comfortable upbringings or the need to show some connection to our communities, whether for our souls or our pockets, makes people want to help. But there needs to be better guidance for grass-roots charity work. We need a far better understanding of marketing. Liking a picture of a starving child doesn’t do anything. This is something that needs rebranding. 

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this does all work, and it just doesn’t talk to me. Maybe I should spend my time trying to work out how I would engage me further so that I can try to implement it. Regardless, in 2018, I won’t just dip my toes into a cause anymore. I didn’t go on the boxing day anti-hunt march because I just couldn’t be bothered. I’m going to try to do more, and aid those who want to help to communicate their message better. 

I guess my brother’s friend did do some good if I’m now motivated to do better. We should all want to. Thank you, Kermit.

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