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It's Steve Lambert, Cultural Director of the C4AA.

I was listening to this interview with the Beyoncé of Psychological Research, Brené Brown, and I wanted to share part of it with you:
For me, I think shame is a tool of oppression. Humiliation, berating - are tools of hurt. They're not going to be tools of justice.
I do not think shame is a social justice tool. And if you want to use it as a social justice tool, that's great – I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to participate in that with you. Because shame doesn't just change the person who is the target of the shame. Shame changes people who use it against other people.

So if you want me to – "Hey this person did something really shitty, really bad, and let's shame the shit out of them." Don't include me. You want to hold that person accountable? In a real way? I'm on board. But, just FYI, that takes 10 times the amount of time and work that shame does. You wont get the rush of feeling good by berating someone right away. And it's a long process. But I will not participate in using shame as a social justice tool. It's the justice tool of oppression. I just won't do it.
As soon as I heard this, I sent it to my colleagues in the C4AA.
What I told them was this: "I think we have always steered clear of the 'name & shame' strategy and instead have veered to more playful ways. I didn’t have the words to articulate why shaming didn’t sit right, and I think these are those words.”

"Name and Shame"

In the circles we work in, "Name and Shame" is part of the lingo. It means publicly calling out the greedy, the lawbreakers, the wrongdoers. It can happen with signs, ads taken out in newspapers, videos – any medium. I've even seen it include chants of "shame, shame, shame" with crowds of pointed fingers.

There may be times where this strategy works. We don't have conclusive evidence either way. However, I know when we work with groups and this strategy comes up, we guide those ideas into another direction. It wasn't something we talked about or wrote down, just a natural extension of our research on how change works, on how people perceive morality, and their propensity to double down when confronted.

"Name and Fame"

Last year at our Guinea Arts Action Academy, Ibou Niang put it into words. He's a poet and committed activist, and poets have a way of articulating things.
"It's not about 'name and shame'" he said, "It's about name and fame. How can we raise people up?"
"It's not about 'name and shame. It's about name and fame." -- Ibou Niang
At the 2018 AIDS Conference we were working on public health and access to affordable medicines for deadly diseases like Hepatitis-C, TB, and HIV. There's plenty of downright shameful behavior to call out when Pharma reps are in a building. And believe me, it happened. But at an event like the AIDS Conference, it can feel like there's intense delineation between activists making demands versus the researchers, doctors, and pharmaceutical company employees who work in that realm, receive support from it, and don't see their position so starkly.

Instead of shaming, we asked those people to join us.
We created the Jonas Salk Fan Club.
The Jonas Salk Fan Club
Jonas Salk spent years in research before he discovered the vaccine for polio. At the time polio was crippling people around the world. When asked “who owns the patent” Salk said “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” At AIDS 2018 there were drug companies who patent life saving treatments, then fight to extend those patents, preventing generics from getting to market. We created multiple projects to achieve multiple objectives for TAG, many that were about holding decision-makers accountable, but the Jonas Salk Fan Club was designed to shift the culture through a reminder to idealistic researchers and doctors (and maybe a few uneasy pharmaceutical industry employees) that there is another way.
Moreover, it was an invitation to join us. An invitation to make better decisions. A welcoming, to join our club. To join together in fighting to eradicate diseases and to do so in a way that can benefit the most people.

And if you do, you might be lauded in the same way.
Name and fame.

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Alumni Profile! Ibou Niang

We did an alumni profile with Ibou recently. Here’s something he told us:

I have been using elements of popular culture to craft messages for peace, justice and respect of human rights. I am currently working on a fable about a boy and a pelican who are on a quest for social justice. The narrator, Nawett, is a female baobab tree. In this story I chose to combine elements of popular culture (Senegalese popular songs) with dialogues between the different characters of the story. The political messages emanate from the wisdom suggested by Senegalese popular songs and the conversations between the boy, the pelican and the other protagonists they meet throughout their journey. The creative experience at the C4AA workshop made it possible for me to connect one of my poems ‘The Old Pelican’ with Senegalese popular songs that I learnt during youth camps in order to come up with this new imaginary world where poem and song characters interact to send social justice messages.

The way we connect is important. If people are able to connect and use the concept and symbolism to promote their own ideas and thoughts then we move from ‘I’ to ‘We’. If we can say that we have been successful and that we all own the idea then I can say ‘I have made a contribution.’ 

Check out the full interview with Ibou here

Can shame work?

What do you think? I was talking about this with C4AA pal Oliver Vodeb, and he made a point that shaming corporations and brands is in a different category than shaming people. But I wonder if that'd actually be accountability? If it's not obvious, I'm still thinking this through. When we're not scrambling to get things done, that's one of the things we try to do here at the Center for Artistic Activism.

I'm curious what you think. I made this mini-survey:

These responses too simple? I get it. Write me back and tell me the details and nuance!

Keep Fighting the Good Fight.

If any of this is helpful, we could use your support. Consider donating. - even small amounts help.

Looking forward,

Steve “Longbeard” Lambert and the rest of us at C4AA



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