Ethicality of Compensated Activism?

By Kiersten McCollum, Staff Writer

Earlier this month CBS and Global Citizen announced their new collaborative show, a five-episode reality competition series titled “The Activist”.

The show would put six contestants against each other to compete in various “activism-themed challenges” and be judged by celebrity co-hosts Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough. Following the network’s promotional announcement they were met with social media criticism resulting in the show’s format being reworked. CBS and Global Citizen decided to get rid of the competition aspect of the show and make it a one-episode documentary instead, however, these changes were inconsequential to the criticisms initially made about the show.

 When the show was first announced, CBS called it “groundbreaking” and “awe-inspiring” however, when met with the backlash the network redacted said statements, replacing them with an apology. Global Citizen tweeted, “We got it wrong”. This promotional asks a much greater question of ethicality when it comes to commercializing activism. Has the sensationalization of activism made it a target for capitalization, allowing major corporations like CBS to believe reality shows like these are in good taste? What are the moral implications of modern-day activists expecting compensation for their efforts? And should you be able to comfortably obtain a six-figure salary while the people your cause is supposed to be helping continue to live impoverished?

“It’s starting to really become a thing of, do you really support this or are you just doing it because it’s convenient for you and it’s building up your fame,” said TreSean Levias,  a senior Biology Pre-Medicine major from Seattle, Washington. “I feel like the more support you have for a movement the better it is for the movement of course, whatever the person’s intentions are because it is always raising awareness and bringing attention. But, morally I feel like it would be like…if you’re in it for the wrong reasons you’re going to lose motivation over time” said Levias.

According to The New York Post, it is estimated that Patrisse Khan-Cullors, the co-founder of the “Black Lives Matter” organization, has a net worth of $2-million from her job as an activist and recently purchased a $1.3 million home. 

The Herald posed the question to students on Xavier’s campus on their thoughts on the commercialization of activism.

“Society capitalizing off of activism is expected if you’re able to recognize how capitalism thrives off of trends,” said Omaria Ackerson, first-year student, Mass Communication major from Atlanta, Georgia. “Members of society view having this ‘right’ frame of mind [defending situationally harmless Black people being murdered or generally mistreated] as a tool they can use in efforts to appeal to the Black audience,” said Ackerson. 

Think back to civil rights era activists like MLK, Huey P Newton, and Malcolm X, all of their actions and decisions were not without flaws however, they were consistently coming from a place of morality and selflessness. So, how would one think these historical activists would feel about modern-day activism adapting a more capitalistic approach?

“It’s impossible to know because they died because of it,”  said Jaxson Davis, a senior Biology pre-med major from Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

“Nobody that’s profiting from it now and making a living, they’re not putting that [their life] on the line for it. So, of course, they’re not going to agree with it [capitalizing on activism] because there is a certain level of sacrifice that comes with making certain stands,” said Davis.

When students were asked if they believe it is ethical for activists to expect money in exchange for their efforts, they all disagreed. They felt that compensational activism muddles the morality of the work and doesn’t feel much like activism at all. Advocacy is about selflessly dedicating yourself to a cause, expecting nothing in return; and introducing the idea of normalized compensation removes activism from its roots. 

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