Hurricane Dorian. It’s a name that carries gravity all on its own and needs no preempting adjectives or hyperbolic flare. If you are from the island of Abaco or Grand Bahama you have suffered through and will continue to suffer through decades of unimaginable loss.
In the midst of all of this loss we’ve seen actual heroes rise out of the ashes of devastation and lead where many leaders and agencies fell short. Everyday people became the saving grace of neighbors and loved ones. They stood in the gap and helped the people they saved see another day.
Simultaneously, as is the case with most tragedies, we started to see the eventual influx of influencer-based “relief”. Relief that comes with a caveat. Relief that comes with the cringiness of poorly scripted videos and captions. Relief that requires one to stand in the wreckage of the shells of someone else’s home and give yourself the title of savior. Relief that comes with condescension and phrases like “you should be grateful they’re doing something to help.”.
It’s human nature to want to be rewarded for doing something good. It’s the reason children are eager to show their parents when they cleaned their room that one time. It’s the reason we find it so natural to shove our cameras in the faces of the homeless as we give them our half eaten lunch. It’s the reason why many of us didn’t find it that hard to turn the Islands and Cays of Abaco and Grand Bahama into one big UNICEF advert. Empathy doesn’t feel as good as praise, and at the end of the day, whether we want to admit it or not, the human existence thrives on it.
There is a thin line between posting a picture to invoke emotion that eventually leads to assistance, and posting a picture to improve Instagram engagement. I’d like to think that anyone with a big enough following would know exactly how to straddle that line, but here we are one month later wading through images of beauty queens in gowns and crowns with poorly photoshopped shipwrecks in the background. Influencers forcing themselves to look somber on camera while dramatic music echoes as they talk about a storm they didn’t witness. Vloggers standing in the wreck of homes they never visited.
Make no mistake, the documentation of what has happened in Grand Bahama and Abaco is important. People the world over need to see what has happened in our country and the immediate needs of the people suffering the most from a climate disaster of this magnitude.
The writing and telling of stories are important. They help give power back to those who need it the most. The insertion of yourself however, in a narrative that you never belonged to is a dangerous move. It’s a self serving move. It’s a move that distances you further from the very people you tried to help. It removes all sense of agency from them as such erasing their narrative with trivial photoshoots filled with tragedy and disaster porn. It’s just you, an influencer, rushing to tell a story that isn’t yours to tell.
I understand that influencers want to help in whichever way they possibly can. I get it. Every talent at a time like this is helpful. All resources need to be put onto a communal table for us to be able to move forward in the best way we possibly can. But ask yourself these things; “Does my post add value?”, “Does my post empower?”, “ Does my post lack condescension?”. If you answered “No” to any of those questions the positive impact you think you may be having probably doesn’t even exist.
When Jason Albury drove to the Casuarina Bridge in the middle of the storm he didn’t expect to meet a camera crew. When Alicia Wallace set up shop in the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and used all of her resources to organize much needed items for displaced families, she wasn’t seeking engagement. When my arch nemesis Steven Cartwright quietly found volunteers to help register evacuees out of Abaco he wasn’t seeking to increase his follower count.
People know when you’re being sincere, and if your sincerity calls for you being in the middle of a disaster zone with a makeup artist in tow, maybe it’s time to hire a team that understands the importance of optics.