On the many, many faces of courage: A follow-up

Wow. When we created this yesterday and tossed it up on my site, I wasn’t expecting the huge response it received (something like 3,000 hits and ~200 retweets in less than 24 hours). Most of the reactions were extremely positive. Some were disgusting and misogynist, but not unexpected. Some were critical, but fair: I especially take to heart points about the erasure of non-whiteness or non-maleness in the initial image, and Renata’s astute comment all of the faces highlighted having much more exposure already than those whose activism takes place offline or out of the public eye.

While I absolutely take those critiques to heart (and have spoken to folks individually), I do think that, in a sense, they miss the forest for the trees. As I said in the initial post, the point of this exercise was not to erase or diminish the sacrifices of people like Aaron Swartz or Chelsea Manning or Jake Appelbaum or Julian Assange, but to point out two things: First, that whomever created the graphic may have failed to recognize the whiteness of the images, perpetuating privilege (even if, as I’ve acknowledged,  the individuals in the image are indeed disempowered). And second: that courage has many faces.

There was one comment from WikiLeaks (whose response I do appreciate) that particularly struck me, and while I disagree with it, I can accept it as critique for explaining purpose more effectively.  By messaging that “courage is contagious” with a group of white-seeming, male-seeming faces, we are not effectively getting “the audience to act using whatever tricks one can.” Instead, we are speaking only to a possible segment of the audience that may not feel inspired by seeing faces like their own not reflected back at them.

I stand by what I did, and am particularly inspired to see the ways in which others have remixed the idea to demonstrate that courage indeed does have many faces, many of which are unknown or less empowered than even those on the image I presented.  I enjoyed @zararah’s take, which included some of her heroes. Nick Farr’s version was lovely to include me, but much more importantly, it reminds us that “hero” takes on a different meaning for each person. Renata highlighted activists that I’d never even heard of. Sarah took the opportunity to remind people to support research for Huntington’s Disease.

The wonderful thing is, misogynist assholes aside, even those with serious reservations were able to get behind the concept. While they may not have agreed with my approach, no serious person contested the idea that more faces need to be known, that some are routinely excluded, and that there are many people both spreading and catching the courage bug. For that I’m grateful, and inspired.

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