How many times will this country disrespect its most vulnerable, hurting people?
Those who are homeless have endured people screaming at them from their luxury cars: “Get a job, you bum!” Other people living on the streets have been set on fire or beaten with baseball bats. They have been pushed out of public parks and given tickets by police because there were no public restrooms in the area.
Young people are taking “selfies,” those ubiquitous smart phone self-portraits, with people who are suffering from homelessness. A middle-class, smiling face peers into the camera at arm’s length, while a person in need is sprawled on the sidewalk with a confused look.
Some of these pictures even show a group of youth laughing at people who are homeless.
Some people were upset that President Obama posed in a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. They thought his actions were insensitive. But I don’t hear much outcry against young people taking selfies with people experiencing homelessness.
Is this what social media has become? A tool to degrade hurting, impoverished people? Take a picture of yourself making fun of someone sleeping on the streets, then post it on Twitter or Facebook. Such fun! So cool! Hilarious!
Now that’s what I call a sick viral media campaign.
To encourage people, especially youth, to believe that disrespecting those who are hurting is a cool activity just creates a foundation of insensitivity. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when teenage boys transition from holding smart phones to holding baseball bats.
Can a selfie be considered a weapon?
Those of us on the front lines of America’s fight against homelessness struggle to advocate for more funding to house people, change inhumane policies that criminalize homelessness, and keep our organizations’ doors open.
We try to humanize the issue of homelessness by sharing people’s stories, like the teacher who lost her job or the small business owner who became critically ill with no insurance.
Sometimes our efforts to battle homelessness feel like an uphill struggle, especially when society thinks self-portraits next to suffering people are part of a fun, adventurous game.
Can we change this country’s perspective on poverty and homelessness?
What if we were to create a positive viral media campaign of housed people taking selfies of themselves helping a formerly homeless person move into a new apartment? Or a selfie of themselves helping someone find a job? How about positive selfies memorializing acts of charity?
Then maybe we could make selfies selfless.