Opinion: The stink of pinkwashing



Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a senior news major and opinion editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

I got an email last week that said everyone should wear pink to the Shins concert Thursday for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mind you, the email didn’t say to do anything that would actually have an impact in preventing breast cancer. It said nothing about raising funds for research. It just said to wear pink.

Even worse, the email didn’t even surprise me. Ever since 2009 — when NFL players started wearing pink accessories every single week of October — and since 2010 — when many comic strips collaborated to all predominantly use pink ink on the same day — each subsequent October has seen an invasion of pink in everyday life.

It pleases me that so many people want to advocate fighting cancer. I am a regular participant in the Relay for Life to support the American Cancer Society, and all of my relatives, friends and acquaintances that are cancer survivors have had an indispensable positive impact on my life.

However, wearing pink is not the best way to help.

For one thing, that “Kent State Pink Out” this Thursday, which has more than 750 participants on its Facebook page, is just another episode in the growing trend of slacktivism: doing some feel-good thing that seems satisfying but has essentially zero effect on anything.

It’s a lot like copying and pasting a Facebook status to raise awareness and then doing absolutely nothing else – or, as I saw on my news feed recently, someone who posted a chain message about an Amber Alert without spending five seconds on Google or Snopes to discover that it had never been true but has been spreading through the Internet since 2009.

Even the businesses that sell pink products and donate proceeds to cancer organizations aren’t completely devoid of blame. For example, the NFL sells pink apparel under the guise of finding a cure for breast cancer, but just 3.5 percent of what you spend goes toward cancer research, while the league keeps 45 percent.

It’s not good when someone has made a full-length documentary, called “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” about companies that donate miniscule earnings from its pink-related marketing to the cause, or that donate proceeds from products that actually cause cancer.

Also, why do all these companies go nuts for awareness of breast cancer while completely overlooking other cancers that are just as bad? I know it’s at least partially because everyone loves boobs, but someone with, say, stomach cancer deserves as much help toward a cure as someone with breast cancer does.

I’m not alleging that everyone who wears pink is a lazy idiot – people and groups have donated millions to groups like the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Stand Up to Cancer, and that’s great. Even those who are guilty of slacktivism have their hearts in the right place. I’d just like us as a society to focus less on draping everything in pink, and more on things that actually help.

Instead of buying something just because the company might donate a little bit to a cancer fundraiser, why not make a direct donation to that group? Instead of just wearing pink, why not circulate information about early detection of breast cancer? Not only should that feel better, it would certainly have a bigger impact in stopping these horrible diseases.