The Komen Race for the Cure prioritizes the message that women are at risk for breast cancer and that screening is of utmost importance. The race directs women to spread this message by registering (paying a fee) for a Komen event, which involves soliciting pledges to raise funds for the organization in the name of breast cancer.
Growing from about 800 participants in Komen’s first 5-kilometer “Race for the Cure” in 1983, the series expanded to over 1.5 million participants in 122 locations in the United States and 14 internationally. In addition to huge numbers of participants, the races use over 100,000 volunteers. The Komen race series, coupled with other fundraising programs, educational initiatives, donations from individuals, and corporate partnerships, resulted in raising more than $275 million in revenue for the fiscal year ending March 1, 2007.
In the specific context of the Race for the Cure, we can see how personal generosity comes to be mobilized and deployed as a form of collective, political action even as the event shuns struggle, debate, or critique of dominant social and economic relations and forces. The Race has played an active role in shaping a social context that views “America’s” survival as depending on personal acts of generosity mediated through consumer culture and in which it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish those activities that might help bring about social change from those that help to reproduce the status quo.
–Samantha King, Pink Ribbons Inc.:Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (2006), p. 52
Last year, the Komen Race for the Cure charged a $50 registration fee, and my local affiliate e-mailed frequent updates about the $500,000 fundraising goal registration fee not included. An update of “important things to remember” described prize information, how to submit donations, and recruitment strategies.
- We encourage you to join in on the Power of 10 by asking 10 friends to donate $10 and then encourage your friends to then ask 10 of their friends to donate $10, and so on, and so on. (original emphasis)
- Don’t forget to ask if your company has a matching program.
This strategy emphasizes the participants’ role in making choices and taking action. The organization defines the choices/action in terms of its agenda, and frames it in terms of empowerment. Participants voluntarily and enthusiastically take advantage of their personal networks to propagate the organization’s messages, publicize the event, and raise funds. Although Komen’s style of fundraising is common to a variety of causes, the breast cancer brand successfully blurs the line between advocacy and advertising through its use of culture.
–Gayle Sulik, Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health (2011), p. 140
Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons Inc., discusses her observations of the Tenth Anniversary National Race for the Cure in June 1999:
The Race for the Cure in any town or city across the United States will look very much the same…a familiar and reliable brand, and its success is such that numerous corporations and foundations have attempted to reproduce the formula…It is no longer the case that fund-raising walks begin with a few words of encouragement from a volunteer with a loudspeaker…Now huge rallies; rock-concert sized stages; upbeat music; corporate sponsors; celebrity appearances; sophisticated signage; trademarked baseball caps, T-shirts, and water bottles; and formal recognition of survivors or other exemplars of the charity’s good work are stand features…The implications of this shift…
The Komen Foundation’s focus on early detection and cure-oriented science has helped it win generous sponsorship from pharmaceutical corporations… and mammography equipment and film manufacturers…all of which featured prominently at the Race.
The search for a “magic bullet”…channels research questions and public attention toward individual pathology…and away from more difficult questions related to social conditions, environmental factors, and other external variables…
The focus on a cure for breast cancer, rather than on prevention… mammograms [rather than eradication.]
– Samantha King, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (2006) pp. 29-39
Indeed, anger, dissent, or criticism of any kind were stark in their absence at the National Race for the Cure. No questions were asked about, nor was there any mention of, persistently high rates of breast cancer in the United States and worldwide. Although the participation of thousands of survivors should be indicative of these rates, their presence was celebrated as evidence of the promise of individual struggle against the disease rather than of a crisis that kills forty thousand women in the United States alone each year…Survivors, in other words, stood as symbols of hope for the future, rather than of urgency in the present. Differences of age, race, and class in mortality rates were also ignored or subsumed under the banner of the “survivor.” Moreover, no demands for action, beyond calls for continued participation in the Race for the Cure, were made of the various representatives of the cancer industries or the state, nor indeed of participants in the Race.
– Samantha King, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (2006) p.41
In the specific context of the Race for the Cure, we can see how personal generosity comes to be mobilized and deployed as a form of collective, political action even as the event shuns struggle, debate, or critique of dominant social and economic relations and forces. In this respect the Race has played an active role in shaping a social context that views “America’s” survival as depending on personal acts of generosity mediated through consumer culture and in which it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish those activities that might help bring about social change from those that help to reproduce the status quo.
– Samantha King, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (2006) p.52
1983: The first Race for the Cure, in Dallas drew 800. Today, the series encompasses 1.6 million participants. Of the 20 largest “running festivals” in the United States, Race for the Cure events occupy 13 slots.
Jun 16, 1990: At the race in Washington DC , the Komen Foundation handed out pink visors randomly to the 8529 walkers. Some participants also wore pink ribbons. A year later, Komen distributed pink ribbons to every participant in its New York City Race for The Cure and the pink ribbon became synonymous with breast cancer awareness.
April 1999: The National Football League signed on as a national sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s Race for the Cure. This arrangement which partnered a professional sports league that is the epitome of a racialized black hypermasculinity with a nonprofit that is the epitome of a pink -ribbon, racialized, white hyperfemininity brought with it an immediate guarantee of product differentiation and recognition. (Source: Pink Ribbons, Inc.)
2000: Mayor Lee P. Brown of Houston has awarded the Susan G. Komen Foundation a proclamation that will be announced at the Race, marking the first Saturday in October every year as “Breast Cancer Awareness Day Through the Komen Houston Race for the Cure (R).” (See Texas Monthly, Oct. 2000)
June 6, 2009: Congress honors the 20th anniversary of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the Nation’s Capital and its transition to the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure on June 6, 2009, and for other purposes.