No strings donations: Breaking the cycle of privilege’s rules

A few months ago as I was walking with a friend, she was telling me about people in her home country who had even less money than she does. She was telling me about them because I had given her some money and she wanted to tell me about who the money was helping. I had a physiological response to her sharing the details of this with me. I desperately wanted her to stop. I’m still confused by this response, but am going to tease out some aspects of it here.

On the one hand, I come from a culture where we “don’t talk about money.” Talking about money signals a crassness, or, more accurately, a lack of the right kind of culture. While I didn’t grow up with enormous wealth, I grew up with people who did and I learned their language. I learned enough to know what it would take to be a part of their circles. I spoke their language with varying degrees of success.

As I’ve been practicing recovering from my addiction to whiteness, I’ve become more aware of all of the unwritten rules of speaking the language of class—and this is a cross-racial issue, though white people are more likely to be very wealthy and it’s white people I’ve known in this socioeconomic class. I wasn’t even aware that the rules were woven into me. They dictated how I moved in the world, and to a large extent they still have an impact. Even just thinking about writing this post made me feel tension in my gut, like I might be doing something shameful. I’ll get in trouble. I’ll lose access to networks. I’m not sure what else I’m afraid of, but my body has me on alert. I’m breaking a class rule, even though I’m not a part of that Super Rich class. I’m talking about money and I’m talking about the language of the moneyed class.

Another reason I flinched when my friend told me about the good results of the money I shared was because I didn’t want to feel like there were any strings attached to my gift to her. People in the upper socioeconomic classes frequently ask organizations and individuals to “sing for their supper.” I didn’t want to be one of those people. I gave the money to my friend because I had it to spare and wanted to share it.

Donors to nonprofit organizations or individuals can be very controlling about their donations. I’ve seen donors ask that recipients of financial assistance write thank-you notes to trustees, for example. Maybe that seems harmless to you, but what it does is enforce the power imbalance. You (recipient of funds) are beholden to me (donator). Individual donors often require special meetings with nonprofit management before they will make donations, too. In fact, this is very common. It’s a part of the donation process most people don’t even question. Executives in nonprofits regularly need to “court” wealthy donors. What is this courting process?

In my experience, when someone donates money but wants to be sure they have a say in how it’s used, there’s a level of white supremacy culture that is playing a part. As a white person who comes from a background of financial stability I have recently uncovered fear that real justice will mean I have to give away all of my family’s money. I have only begun touching on this fear in an embodied way. (My personal bank balances don’t show a whole lot of money to lose.) The fear lives at a deep, deep level. Existential. Cellular. I understand the urge to want to control what happens to money I donate. I think that’s why my friend describing the use of the money made me so uncomfortable. When I share money, I want to do it differently than whiteness wants me to. When I share money I do so with trust that the recipient will know best how to use it.

If you are among the class of people who has the option to share your financial resources, what do you expect of recipients? Do you trust them to use the money you share in a way that will have the most impact? If you don’t trust them, why don’t you? Are you asking people or organizations to sing for their supper? If you are, what need are you really trying to meet?


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Insurrection and hate from all walks of life

It’s tempting to blame it on stupidity, but that’s not the truth. It wasn’t just the dumbshits in Hawaiian shirts misspelling message board threats from mommy’s basement. Yes, they were there, too, attacking the Capitol Building and trying to overthrow the government, but they weren’t the only ones. There were also teachers, police officers, firefighters, elected officials, a realtor, an occupational therapist, a CEO of a data marketing company, and an Olympian.

Like it or not, the insurrectionists don’t fit neatly into the comfortable, default narrative of the desperately poor and uneducated. Not at all. And if we’re going to keep this from repeating until everything burns, this country is going to have to deal with the fact that these thousands of home-grown terrorists were almost entirely middle-class white men.

This is going to be a very difficult thing for white liberals to accept. They have a habit of removing conservatives’ agency. Liberals treat them like they’re children incapable of thinking for themselves. They do this while ignoring the implications of conservatives’ minority rule and overrepresentation in all of our institutions.

There is already a media narrative of “They just don’t know any better,” not only assuming a universality of intent, but also wrongly focusing on claims of intent over action. Or, “They just believed his lies,” taking their agency again, perpetuating the absurdity that the outgoing president is at all in any way even slightly persuasive

They want to believe that we all have the same priorities, even when conservatives’ every action tells us that we do not. They seem to want to believe that no matter how frequently a type of harm is repeated by a group or individual, it must always be accidental and that it couldn’t ever happen again because intentional harm could not possibly be real.

They enter into debate and compromise with members of the political party exclusively home to all of the hate speech, hate crimes, and hate groups. Pipe bombers, would be kidnappers, mass killers, and now insurrectionist are among the ranks of those with whom they attempt to find common ground. Then, of course it is up to us to find an imaginary peaceful center between ourselves and those who actively want us dead.

No, I am not saying that people don’t make mistakes or follow bad advice. We surely all do. What I am saying is that if someone chooses the single American political party containing the Nazis and the KKK and the insurrectionists and the pipe bombers and mass killers of Jewish and Black people in their places of worship, then they have moved well beyond a place where they can be convinced by a condescending tone or superior attitude.

The awful and ugly reality is that there are those among us, our neighbors, our family members who define themselves according to which people they hate. They did not become this way through thoughtful debate or a careful examination of facts and so they are unreachable by those means. They are this way because the adversarial culture of racism and classism in this country gives them permission, incentive, and a disproportionate amount of political power. Our only hope is that a House, Senate, and Oval Office soon to be run by white liberals will have the wherewithal to redistribute that power.


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The ‘uterus collector’ is an infuriating product of our history

I’m so mad. My anger has overflowed.

Learning this week that women in the ICE detention centers have been given unauthorized and unwarranted hysterectomies has us overcome with anger, guilt, grief.

Women.

Having their wombs taken away.

Having the ability to continue their families, culture, traditions, heritage.

Mothers.

Taking away a woman’s right.

Taking away a woman’s future to choose for herself.

We know what happened in Germany during WW2. We know what Hitler did to the Jewish people. We have seen this before, many times. We are letting this happen again.

The uterus collector. They have given this person a special name because this has happened so. fucking. much. The history of gynecology in the United State is appalling and has routinely been carried out on women of color, particularly Black women. Forced sterilization was so popular in the United States from the 1900s to the 1970s against WOC that they became known as Mississippi Appendectomies. Low-income WOC were told that they need to be sterilized or lose their assistance benefits. Coercive sterilization it was called. Using the system that folx rely on against them. One-third of Puerto Rican women between the 1930s and 1970s were sterilized and it became the highest rate in the world.

The body is political.

A Black woman has alerted us, Dawn Wooten. She proclaimed that as an American and a nurse “I became a whistleblower but now I’m a target, but I’ll take a target any day to do what’s just and right.” She is doing what’s right and needed in our country at this time. She did something that people need to be doing: listening to women. Wooten has endangered her life in a time when Black folx are targeted for much less.

She has five children of her own.

This year has sobered many of you.

The curtain has been pulled away once and for all.

For some—this is the first time you’ve seen this happen.

For some—they have seen this happen and said nothing.

For some—this has happened to them.

We need to fucking stop, listen, learn, and help.

We’re so often told that we shouldn’t talk about politics at work—but when you work in a place like an ICE detention center and have women routinely tell you that they have had a procedure they know nothing about, that takes away their right to bear children. Our lives are inherently political; we have no privileges with the law Yet we shy away from using it to see the systemic issues that are present. The push and pull found with this argument creates an infinity loop: there is always another question—and nothing moves forward.

The personal is political. Women have no autonomy over our bodies as long as laws exist and practices are carried out on us under the umbrella of authority.

Anger swells.

My body isn’t made for this.

I feel helpless and guilty that I feel helpless.

These women.

Women.

Having their wombs taken away. Having the ability to continue their culture, traditions, heritage. Erasure.

Mothers.

Taking away a woman’s right.

You’re taking away a woman’s future to choose for herself.

There is a mourning of what could have been.

The life that could have been.


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