A few weeks ago, I was struggling with our recent purchase of a teepee for A to play in. My aunt graciously encouraged me to donate to an organization or group run by and for Native Americans. This donation would not erase the cultural appropriation associated with teepees as play things for White kids but rather would offset the harm our family committed when we purchased it. While financial donations won’t solve the problems of capitalism and White supremacy, it got me thinking: how else can we use our family’s financial giving to disrupt the forces of racialized exploitation?
I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of charity. Charity/donating money is not inherently bad, of course, but I believe it is too often conflated with the idea of justice. My ultimate goal is to cultivate a life that encourages the formation of more just and equitable systems of economy and politics. Charity doesn’t do that. Charity thinks that more money will solve the problems of a few individuals. It doesn’t see that the actual problem is the system itself.
My aunt’s thoughtful comments, however, got me thinking. What if I reconceived ‘charitable giving’ as ‘individual reparations’? My family has materially benefitted from White supremacy. That’s not to say my family hasn’t work hard, but it is to say that the history of economic policies and the lack of interpersonal discrimination has helped recent generations of my family become economically secure. They have been able to pass that down to me and my son. (The case is a little different for my husband, who is a first- or second-generation immigrant, depending on who is categorizing him). How can I use those material benefits and repurpose them to organizations run by and for Native Americans and African Americans? (These are not the only two groups that are materially hurt by White supremacy, but they are two I want to focus on right now)
I have decided to make regular donations to:
- The Organization for Black Struggle
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
My husband expressed concern that the idea of individual reparations was patronizing. I see his point. Framing donations as individual reparations can come off as condescending or paternalistic. It is my hope, though, that this is an action that is rooted in my acknowledgement of an unfair structural advantage. More money will never solve the problems that capitalism created. But, since the US is nowhere close to committing to societal reparations, there must be something that individuals can do. No, my financial donations are not going to fix anything. But they may put more financial resources into the hands of people who have been historically denied or robbed of their financial resources.
Is this entire thinking motivated by White guilt? I’ve been accused of White guilt quite a bit in my life and even more so recently. I’m not sure the difference between being a reflective White person (who hopefully is willing to put her body and money where her mouth is) to having White guilt. I wonder, though: Does it matter? If my motivation is White guilt, but it still gets me to prioritize justice in my actions—does it matter?
“This brings me to the most important lesson I wished I’d known when I first had kids: There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment”
-(Erin Cochran, 2/22/18 Washington Post)
‘Work-life balance’ seems to be a mantra that everyone uses now, even those without kids. It’s this idea that you need an equilibrium in your life between your work-for-pay and your time away from work-for-pay. Mostly, I hear about how bad most people are at this work-life balance. To complain about how busy and overworked you are is like a currency in our society. Busy-ness (and complaining about busy-ness) proves your importance.
Erin Cochran wrote a piece for the Washington Post the other week about this topic. She essentially argues for the famous Madeline Albright line: women can have it all, just not all at once. As in, you can have a successful career and a happy family—but maybe not at the same time. Cochran quit her high-powered job to stay at home with her kids (though now she runs a small consulting firm, and clearly does at least a little freelance writing as evidenced by this article. Not sure if she still considers herself a stay at home mom or not, but she does identify as it in the article). Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about her main theme. Some days I agree with it—something’s gotta give if you’re going to do anything well. But another part of me is stubborn and wants to not give up on the ideal.
One quote in her article, though, hit close to home: “There’s no such thing as balance, only priorities of the moment.” When I was going back to working full-time in my PhD program (after an amazing 6-month maternity leave), I had many hard days. I intentionally and consciously wrote out my list of priorities to get me through those hard days.
My son (and family in general)
My physical and mental health
My job (and within that, professional activities that promote social justice).
When 4pm rolls around some days and I’m irritated that I didn’t finish everything I wanted during daycare hours, I take a deep breath and ask myself: What’s more important—reading this journal article or high quality time with my son? The answer always is—and always will be—my son. I want to pick him up by 4:30 each day so that I had 2.5-3 solid hours of hang out time with him. He is what matters to me. Knowing my priorities is a mindfulness strategy that allowed me cope with the stress of working-for-pay and being a mom.
Now, I don’t think that you are a bad mom or a bad woman if these aren’t your priorities. One of the beauties of living in the era we do is that women should (in theory) be able to set their own priorities. You prefer your career over having a family? Baller. Do it. There might be days in the future when I really don’t want to pick him up from daycare because this project I’m working on is really important and engrossing. They haven’t come yet. In fact, I have found myself less and less content with work, leading to more and more of those random thoughts: ‘maybe I should be a stay at home mom?’. I highly doubt I would every do it for many, many complicated reasons. But on days when my work just straight SUCKS, I fantasize about it…
A has two pretty badass grandmas: Nana & Nene (Hi, mom! Hi, mom-in-law!). It’s not super surprising then that he’s starting to get into a new book: Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo.
The book is about a little boy spending a night at his grandma’s apartment in the city. At first, he is scared by everything going on in the city. But when his Nana makes him a red cape, he sees the city through a whole different lens: everything that was scary the day before makes the city thrilling today!
We haven’t done any ‘naming whiteness’ talk while reading the book, but we have looked at the illustrations and found racially, socioeconomically diverse urban settings. The main characters do appear White, but (and?) they are situated in representative urban spaces. The illustrations depict homelessness in respectful fashion. It depicts urban parks, taxi cabs, and street food vendors. It reflects urban life in a realistic and optimistic way. I also appreciate the fact that they are showing a male character who is afraid and intimidated by new things (gotta disrupt that toxic masculinity from the start, ya know). And an older woman living a happy, independent life.
Overall, a sweet and pleasant read! With lots to talk about (particularly in the illustrations) for parents interested in stimulating conversations about social justice with their young kids.