Individual reparations?

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:

  1. The Organization for Black Struggle
  2. 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?

3 Replies to “Individual reparations?”

  1. Liv, I’m elated by this post. It makes me so proud and hopeful. Proud because I know you as an individual and love you as my niece. And hopeful because I recognize you as a woman of your generation who chooses to take responsibility to ask questions, act, learn from successes and mistakes, ask better questions, and act with greater awareness and understanding.

    Thank you for recognizing that the intent of my previous post was not in any way meant to suggest anyone can buy their way out of unjust acts, through charity or any other patriarchal attitudes and methods. But we can hold ourselves accountable for our deeds and learn to do differently. And that’s exactly what you’ve done.

    I’m also delighted because those of your posts which are relevant to me provide an opportunity for my own growth as I work to ask better questions and seek better ways to act.

    I think that we’re on a path, finding our way through the injustices that are blowing up in our faces at this time. I agree that White Male Supremacy is not interested in making reparations to anyone. I do want to believe, however, there are pockets of men who are willing to wake up to their own previously-unquestioned sense of entitlement as women bring balance by continuing to say, “No, no more.”

    My own current motivation in charitable giving is one of making investment choices. Just as I’ve divested my retirement savings of fossil fuel industries because I don’t want to support or gain from those specific for-profit companies, I invest my donations in non-profit or political organizations whose missions I do support with respect to the environment, free press and free speech, education, right to choose, and others. The return on investment is different in the case of “charitable giving,” but obviously no less valuable.

    I think you and husband B are actually doing the same thing, even though today you may (or may not) be motivated by White guilt. You’re making conscious choices. And that matters. Motivation matters, too. I’m convinced (though can’t prove it) that each deed done with a clearer intention of justice and good will brings greater return on that investment.

    I can’t grow and learn in a vacuum. I know this exchange will fuel my thinking, clarify my intentions, and influence my actions. That’s of great value to me, Liv. So thank you — greatly!
    Aunt S.

    Liked by 1 person

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