Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Request For People

This post has been sitting in my drafts since August.  I keep on thinking I should post it and deciding against it, playing the game of semantics and signifiers against myself, using new examples, new ideas, trying to keep shit relevant and connected like new sets of Legos.

But in the end, if I keep on putting this off it will no longer be relevant. I used to just post whatever I was thinking every day regardless of relevance or writing, and for some reason lately I want to censor myself - I think it's because this blog is now connected to other places where I write.

Whatever. 

So sometimes I get drunk and rant about TOMs shoes.

This has been going on for a few years now.

Years of working in a non-profit coupled by a life-altering conversation with Priestess Miriam of the Voodoo Spirit Temple of New Orleans (who inadvertently introduced me to the perils of poverty tourism while I was knee-deep in poverty fucking tourism) have given me a different view of what it really means to give back.

I wish that all forms of altruism were created equal.

When I use "we" and "our" in this post I am speaking on behalf of the following people:  middle or upper class citizens of first world mainly English-speaking countries.  

My opinions, actions and interpretations are governed by my background.  To assume otherwise is irresponsible. I grew up as a very, very average middle class American.  As a person in a first world country with access to public education and the fucking internet, good intentions must be preceded by research.  They must.  It is irresponsible to think otherwise.

It is irresponsible, as a middle or upper class citizen of a first world country with altruistic tendencies, to throw ourselves willy-nilly into philanthropy.  It is irresponsible to assume that a cause is worthy just because it has a name.

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A request for donors:  seriously guys, "breast cancer awareness" is not a cause, it is a conversation.  It's not even a fucking thing.  Yes, cancer is bad.  No one likes cancer - well, according to Rule 34, someone does - but no one questions the badness of it.  The world knows that cancer and Nazis are bad. Also, mildly related: Jessica is good at things.

Fight cancer by donating to research and relief. Check out the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the National Breast Cancer Foundation is better.  The Avon Foundation is...whatever.  The Avon Foundation is not a charity.  Do they support a good cause?  Yes, and they give millions to it. But they make billions.

Personally, I try to separate philanthropy from both consumerism and income, which tricky.  Since I work for a non-profit it could stand to reason that I don't feel the need to donate money to a cause I support, but that's not how my head works.  Would I chose to buy products from an organization because they supported a good cause?  Possibly.  Only after research.  But I would never file that under "charitable giving," just like being employed by a charity is also not "charitable giving."

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...and then there are TOMs.  Seriously?  People purchase their TOMs with no knowledge of how or where the shoes were made, no knowledge of where the donated pair is going or why...but also?

1. Some people hear "Africa" and "South America" and minds automatically jump to underprivileged children who are dirty, uneducated, and fucking shoeless. 

2. TOMs perpetuates the idea that whole continents, double the size of North America, in their entirety, NEED our help.  The very vocabulary that we use is ridiculous.

3.  WE perpetuate slum stereotypes about entire fucking continents full of millions of people from thousands of cultures because we are goddamn self-centered idiots.

4.  Those shoes are stupid-looking.  If I see someone wearing them, I will avoid that person. If that someone is a friend, I will spend the rest of the day wondering about my friend and their life choices and why they are being an ignorant trend-machine. Sors.


One of the things that I believe is that support should be localized and empowering.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't give money to "Africa" (I am so fucking sick of hearing about USAmericans generalizing fucking "Africa").  Operating from a stance where we assume we know how to help people from an entirely different background than our own with an entirely different agenda is, again, irrefuckingsponsible. Teaching a man to fish is only productive if that man lives near goddamn water.

The crazy thing is, shoes and other textiles are something that people can make themselves with simple tools and materials that most people in the world will actually have access to, and by just throwing shoes at "poor kids in Africa" we are taking away their community market.

If you must help "Africa," first stop with ignorant generalizations, and then consider Riders for Health.

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A request for people making charitable contributions:

Please do not earmark your gift for something and then change your mind seven months later and assign it to something else.  Chances are your gift has been spent, and you are forcing an organization to pull funds we wanted to put into different programs, and now those programs cannot go forward.

In fact, don't earmark that gift at all.  The greatest way to help is to let the professionals decide where it should go.  Unless you are employed by the organization to which you are donating, you are not one of the professionals.

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A request for volunteers:

It is rad that you want to make a difference.  You are a nice person.  Congrats! But please consider the ramifications of your volunteering. 
 
For example, let's say you want to help out at an inner-city school.  The school would love it if you could help clean the deep dark corners since their janitorial staff is limited.  But, well?  You were really hoping you could volunteer with kids, you know?  You really want something that will directly help the kids.  Couldn't you just read to a classroom or something?  Help a science class for a day?

That's YOU not willing to give the help that is needed.  You are not volunteering if you dictate the terms.  You are demanding we give you a cool story to tell your friends.  Fucking tourist. 

Not only that, but you aren't helping.  You're just as a disruption, taking learning time away from the kids and the teachers.  Remember what it was like when you were in school?  One person shows up to talk to your class and nothing gets done for the rest of the day. 

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I have so many more things to say, but that will make this post go on too long...whatever, I'm posting this for me anyway, just so I can have it on record for myself. I feel like once I post something on here it's a weight off my shoulders and I don't have to obsess over it anymore.


Your actions affect people.  My actions affect people, and I'm trying to learn how to be more wary of it, but it's an ongoing process.  Omniscience is like really hard, so we don't need to be aware of everything, and mistakes are okay.  Hell, I drive my car short distances every day.  But please remember the reasons behind charity.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you wrote this.

Every time I think about donating to a charity, I begin asking myself questions like "But how can I be sure that this help isn't hopelessly misguided?" So many other stuff comes to mind that I don't even know where to start researching and I end up doing nothing. But I'm, you know, working on it..

Rassles said...

A good place to check out is Charity Navigator. Best resource ever.

Jane said...

Rassles, thank you so much for posting this. I think all of the things you say are absolutely valid, and I agree with you on most (if not all) of them.

As a note: while Charity Navigator is indeed a great resource for research, please keep in mind that CN's rating system (and those of other such nonprofit databases) penalizes organizations for investing in high quality administrative staff. Any money that goes toward overhead and away from "programs" is considered bad to CN's classification systems. Since the charity professionals you speak of are usually experts in their field with years of experience and knowledge, they are not free. As such, if a nonprofit invests in a lot of high-quality staffing and leadership, this negatively affects its CN rating. However, high-quality staff are what make high-quality programming. Arguably, if salaries at these types of charities could be better, higher-quality people would be willing to work there.

It's a bit of a catch-22. No system is perfect, by any means, but one should always (as you say) go into things with full information.

Rassles said...

I agree with all of that business about Charity Navigator, but I was thinking more just for a general search resource - I mean, I love how you can go and type in "animal chicago" and it gives me local charities that focus on animal welfare, and then when you pick one you can do more research on it.

Rassles said...

It doesn't have the bias of google.

Rassles said...

The other thing about CN too, which is how things might backfire if someone KNEW about the staffing issue - an organization (like mine, for example) where 100% of our administrative expenses come from an endowment, someone who sees that might assume we do NOT have the high quality staff, which is not true.

But seriously, if you know another good way for people to start a search when they're looking for a charity to support, let me know so I can (a) share it and (b) use it. I have to answer lots of questions about other organization that are similar to mine, and CN is one of the first places I look to find them.

daisyfae said...

amen. another example: food drives at the holidays.

here's a clue, people -- give money. don't clean out your pantry and donate the canned pumpkin you bought last year when you thought about baking a pie.

don't volunteer to serve a thanksgiving meal at a shelter. they have more volunteers than clients on the holidays.

and as for 'breast cancer awareness'? fuck 'em all. we've elevated the status of "BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR" to goddess, even though most of the stuff we are detecting now isn't gonna kill us. we just feel good marching for aunt jane, in our pink sweatsuits.

oh, and i had a cancer nugget removed from my left tit. the fundraising, pink-ribbon army makes me scream.

renalfailure said...

Toms... ugh. When a friend is wearing them, I am thankful that they're wearing shoes but I am also disappointed that they don't have better taste. Does no one buy Keds anymore?

Toms are still better than flip-flops or those other sandals with the strap that goes between the toes and runs back to the ankle strap that got so prevalent over the past year or two.