My Last $100: Fundraisers for Victims of Racial Violence

What’s unusual about this particular $100 is that I donated to families of victims rather than to individuals raising the funds for themselves.

Photo credit: Meshae Studios, CC BY 2.0.

I spent my last $100 split evenly in two. $50 to the fundraiser for the family of Charleena Lyles, who was killed by Seattle police in front of her children. $50 to the fundraiser for the family of Nabra Hassanen, who was killed the same day in a violent attack that, in a demonstration of flagrant Islamophobia, is being called a road rage incident rather than a hate crime.

Contributing to fundraisers that support people subjected to racism, cissexism, ableism, and other -isms is not a new way for me to spend money. What’s unusual about this particular $100 is that I donated to families of victims rather than to individuals raising the funds for themselves.

Giving money to marginalized people is one of the main ways I contribute to social justice. It feels weird to say this publicly, but I think it needs to be said more. White people who believe in social justice, call themselves progressive or even radical, and have access to any amount of wealth often, I think, carry a lot of guilt about that access to wealth. I know I do.

I watch people in the queer community adopt ways of looking and behaving that disguise their wealthy backgrounds or current financial situations. Incidental, intentional — I believe there are a combination of motivations behind these choices. What do we, as more privileged but still marginalized (or more privileged but still deeply committed to the idea of justice) people, do when we are living a reality of financial inequity resulting from an assortment of factors like family money, educational privilege, and preferential treatment in hiring and promotion?

Well, right now I think many of us hide behind the very American belief that we don’t have enough. We don’t have enough money to do pay x, y, z, bills AND go out for dinner. We don’t have enough money to cover cost of living AND take that week of vacation. We don’t have enough money to do those things AND contribute to an IRA. It is American capitalist meritocracy that trains us to believe we will never have enough money.

Right now, I have a job making more money than I need. That hasn’t always been true, but it has been for multiple years now. That job is not at all related to a cause I hold important, so none of my energy there goes toward working for justice. I also have a chronic illness and a very limited amount of energy available after I take care of my basic daily needs and getting myself to work. I don’t have much time or energy (physical or mental) to donate in volunteer hours and work. But I do have money. So I donate that and try to go easy on myself for not being involved in other ways.

My practice for the last few years has been to give money directly to individuals rather than to organizations. The money I give goes to requests through the Reparations Project or fundraisers circulated online for either individuals or communities.

Making this choice involved unlearning the ways of thinking I was taught by my mother and other adults:

  • Support nonprofits working on the causes you care about (rather than the people who are those causes)
  • Don’t give money to people on the street (the mostly but not always unsaid second part of this message: they probably use it for drugs or alcohol)
  • Build giving into your taxes so you can take deductions for contributions (make it part of a rigged political economic system)

There’s an unspoken agreement that organizations know how to use money better than the individuals who need it. This is grossly paternalistic at best.

I’m not saying giving to organizations is worthless. We need to pay people doing the work of policy change, immediate social services, education, and so on. What always bothered me, though, was thinking about how much of that money goes to employing people to talk about injustices they aren’t directly affected by. And, as I got to know more about nonprofits, I learned how beholden the organizations are to the people who give them money.

My discomfort with supporting nonprofits meant I stopped donating money to causes entirely, which was a problem when I started making enough of it to be able to do so. Fortunately, crowdfunding for support had become a thing around the same time, so the option to give money to people in need was more available.

So I give money to people — POC, trans people, queer people, and disabled people. I don’t have a good system for doing so. I prioritize basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, and medical care, which I interpret broadly to mean anything from primary care to gender-confirming surgery to vet care for pets to non-Western self-care practices; then educational, cultural connection, or community-building opportunities; then other things. I don’t really ever get past the first two categories on the list, so I’m not sure what “other things” would entail.

My money tracking system is pretty loose and based on years of being conservative with spending — at this point, I trust myself to be relatively aware of where my money is going in my head. I don’t have a specific budget for this category of money. It fluctuates depending on my monthly expenses and how concerned I am about saving for the future. Some days I scroll through the reparations group and am pulled toward one or two posts, and give them money. Some days I pick the first five posts I see and split up however much I have to spend at that point.

This is what I mean when I say I don’t have a good system. I’m fine with that, because people who need financial help aren’t a system, they’re individuals. There are systems in place to provide financial support or lending to marginalized populations (not enough, but some). What I do is an alternative kind of way to give money. It’s more about wealth redistribution than philanthropy.

Back to why my last $100 was unusual. I prefer to give money to people for immediate needs, rather than after-the-fact situations like fundraisers for funeral costs. Yes, funeral costs are immediate needs for someone. This is not wholly logical. It’s an intuitive choice. As I wrote in a Facebook post recently, “The fundraisers I see for the family of someone who’s been killed by cops are usually fully funded, quickly. This is great, but I’d like to see more financial support going toward POC BEFORE there’s death.”

But Charleena Lyles was in my community, killed by the cops I watch on the streets, the ones I sometimes find myself in the terrible position of having to suggest people call (this is inevitable in social services work and it needs to change). Her kids and whoever their caretakers are now do have immediate needs. And Nabra Hassanen — I don’t have an explanation for that. It just happened.

I used an online word counter to check my word count for this article. One of the top ten words is “enough.” How apt. Part of this process for me is constantly struggling with feeling like I’m not giving enough. Money and “enough” are permanently entangled. Maybe making a budget for giving money away would reduce my discomfort, but it will always be there. And that’s fine, too. Having enough privilege to have money to give to people comes with discomfort, as far as I’m concerned.

Augustin Kendall sometimes writes about white people’s accountability in undoing racism at None of Us. He lives in Seattle but likes the East coast better.

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