As we learned previously, the “white saviorism” mentality paints a white person as generous and charitable for donating to charities that support people of color. We also learned that there is a massive racial wealth gap in the US, with the net worth of white families averaging ten times or more than Native, Latinx, or Black families. In the third installation of this series, we will look at what “solidarity, not charity” means, and how we can view mutual aid not as charity, but as a form of reparations.
First off, let’s look at “charity.” Charity is defined by Mirriam-Webster as “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering.” It focuses on the good deeds of the giver - a generous person - and the name even reflects the kindness of the giver; this centers the giver, not the receiver. As we learned in the previous post in this series, white saviorism also involves centering the giver and their “generosity” and less about the person receiving the support or their needs.
Mutual aid, on the other hand, is not looked at as a gift, but “a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government.” (Big Door Brigade). Mutual aid does not create a difference between “giver” and “receiver,” but rather says that we are all one community supporting one another, which will depend on the most urgent needs at the moment. It specifically acknowledges the oppression and poverty caused by white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and more; by contrast, many charities and nonprofits espouse the idea that poverty is a moral failing or an individual’s fault, and they must prove they are worthy of support. You can read more in the Snack Sack blog post, “Nobody gets turned away": 3 differences between mutual aid and charity.”
And lastly, reparations are actions taken to make amends for a wrong or injury; these can be any action, but are usually considered to be financial compensation in this context. Reparations in the form of property (“forty acres and a mule”) was an initial promise to formerly-enslaved people, but was later taken back and sickeningly given to the slaveholders as compensation for their “losses” (Jameelah Nasheed, Teen Vogue).
So then, how do these three concepts tie together?
As we saw in the previous post, even if a white person is not “rich,” they still have more access to resources, proximity to wealth from other white people, and continue to benefit from systemic racism. This is in direct contrast to people of color, who have been losing resources due to systemic racism for centuries. This means white people have increased resources because they have often been taken from people of color. This doesn’t always happen directly (e.g. wage theft), but on an indirect and system-wide level, such as having priority access to housing that will increase more in value, or being more likely to have a job with good retirement benefits.
Mutual aid presents an opportunity for those with resources to redistribute life-saving cash to those who have been forced into situations of poverty by inequality and systemic oppression. As a group, white people have more ability to donate to mutual aid, where cash will go directly to those who are in need due to that systemic inequality. This also applies to the dynamic and wealth gap between disabled and non-disabled people, cisgender/hetero people and trans/queer people, and many others. Whereas the concept of charity is “giving away money because you’re such a great person,” mutual aid acknowledges how incredibly unjust this country has been for hundreds of years, and that those with social privilege have financially benefited from it.
However, Black people are owed far more in reparations than mutual aid funds raise. This should be acknowledged by the US Government for many reasons, including 1) this country was built physically and monetarily on the enslaved, forced labor of stolen African lives; 2) reparations were already promised but rescinded; and 3) systemic racism has intentionally and legally kept wealth in the hands of white people.
What we can do to push for justice is donate ourselves, talk to our friends and family to do the same, and push our elected officials to actually enact REAL reparations. This certainly won’t fix our history, but it will help to even the playing field more between those who have been exploited by, and those who continue to benefit from, white supremacy.