The Tension between Charity and Justice


Recently I read an article on Other Asians about an amazing and idealistic nonprofit called The Supply.  The stories these founders tell are touching and inspirational, and far be it from me to put down anyone with the drive to make dreams reality, especially for those with no access like the kids in the slums The Supply works with.  That said, I’m still going to be an asshole and bring up some points to complicate things.

One quote from John really resonates with me:

For me, going to Africa taught me what it means to live in the US. The American dream is not only given to you, it’s shoved down your throat. When I see Americans and even myself especially, I’m pissed off I don’t have the newest apple product. They constantly teach me how live.

I feel that when privileged Americans visit wherever it is in the world that teaches them how much better off they are than those living in the global south, they don’t go on to question how such enormous disparities in living conditions arose.  Yes, education can be a great equalizer, a pathway to gain access to privileges, to empower individuals and their communities to improve their conditions.  But how were these huge gaps of inequality created in the first place, making education a necessary and plausible step towards closing them?

It’s not so simple as blaming all the world’s problems on the U.S., but the U.S. is a huge influential global force.  But I think it’s really fucked up to visit a tiny village in Africa just to be reminded how materialistically wealthy and privileged we are in the U.S. and come home thinking “Damn, I’m so lucky not to be in their shoes!”.  At what costs did we gain our wealth?  If you’re curious, take a look at the native Americans, slavery, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guam, Puerto Rico, Micronesia, and Vietnam.  Just to scratch the surface in exploring how many of the U.S.’s actions, policies, and interference have been in the interest of our own economic, political, and military ideals.

Lately I’ve been exploring the tension between charity and justice, between what is necessary now and what will really transform the root causes of inequality.  I love the fierce passion and pursuit of idealism that shows through in these men’s words.  But without a deeper critique questioning how our own wealth and privileges were built, this is only a band aid solution, and not part of a longer journey to transformation and justice.

Yes it is my education that has enabled me to ask such critical questions of nonprofits, to draw connections between slums on another continent and the political and material reality around me in the U.S.  I’m not trying to invalidate the work of these men or any other nonprofits who work for good.  I’m saying yes do service, yes help others, AND always ask why there are so many people who need “help” in the first place.  And explore that.  I’ve been searching for the point of entry where my privileges as an American empower me to make a difference NOT in a slum across the world, but in my own community where agribusinesses exploit migrant labor to provide “fresh” produce year round, and my precious Forever 21 clothes are made by sweatshop labor… and when I see my move, I’ll make it.

Rosie Glade is an American Ethnic Studies major at Willamette University.  She is a second generation Filipina American and fully intends to spend her life organizing, challenging, and freedom dreaming.

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