Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Person Speaks My Mind

Today I listened to Ray Suarez talking about immigration and social class and education. He speaks my mind.

You can hear the hour-long program here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Generosity Rant

Warning: This rant about generosity isn't very generous.

A funk has been building in me.

On Facebook an "event" has been going around Quaker circles called "Hug a Quaker Day" on December 15th. I've felt cranky about this and am feeling bad and un-generous about being cranky.

But here's the deal.

Quakers already give and get more than enough hugs. What about people who actually don't have enough hugs?

I think this comes from my desire to be generous to people who don't have what they need to live. Including hugs. And also including money and goods.

I've been reading lately about how patterns of giving in the US actually perpetuate and reinforce existing social class structures. Social scientists have found that most modern giving benefits the elite and few others, and the little that goes to the most in need are safe because they don't challenge the status quo. Finally, the majority of philanthropy that gives to the most in need also gives opportunities for people, including those they serve, to socialize with the elite. But it actually reinforces the status of the elite. (Disentangling Class from Philanthropy: The Double-edged Sword of Alternate Giving, from Critical Sociology 33, 2007, in case you want to read the whole article about alternative foundations).

It got me thinking about mine and Liz's giving, but also my meeting's giving, which looks like this:


American Friends Service Committee $2,360
Friends Committee on National Legislation $2,360
Friends General Conference $2,360
Friends World Committee on Consultation $375
Right Sharing of World Resources $325
Friends Journal $1,135


Friends for a Non-Violent World $5,700
Friends School of Minnesota $4,225
Northern Yearly Meeting $5,615

Local non-Quaker

Loaves & Fishes $1,200
St. Paul Council of Churches $200 (required dues)


$250 for special requests

Here's how our giving breaks down as I do the math.

Organizations that serve mostly already-privileged Quakers and others who are also privileged (FGC, FWCC, Friends Journal, FSMN, NYM, Council of Churches): $13,910
Organizations that serve Quakers in our quest to serve others (AFSC, FCNL, FNVW) $10,420
Organizations that try to serve poor and working class people (Loaves and Fishes): $1,200
Organizations that try to change the system that keeps poor people poor (RSWR): $325

Our meeting also gives $3,400 to individuals, but $2,100 of that is for Quaker travel and registration expenses, mostly to events sponsored by organizations that serve Quakers like FGC and NYM.

You might argue that Quakers do a lot of volunteering and making of social change, so giving to ourselves is somewhat justified. But I don't understand how justified it is if this kind of giving only reinforces the social class structure. I can't find evidence that Quakers are vigorously working to break down class barriers.

In the spirit of full disclosure, our personal giving breaks down like this:

18% goes toward organizations that serve us or other privileged people (like public radio and Friends General Conference).
37% goes toward helping middle class people help those in need (like Women's Foundation of Minnesota and Philanthrofund)
17% goes toward helping poor and working class people but without changing the systems that keep them oppressed (like the food shelf and Metropolitan State University)
27% goes toward changing the systems that keep poor and working class people oppressed (like Right Sharing of World Resources and the Women's Prison Book Project).

What does your personal and Quaker meeting philanthropy look like in these categories? What are you doing in your personal philanthropy to change the system that keeps people oppressed?