The ‘Season of Giving’: In Being Hyper-Privileged and Questioning Our Relationship to Generosity
Here I define “hyper-privileged” as many people in America and other “1st world nations” who have a secure citizenship within this privileged, wealthy country, are middle-class, or above, and who also have minimal ways in which they are oppressed. Congratulations, if you fall into this category of “hyper-privileged”, I will tell you, you are in the top 2% of the wealthiest and most “free” people on this planet. This article is for all of you to begin to consider your relationship with generosity.
I want to ask you all 4 questions, to start with, to begin to address your relationship with generosity, as a hyper-privileged person.
- How do you make decisions about who, when, and how much you give of your wealth, time, energy, and resources, to others? I mean this in multiple contexts, whether it is practicing generosity with your friends, family, and community, homeless or disenfranchised individuals you have met and see in your community, with people who are strangers, and/or with environmental, political and justice organizations. Seriously, how do you decide what percentage of what you may have (whether assets, money, time, thought, service, etc…), goes to others?
- Do you consider the ways that giving to some, may end up harming others? For example, how do you justify giving a new sound system to a family member, when it has effectively supported child/exploitative labor practices in China? Or, how do you justify giving money to a disenfranchised community, when the work you do, makes money through harming that same community? The contexts could be listed exhaustively.
3. Why do you think you are unable to give more, or in a different way?
4. Why do you decide you don’t want to give more, or in a different way?
5. And, for those of you reading this article who are White or Christian/Catholic and also living in a “1st World Country”, do you consider the implications of your desire to give, based on needing to be a savior of some other group, whom your existence, currently, or historically, serves to exploit and oppress?
I am genuinely curious about what these questions may bring up for us hyper-privileged folk.
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t share my own context, here, given that I just asked you the above questions. I am a middle class, highly educated, hetero-passing, American, White, non-religious, cis-gender passing, woman, and I also mostly live in southern Mexico. I am currently (and in the past 2.5 years) financially and emotionally supporting an economically oppressed Filipina woman friend, get her teaching degree. While here in Mexico, I have begun to do business with a social and economic justice element for farmers and distributors of cacao here, and have also been seeking to become more involved in women’s rights in the community.
I understand that there is a strong history of colonialism, missionary exposure, imperialism, and immigration to Mexico. I understand that European colonization has and is dismantling the indigenous culture, people, and land rights. I also understand that classism, economic oppression, sexism, colorism, and racism are very much alive and extremely obvious here. What stands out the most to me, is that I am living in a place where people are struggling in the throes of severe poverty, and that my White ancestors, our colonialism, and the oppressive forces of my home (American) government, corporate, and financial systems, are very much a part of their suffering. I understand I am here because of the road paved for me by White colonizers, and in a way I am one of them, despite my best intentions. It is a very complicated situation of privilege, my being here, and being welcomed into this community, to live my life. It is also a complicated set of many co-occurring contexts that have created this current environmental, political, social, and economic climate here in southern Mexico.
So, given these complex circumstances, and the fact that I cannot at all avoid being a colonizer, benefiting from oppression of others, or can’t avoid benefiting from my privilege, how am I supposed to be a generous, helpful contributor and change-agent, who supports others in becoming more empowered?
Can my giving and helping, ever NOT be a part of colonizing? Can I ever NOT be partaking in some sort of White, (rich) savior role, if in fact, the people I am helping are largely not White, are still partly indigenous though also have been colonized and live a modern life, are extremely poor, and often quite desperate for financial assistance?
And, is this grey area an excuse to be a purist, non-interventionist, and not actually help when I see an opportunity, and am invited? I understand the historical context that often times White or hyper-privileged people “helping”, ends up resulting in negative, unintended consequences. But, are we supposed to so effectively anticipate the future that we cannot help, due to the desire to not accidentally do any harm at all?
I know there are many people with all sorts of perspectives on this, ranging from, leave a community to work things out for themselves, to helping be a silent supporter of a community of leaders who will then be empowered to help their own people, to being an explicit supporter that provides a whole lot of support, service, and donation. And, I know each perspective has people who function from a value system, cosmology, and historical perspective that justifies their way, so to speak.
I have begun to ask myself, in this day and age, where many rounds of colonizing have occurred, and most people on this planet cannot return to how their indigenous and environmental cultures were prior to this colonization, what does it mean as a colonizer or hyper-privileged person, to now try to help? And, in knowing that my help may have unintended negative consequences, is it still worth it to help, due to the benefits the individual, family, or group of people may experience? And, do I go ahead and trust that the disenfranchised people who are asking for help from me, and desire for me to use my privilege to help them, in this particular way, know best about what they need, and that I should strive to give them exactly what they want, within the realm of what I am capable of?
Now that you have learned a bit about my context and personal questioning, as you go ahead and contemplate what it is to be generous in this ‘Season of Giving’, whether you are giving to a close-knit circle around you, or to people on the other side of the planet, what do you make of what it means to give, and how this may benefit, or not, the people whom you are giving to, as well as the larger community, and the world?
My best solution is to hang out in the grey area, stay informed, do your best to be a conscious consumer (if you can afford it), keep listening, and adjust when informed an adjustment on your path of generosity, is needed. Other than that, I wish us all the capacity to practice loving ourselves, and each other, through generosity, a little more, during this holiday season.