The holidays are officially over. Wrapping paper lies in the bottom of trashcans. Presents are worn in. Netflix is no longer the main event of the day. And tiredness once again looms among stressed students.
But other things are also becoming old and remain stuck in the past. The Salvation Army’s red kettles and jingling bells have been removed. Collection boxes with the “Toys for Tots” label have been dismantled. Piles of cans have been delivered, and none remain. But people are still hungry. Children still need warmth and toys. Loose change burns a hole in one’s pocket very quickly. The holidays are winding down, and so are acts of charity.
Charity is a quick fix. During the holidays, donation boxes are overflowing, but once the Christmas trees have been thrown away and the twinkling lights have been turned off, donations halt. Such acts of kindness do little to remedy the real issue. They are very vertical actions — the top gives to the bottom. There is no solidarity. There is no collaboration. Solutions are seen as coming from positions of privilege, and oftentimes they are not solutions at all, but actually overlook the real issue. The amount that is donated is never too much. Loose change and old toys are appropriate, because the lost weight will not be felt. Charity inevitably views some as helpless receivers and others as selfless saviors. It dictates that some have the answers and the means to implement them while others remain powerless. Never through charity can we move beyond privilege and these problematic dynamics.
I believe in a common liberation. I believe in solidarity. We all have something to give and receive from others despite the intersection of our identities. As allies, we can move forward to solve the issues of why hunger and poverty exist. Charity turns us into opposite poles and slaps a small Band-Aid on a wound that is much bigger. Moving from problematic charity to powerful solidarity means making some changes first.
Change the narrative. “Help” should not be solely defined as giving tangible resources that cover basic needs. This definition limits us to viewing help as stemming only from those with material resources and not from those who lack the necessary funds. Instead of confining ourselves to this idea of help, we should move toward entertaining the idea of empowerment. Empowerment comes in many forms and shades. It dictates that each person and community is equally part of the equation. It gives a voice to all and wards off the potential of disseminating norms and solutions of the privileged group onto others.
We also need to change the idea of who is a receiver. Each community, including my privileged, white community lined with picket fences and green lawns, needs empowerment. Empowerment does not mean that only the less privileged need attention, or that they lack ability and knowledge. My privileged community needs empowerment to gain a consciousness it currently lacks. Such communities need the strength to echo the truth and unearth the unjust structures they rely on. Other communities and individuals may need empowerment to unlock their voices, reach for their potential and gain a positive self-image. By empowering and attending to everyone’s different needs, we can change the equation. We all become an equally important component of the solution through which we have the potential to learn, empower, listen and influence.
To do that, we must create intersectionality. Issues are interwoven. People do not fit into boxed categories, and our problems are not individual entities. Therefore, we cannot approach liberation without turning it into a common fight. Even though my white skin does not make me a target, I still need to be liberated from privilege and need my friends and allies to be liberated from oppression. Together we are stronger.
We can come together and link hands. Charity allows people to give to others without even meeting the people they are supposedly helping. The distance between “givers” and “receivers” prevents any true warmth, compassion or care from forming. We cannot create change without nurturing genuine relationships. By meeting the people we hope to collaborate with, we can find the love we need to become braver fighters.
Make giving a part of yourself. Charity dictates giving as a concrete and singular act. Food, money, toys and clothes are donated once in a while, and then the act is over. Don’t give only when it is convenient for you. Taking the steps to form solidarity and to empower others as well as yourself means turning these acts into an essence of yourself. Solidarity is a state of being. It radiates outward and influences our actions at every moment.
It is time for us to create real change. It is time to create solidarity and begin a true fight for liberation. Come join.
Maja Tosic is an LSA senior.
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