Quote of the Day

"I haven't donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don't give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don't think the guy with the sign that reads 'Need You're Help' is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don't think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either."—Former NBA player and huge privileged asshole Paul Shirley, who also penned an open letter to the people of Haiti which is even more execrable. [H/T to Shaker Nicole.]

Coincidentally, my dad and I were just talking about this exact attitude two nights ago. Now, my dad, who is a very devout and fairly conservative fella, and I disagree about a lot of stuff. But one thing on which we passionately agree is the importance of volunteering and charitable giving.

Both of us have heard variations on the old "I won't give money to a homeless man because he might spend it on booze" chestnut from people during discussions of Haiti relief. I said, "When I give money to someone who's homeless, I don't give a flying fuck what zie spends it on, whether it's a bottle of booze or a hit of weed or a sandwich or a paperback, because I respect hir autonomy." And my dad said [I'm paraphrasing], "Ditto."

Respecting the right of humans to make decisions for themselves isn't—or shouldn't be—an exclusively conservative or progressive principle. (And disrespecting people's right of self-determination is found in varying degrees on both the Right [anti-choicers] and the Left [paternalism, or nanny-statism].) It's something we all ought to be able to handle.

As is navigating the obvious distinction between giving money to a person (or people), whose choices are none of your business, and an organization, whose charter delineates how contributions will be spent and is thus answerable if they are misspent.

Shirley, and not a few other privileged folks, are willfully blurring that distinction in a shameless attempt to justify their despicable victim-blaming, which isn't justifiable by any measure, anyway. It's one thing to not be sure which charity is the most effective (although accessing information on vetted charities is easier than ever—thanks, Al Gore!); it's quite another to lay the blame at the feet of aid recipients, belligerently dismissing them as intrinsically unhelpable, because they haven't demonstrated sufficient ability to overcome centuries of privileged exploitation and institutional neglect to satisfy your pithy, ignorant expectations.

No one (especially people struggling themselves) is obliged to contribute to relief efforts. But anyone who has the means and doesn't want to give ought to at least have the integrity to be honest about why they're not giving, to say, with unapologetic avarice: "It's not you; it's me."

[Contributions are still needed. Donate to CARE here. Donate to Habitat for Humanity here. Donate to Doctors Without Borders here. Donate to Hope for Haiti Now, which benefits a variety of organizations (who can be found at the link), here.]

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