For the Love of Humanity: Philanthropy & Privilege

Jake Goodman
October 3, 2011
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Image from The New York Times.

Image from The New York Times.

Philanthropy literally means love of humanity.  To my understanding, philanthropists draw from personal resources to financially enable selected organizations, movements, initiatives, programs and people to engage in work that transforms some part of their (i.e., the philanthropists’) ethical ideal into tangible reality.  I imagine that philanthropists’ love of humanity must be tied to a commitment to social justice and belief in some sort of social contract.  I also imagine that it must be tied to economic privilege, as well.  Most of the time.

But what about the queer activists I have the privilege of working with who prioritize being available to organize on the street, get arrested, be present for meetings and educate others over working a fulltime job?  These are not people who are supported by their families or a trust fund (not that I demonize those who are).  These are people who choose to limit the amount of money and creature comforts they could have so that they can fully commit to engaging in work that transforms some part of their ethical ideal into tangible reality.  They have a deep love of humanity.  Are they not philanthropists?

What about the Wall Street Protestors?  As of this writing, many of these regular citizens have chosen to put their lives on hold and occupy Wall Street for weeks, because they believe they must take a stand against the grave injustices perpetrated by corporate forces.  While some are surely supported by their families or trust funds (again, I place no judgment on this), many are not.  Many are sleeping on the streets using garbage bags for sheets; all are choosing to be there instead of working their jobs—if they were able to find jobs—or going to school.  They are choosing to make sacrifices to do their darndest to transform some part of their ethical ideal into tangible reality.  They have a deep love of humanity.  (Well, now that corporations are people, perhaps it is inaccurate to say they love all humanity.)

This given, I think it is appropriate to discuss how people with economic privilege can help those who are not so privileged to engage in their own type of philanthropy, which they are doing with their feet on the street.

The first way, of course, is to join them.  All people who share a love of humanity should actually make the effort to disrupt the routine of their own lives and take the time to put their feet on the street.  It’s a shanda—a shanda!—that, so often, the people who can actually afford to show up choose not to.  So many different movements, causes and protests suffer solely from what I call the Tinker Bell Syndrome:  they cannot exist unless you believe in them, and the media/general public will not know you believe in them unless you actually show up and make the crowd look larger.  Truly, sometimes all you have to do is show up.

Second, people with economic privilege can find out what the needs are of the people who are actually philanthropizing with their feet, and do their best to meet those specific needs - to enable them to actually do the work.  For example, I know that the people at Occupy Wall Street need the following: sleeping bags; sweat shirts; sweat pants; connections to local food businesses who will accept credit cards.  You can find out more by clicking here.  It’s not right that people have to go broke and get sick to fight for rights.

People who love humanity should use their personal resources to to financially enable people without economic privilege to engage in work that transforms some part of their (i.e., the philanthropists’) ethical ideal into tangible reality.

If your ethical ideal involves causes different than the two I’ve mentioned here (queer rights and economic justice), then I encourage you to search out organizations, movements, initiatives, programs and people who just need you to believe in them.

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Jake Goodman is an LGTBQ activist, Jewish educator and performer. He holds an MA in Jewish Education with a specialization in Infomal and Communal Education from the Davidson School at JTS and a BFA in Acting from Emerson College. Jake has worked increasingly to advocate toward full equality for LGBT people. Jake is a founding member of Queer Rising, a grassroots organization that demands queer rights through direct action, is on a committee to confront homeless queer youth with the Ali Forney Center, and is currently working on a book. Jake is also a proud company member of Storahtelling, previously serving as Associate Director, and serves as senior faculty for the 14th Street Y's LABA fellowship. He has served as educator in various capacities at seminaries, synagogues, JCCs, camps and pre-schools around the country. In the theater world, Jake has performed across the country and internationally at The Berkshire Theater Festival, Actors Theater of Louisville, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Alma in Tel-Aviv.

1 Comment

  1. What are the odds of all philanthropitic controbutions to what was known as PRO-LIFE AND PRO-CHOICE ORGS. BEING DISCONTINUED? This money is only fulling a fire that must go out. No doubt some are making a good living skiming $ off the fat.
    The law will be no abortion on demand after the begining of the 5th month of gestation. This is when the child abuse begins . One woe is past. It wasn’t internal combustion that was outlawed.(Rev.9:13-20) Why is child abuse legal? Is murder not enough?
    Are the lawers still still bunch of idiots? As good at what they do as I am at spelling?

    Posted by
    Dennis E. Anderson
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