Why I’m Redistributing My Coronavirus Relief Checks, Again
Amy in her pandemic "office."
By Amy Hilgendorf
About a year ago, I wrote about receiving my stimulus check from the US government as a part of a COVID-19 pandemic relief package and redirecting those funds to Freedom Inc. I wrote about why I made this decision; specifically, how I saw my financial security as the accumulation of a history of government actions that benefited my ancestors and myself as white-identified people in a racist society. These actions included land seizures and the forced removal of Native peoples and the quick sale of these same lands to my newly-arrived non-English speaking European ancestors, veterans benefits only accessible to white soldiers, and federally-backed mortgages for my white grandparents to buy a home in a “most favored” (green-lined) neighborhood with a restrictive housing covenant.
This is only some of the race-dependent economic advantage that I’ve learned about in my family’s history, but more than enough to make me look again at my financial situation and recalculate what I’ve “earned,” what I “need,” and what I “deserve.” And my conclusion was – and is again – that I am just fine and likely will continue to be fine given the ways these advantages have cemented themselves in a steady income, a home, some savings, my education and employability and, also if need be, a financial safety net through the rest of my white family.
So, one year later, I’m still relatively unscathed, with the only real impacts to me of this year being stay-at-home fatigue and the loss of some family relationships to QAnon. By contrast, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color here and across the country have suffered more cases of COVID, more deaths, and more job losses and financial harm from the pandemic economic collapse. Black and Asian Americans have seen more people who look like them murdered by white supremacist violence this year, with little or no accountability. (Yes, Derek Chauvin was found guilty, but within those same 24 hours, Ma’Kiah Bryant, Mario Gonzalez, and Andrew Brown, Jr. all lost their lives to racist police violence in different parts of the country.) Everyday acts of racism by white people that harm BIPOC individuals and communities, from microaggressions on up, have steadily risen throughout the year and intensified many already-toxic school, work, and neighborhood environments. And with the economic downturn, some anticipate that the already mind-boggling racial wealth gap, in which the average white family has 10-12 times the money and assets of the average Black or Latinx family, will only grow and be even harder to close in the future without intervention.
Now more money is coming my way, including monthly checks for each of my three children through at least the end of the year. I am pleased to see this turn towards stable government funding for families with children and want to see this continue – ideally, towards universal basic income for all children, adults, and elders living in the US, an acknowledgement that humans deserve to have their basic needs met – but keeping money I don’t need or spending it to “stimulate” the economy are not going to achieve the kind of transformation I think our society needs.
Rather, by redistributing money I don’t need to BIPOC leaders, I can divest from whiteness and put more money in the hands of those who know how to support BIPOC community members, meeting their needs and investing in their thriving. Though Freedom Inc. is most known for their vocal efforts to abolish police and mass incarceration, their commitment to ending gender-based violence means that they have a longstanding approach to mutual aid, providing for the current needs of Black, Southeast Asian, Queer and Trans survivors of trauma so that they have what they need to be powerful, enact community change, and support each other. This stands in contrast to various “mutual aid” efforts that have sprouted around town in which well-intended white folx donate money and goods for the assumed benefit of BIPOC communities but without the relationships to know what’s wanted or useful (i.e., charity).
I redistribute also because the future I want requires that I learn how to be in the world differently; through practice, I can loosen the hold of racial capitalism on my thinking and my emotions. As white people, we cannot will ourselves to recognize that meritocracy does not explain our economic advantages, but that complicity in the exploitations of BIPOC communities here and abroad does. Nor can we will ourselves into understanding that capitalism manufactures scarcity and that the fears that we feel around “having enough” and the hoarding that we do in response is all unfounded. We need to practice this, to shift our habits and our culture, and thereby gain experience in actually having enough, being fine, and allowing for more to have what they need.
And we need practice in following the lead of our BIPOC neighbors, for those most impacted by racial capitalism and associated oppressions know best how they operate, how they harm, and how to dismantle them. If we say we’re ready to consider reparations seriously, people like me need to divest from whiteness and our racial capitalist selves, or we’ll continue to undermine these efforts by protecting our own self-interests, maybe without even recognizing it.
So, again and going forward, I’m redistributing these government funds to BIPOC leaders who are building a different future, one that is not anchored in exploitation and oppression, and instead one where everyone has what they need and we can live in ties of mutuality, respect, and joy and admiration for one another’s humanity. These redistributive actions are one way that I acknowledge, take responsibility for, and repair from my family’s piece of this country’s racist history and how that history is still present today. And they help me practice and come more fully into my humanity, divested from whiteness. If you and your history bears resemblance to mine, I hope you’ll do the same.
“For a very long time America prospered; this prosperity cost millions of people their lives. Now, not even those who are the most spectacular beneficiaries of this prosperity, are able to endure these benefits. They can neither enjoy, nor do without these benefits. Above all, imagine the price paid the victims or subjects for this way of life and so they cannot afford to know why the victims are revolting. This is the formula for a nation declined, for the nation does not work in the way it’s advocates think in fact it does. It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of the adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness, even the panic, of the adversary and this invests the victim with passion.” – James Baldwin
FAMILIES FOR JUSTICE is a network of people in Dane County working to dismantle white supremacy through multi-generational community organizing and direct action. Read more about us on our main webpage.