I Just Don’t Like The Way You Give Me Charity

The New York Times ran the strangest article about people helping the downtrodden after Hurricane Sandy. It’s strange because instead of lauding the people who’re helping or talking about how we can come together to help each other out in a crisis, it focuses on guilt and on the difficult charity cases who don’t like the way they’re being given handouts.

After more than a week of self-sufficiency, George Ossy, an immigrant from Africa living amid the chaos of the Rockaways, with his 10-year-old daughter in tow, walked into the relief center down the street, one of several set up by the volunteers who had descended on the storm-battered peninsula in Queens.

Moments later, a white woman leaned down to address his daughter. “Have you eaten in two days?” she asked.

Mr. Ossy surged with outrage. Power was out, yes, and nights were cold for sure, but Mr. Ossy, a taxi driver proud of the long days he works to earn money for his family, was insulted by the suggestion that his daughter was not well cared for.

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“I said: ‘What do you think? You think we live in the bush?’ ” He felt condescended to by the volunteers – many of whom hail from upscale neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn. He turned and left.

…Those coming to them for relief worry that their helpers are taking some voyeuristic interest in their plight, treating it as an exotic weekend outing, “like we’re in a zoo,” said one resident of a Rockaway project – echoing a complaint often heard in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina – as volunteers snapped iPhone photos of her as she waited in line for donated food and clothing.

And while the good being done is undeniable, the gap-bridging atmosphere has a melancholy undertone for some on all sides who are sure the moment is fleeting.

…A similar scene was unfolding in the shadow of the Red Hook Houses, a housing project with nearly 3,000 apartments. Stung not only by pervasive income inequality, but also by the steady march of gentrification in this once-derelict area, some here found it hard to accept aid from the same apple-cheeked young people pricing out longtime residents of the neighborhood.

But realizing that this demographic group, long held up as the villain in the tale of life in the projects, could care, was just as hard for some residents.

“They’ve been talking about white people as bad for so long, they feel shaky, embarrassed,” Al Pagan, 46, who lives in the Red Hook Houses, said as he watched the volunteers help his neighbors. “They’re starting to realize white people are human beings just like us.” (Hawkins’ note: Imagine the commentary in the New York Times if the races involved were reversed on that comment)

…As volunteers with the makeshift relief efforts have applied their own rules on how to dole out relief – telling people where to wait and enforcing limits on how many blankets or food items storm victims receive – some have entered the more fraught area of applying their own values to those they are helping.

As she gave out diapers and cases of infant formula to storm victims, Bethany Yarrow, 41, a folk singer from Williamsburg who has been volunteering with other parents from the private school her children attend, said she was shocked by the many poor mothers in the Arverne section of the Rockaways who did not breast feed. The group, she said, was working on bringing in a lactation consultant.

“So that it’s not just ‘Here are some diapers and then go back to your misery,’ ” she said.

That sort of response has rankled Nicole Rivera, 47, who lives in a project in Arverne, where the ocean sand still swirls up the street with every passing vehicle. “It’s sad, sometimes it’s a little degrading,” she said as she stood in line in a parking lot waiting for free toiletries.

Ms. Rivera said that she was thankful for the help, but that its face – mostly white, middle- and upper-class people – made her bitter.

“The only time you recognize us is when there’s some disaster,” she said. “Since this happened, it’s: ‘Let’s help the black people. Let’s run to their rescue.’ ”

“Why wait for tragedy?” she added. “People suffer every day with this.”

On the one hand, you have sympathy for people who’ve been suffering because of a hurricane. Some of them have had damage to their homes, their power has been out, their ability to work and go about their normal lives has been impacted — that’s tough duty.

On the other hand, these are people who are willingly giving their time and in some cases, money, to help people in need they don’t owe a thing to and there’s a lot of complaining. Oh, they looked at you the wrong way; oh, you didn’t like this comment — who’s coming to whom with their hat in their hands? You’d think the people getting the charity were doing everyone a favor by allowing people to give them things. Then there are the comments at the end.

Ms. Rivera said that she was thankful for the help, but that its face – mostly white, middle- and upper-class people – made her bitter.

“The only time you recognize us is when there’s some disaster,” she said. “Since this happened, it’s: ‘Let’s help the black people. Let’s run to their rescue.’ ”

“Why wait for tragedy?” she added. “People suffer every day with this.”

So, when does Ms. Rivera ever get out to help anyone of those “mostly white, middle- and upper-class people?” She probably doesn’t. When does she run to the rescue of her black neighbors? She probably doesn’t. She just doesn’t like how OTHER PEOPLE choose to help. Also, she wants people to come help her every day? What is she, five years old? Mommy, give me a toy. Mom, buy me something at the dollar store, mommy, mommy, mommy — give me a break. Anybody can fall on hard times, but if you’re in a miserable situation all the time in a country like America, the problem is you and you need to start making some changes.

This is what dependency does to people. It takes human beings who are capable of making a good life for themselves and it makes them so bitter and angry that they don’t even appreciate someone giving them something that they haven’t earned and don’t deserve. Instead, they come to regard that as the natural state of things and they get angry about the crumbs they’re given when, if they were willing to work hard, work smart, and think long term, they could do considerably more for themselves than anyone is ever going to give them as a handout.

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