Historical Confederate monuments are being taken down and defaced from protests over the death of George Floyd.
Gary Trowel was taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest pushing for an arrest in the Breonna Taylor case when an older white man walked up and handed him cash.
The 23-year-old cafeteria worker was holding one fist in the air when the exchange took him by surprise.
“At first, I was like ‘Wait, what is this man doing?'” Trowel said. The man smiled as he gave Trowel three dollar bills before walking away. “It felt good at first. Then, I was like, is this supposed to be for reparations?'”
As demonstrations over killings of unarmed black people by police persist across the globe, presumably well-intentioned white allies are giving money and other gifts to Black people in a show of solidarity.
Some say they’ve received payments out of the blue via money payment apps from white people they barely know. Others say white people have shown support by offering free services or giving words of encouragement when leaving a tip.
Recent recipients of cash from white people have mixed feelings about the gesture. Experts on race relations say the money is better spent elsewhere to help the cause.
It’s common to express condolences through gifts during times of mourning, and showering Black people with cash in the wake of high profile police killings is likely an extension of that, says Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and fellow at think tank the Brookings Institution.
He also leads diversity training for companies and police departments.
“White people are recognizing that when a Black person dies due to police violence, it sends a current throughout the Black community,” Ray said. “White people are trying to figure out what to do during these times. And sending money is one of the things they’re doing.”
While many people appreciate the gifts, receiving money out of the blue can be awkward. Especially if it’s from someone outside your immediate circle of family and friends.
Joanna Powell was shocked when she recently received $25 via Cash App from someone she hadn’t spoken to in months.
“Enjoy,” the message alongside the cash notification said. She was perplexed. But after texting back and forth with the sender, she saw it as an odd way of showing support for the movement.
“I told him you didn’t have to do that. He is someone who wants to be progressive, but I didn’t really like it,” Powell said. “Sending me $25 isn’t really going to change anything that’s going on and I didn’t really need it.”
White people might be showing solidarity in other ways, too.
Edriana Clyde, 24, took her car in for an oil change that was supposed to cost $40. Instead, the white mechanic did the job free of charge.
“He told me that he studied something relating to race in college,” Clyde said. “Then he said, ‘You don’t have to pay anything’ and I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with the times we’re living in.'”
Acknowledging the struggles facing minorities in this country is one step, experts say.
But what Black protesters are calling for is a systemic change that would end police violence. Proposals for police force restructuring are gaining traction. Minneapolis is weighing disbanding it’s police department while New York City and Los Angeles are considering drastic budget cuts.
Protests have also renewed calls for reparations, an often taboo topic in mainstream political discussions that would compensate Black people for the free labor and suffering enslaved people endured, and the years of lost opportunities for African Americans that followed. Advocates argue reparations would rebalance the wealth in this country so that the Black community would have more economic power to thrive.
If these sudden recent bursts of generosity are an effort toward reparations, it’s far from what many people believe Black people are owed. Japanese Americans received payouts of about $20,000 for their internment during World War II and Native Americans did receive some compensation for land seized by the U.S., although the amount and administration of those payouts have been criticized as unjust. Estimates of what descendants of enslaved Americans should receive varies widely with many coming in far above $100,000 apiece, and in total, could reach into the trillions of dollars.
“We’re not going to Venmo ourselves out of this crisis because the crisis needs a structural solution,” said Raúl Pérez, an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at the University of La Verne in California. “It shouldn’t just be these micro reparations. What about the macro reparations?”
“Ask how you can help.”
If you can’t attend protests, there are many ways to advocate for the movement against police brutality and unfair treatment of Black people beyond randomly gifting a few dollars.
If you want to stand in solidarity with someone you know, start with a conversation.
“Ask how you can help,” said Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert who founded the Swann School of Protocol. “Now that the blinders have been lifted, it’s a chance to learn what people really need rather than sending what you think they need.”
There is renewed interest in shopping at Black-owned businesses, which puts money in hands that support the community. You can also use protests as an opportunity to educate those around you and donate to institutions that promote equality, Ray said.
Some groups such as the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls focus primarily on ending mass incarnation. The Equal Justice Initiative provides legal representation to people who have been unfairly sentenced. And the Black Lives Matter website accepts direct donations.
Allies can also advocate for changes to policing on a local level or volunteer to do anti-racist advocacy work.
“If you are giving $25, it should go toward a pot that could really make a difference,” said Kenneth Nunn, a law professor who co-founded the Center for the Study of Race Relations at the University of Florida Law. “If you send it to one person, they can buy lunch. You can absolve any guilt that you might feel. But it’s not going to help much else.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.
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