Feeling helpless in social justice issues? Try reparations!


Reparations is a dirty word – but it’s only dirty because of white supremacy and fragility. Reparations is viewed as an admission of guilt. I know because, with my social anxiety, I get stressed and fearful at the thought of someone challenging me on why I might be doing something and the reason is reparations. I also know because reparations is something considered toxic to a white politician’s career.

Reparations could also be called atonement charity. Charity usually makes people feel good about themselves and we view people who give to charity as morally good. Reparations is not charity – it’s a payment for wrongdoings; it’s giving to make things better for someone who has been wronged. What reparations has in common with charity is that they are both done best without expectation of return or acknowledgment; they are both done because it’s the right thing to do.

Reparations, like charity, can be tricky – even if you accept them as necessary and morally good, it feels like it could slip easily into complacency through charity or tokenizing people of color. Reparations should never be the stopping point in social justice; it’s simply one tool a person can use. Reparations are needed because our systems of governance and cultural institutions are broken and have been for a long time – those things can’t change with one act of personal atonement. There are so, so many important ways to be active in social justice issues and the first step is always being humble enough to shut up, listen to, and learn from marginalized voices – don’t let reparations turn into charity and be a stopping point to feel absolved. That doesn’t solve the inherent problems that cause violence.

So what do modern, personal reparations look like? It means seeking out businesses owned by people who are in oppressed groups and giving them your business instead of more privileged groups. It means giving to Go Fund Mes to help people who are in oppressed groups. It means donating money to nonprofit groups. If you own a business? Give discounts or freebies to people in oppressed groups when you can. Partner with local festivals and institutions of oppressed groups to sponsor events.

While reparations are thought of as about race (see first hotlink above), it doesn’t have to be limited. You can give:

  • to your local LGBT youth center;
  • to a transitioning person’s surgery fund;
  • to body positive or fat acceptance publications;
  • to legal and legislative change funds;
  • to native and indigenous groups in your area;
  • to a fund to help someone afford medicine or an accessibility device;
  • to local food pantries and shelters.

And while giving cash is often something people think is out of their reach – and it’s definitely something coming from a place of financial privilege to think about – you can give literally just a dollar. It still helps wherever you are giving and it helps you get more comfortable with the idea of reparations. Instead of a swear jar, make a social justice jar – put something in whenever you catch yourself thinking or saying something shitty against an oppressed and marginalized group. Put something in when you read a lengthy article and have a good, upsetting think about a new issue you haven’t thought about before. Put something in just because you see it and are reminded.

Or, whenever you feel helpless in the face of so much shit happening. Money is not a solution by itself, but our whole system runs on it; by funding the things that are important, even a dollar at a time, we are using the system to change it.



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