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 ‘We have an obligation to redistribute’

The holiday season is upon us, and leave it to an Ivy Leaguer to play the role of the proverbial stick in the mud.

Writing in the Yale Daily News, guest columnist Xuan (who uses the pronouns “they” and “them”) invokes the United States’ “legacy of colonialism, exploitation, slavery and genocide” to argue that Americans’ personal charity isn’t “quite enough” nor “all of morality.”

They offer examples of a shady used car salesman and a sketchy entrepreneur who, after screwing over people in the past attempt to make good later in life through charitable giving.

“This would be academic if we were nothing like these ‘protagonists’ — individuals who have benefited from either violence, deception or exploitation,” Xuan writes. “Yet, I [shouldn’t that be “we” if one uses the pronoun “they”?] think a little bit of reflection suggests that many of our lives are closer to theirs than we might like to think.”

We live in a world where the top 20 percent of Americans own 88 percent of U.S. wealth (i.e. 25 percent of global wealth!), according to research from the University of California Santa Cruz, while 3 million die from preventable diseases every year, per the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This is not by chance. It is the legacy of colonialism, exploitation, slavery and genocide: a history without which both Yale and America would not exist and a history of which we, by being here, are beneficiaries.

Xuan, a member of the Yale Effective Altruists and Yale Young Democratic Socialists, wants you to know they currently give ten percent of their Singaporean scholarship income to charitable and political causes, and also wants you — somehow — to hold them accountable in the future when they’ll “tax” their income via charitable donations at the same rate as the Swedish government’s highest rate: fifty-seven percent.

“After all,” they say, “there’s no reason why Swedes should be any better than Singaporeans at parting with income.”

From the piece:

We are the beneficiaries of a violent, deceptive, exploitative world. And we will keep on benefiting. Our Yale degrees will land us cushy jobs that pay on average $100,000 a year, according to, our economic opportunities only bolstered by illicit financial flows from the developing to the developed world.

So, charity no longer seems quite enough. Reparations are also needed. We don’t just have an opportunity to give, we have an obligation to redistribute. To think otherwise would be to remain complicit in a system that benefits us because it exploits so many others; that is, to enable the very violence that we seek to remedy through our gifts. …

Of course, moving money, even to the most radical of organizations, isn’t enough. It is action that alters the structures of violence that we benefit from. Join protests, sit-ins, teach-ins. But especially for those of us with family capital and power, we should use that as leverage too. Let us advocate wage equity and unionization, democratize the workplace, abolish exorbitant managerial salaries, rebuild the co-operative and dismantle the corporation.

“Only then,” Xuan concludes, “might we be able to say that we’ve ‘done our part for the world.’”

Speak for yourself.



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