I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks, ever since the Philanthropy Club discussion of tainted donations—that is, what money nonprofits should turn down because of its source. The panelists were unanimous in their view that money arising from behavior contrary to a group’s mission—say, in the most extreme case, donations from a pornographer to a group fighting sex trafficking—should be declined. But I still don’t understand why.
First, as I observed during the discussion, there’s no such thing as virgin money. It’s all passed through our capitalist system, which means it was accumulated instead of being shared with the workers who generated it, or it has been passed down to people whose only accomplishment is to have chosen the right parents, or…or….
(I’d love to take credit for this observation but honesty compels me to suggest that you take a look at Arms and the Man or Major Barbara, in each of which Shaw lays out the argument eloquently, or at least at extreme length.)
Second, and more important, I doubt there was anyone on that panel who would call upon African-Americans to reject reparations on the grounds that the money was tainted by slavery. Of course it was—that’s why it’s owed! Philanthropy is the reparations paid to the rest of society by people who’ve profited from it to an egregious degree (Jeff Bezos, anyone?). Charities should absolutely accept the money: how else can it ever be cleansed?
Moreover, can anyone think of a better use for the money? If our choice is space tourism or contributions to the greater good, please let Jeff Bezos’s grubby money come dirty the public weal.