Looking down on others is wrong

November 6, 2014 Editorials Print Print
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I haven’t missed many cupcakes. Bake sale fundraisers see me and recognize their prime demographic.

I’ve sampled thousands. I’ve had some awful ones. But none has ever been so bitter as the cupcake I refused to buy — the United Way cupcake.

I came upon a bake sale last week. Young volunteers were raising money for a campaign that had swept the school. In days before, I had passed similar tables. Once it was compliment-O-grams. Another time,  root beer floats. Then a place to write inspiring people’s names to affix to a paper tree for some reason. And each time, there was a bucket of cash for the United Way.

(I’d also received 20 United Way emails and forms soliciting payroll-deducted donations.)

I greeted fundraisers with a smile. I declined politely, wished them luck and thanked them. Most responded in kind.

I approached this bake sale though, and was asked if I wanted a snack and to support the United Way. I smiled warmly, “No. Thank you.”

This was half true. I did want a snack. I always want a snack. It’s a curse. I did not want to support the United Way but I’ll get to that.

The girl asking responded with sheer disgust and an audible, “Ugh.” She glared and turned to the others to trash-talk me before I had taken another step.

When I passed again later, I smiled apologetically. She turned to the others and spoke of me like I was not walking right past her. I’d never seen them before. They know nothing about me but appearance and a “No. Thank you.”

The feeling was familiar; cold marginalization. I’d known it in Chicago winters, hearing car doors lock when I walked by.

I experienced homelessness first at 15. I lived on the streets intermittently for years. Each day I’d felt that indignity. I was drifting garbage to people who sometimes patted themselves on the back for their philanthropy. I was kind through those days. I never begged or harassed anyone. It’s not like I was fundraising for United Way or anything.

I advocated for the less fortunate even then.

I flourish to have more to give. I donate to countless causes. I volunteer. Against injustice for those who can’t stand for themselves, I’ve stood.  For it, people threaten my family, and I’ve been harassed and beaten up by authorities. So, forgive me if I don’t buy a cupcake. Still I was kind.

I didn’t support United Way. It’s fine dropping money in a bucket for charities but few explore the principles of United Way agencies. Some organizations supported by United Way practice cruel-spirited discrimination. Others lobby to restrict and deny rights to some Americans.

I can’t get behind that. I won’t lend my money to hurt people or keep anyone impoverished. It’s possible that agencies supported by United Way hold values averse to your own. You should be made aware of it up front and without harassment.

A list of agencies in your community supported by United Way does exist — somewhere. It’s not on unitedway.org but enough digging should reveal it within the region-specific sites. For the Oklahoma City area, the agencies are listed at www.unitedwayokc.org/partner-agencies/agency-directory.

I don’t look down on anyone trying to do a good thing. I don’t dissuade anyone from volunteering, fundraising or donating to United Way. I read every one of the relentless emails with an open mind.

I give my support more directly to charities of sound principles. Charity is important. But people getting high and mighty about fundraising for abstract “charity” while treating the humans right in front of them like garbage, well, they can keep their cupcakes.

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