I witnessed a little white privilege in action tonight while packing and sorting items for Hurricane Harvey evacuees. There are literally 500 bags of stuff left to open, sort and repack and the pile is growing by the hour with not enough hands to sort by more than gender/adult/child.
It’s overwhelming in a good way, and it’s exhausting.
I entered the garage, which is hot. It is August in Texas after all. I looked for the leader of of the moment. I volunteer enough to know that leaders change often and so do the needs and the guidance, but it was my second night volunteering to sort so I had a good idea what they needed. The lead of the moment was, for some reason, asking folks to separate the very few new items from the used and hand new stuff to her while she watched.
Insert a Scooby Doo “huh?“.
After 2 hours, her box (yes, it was hers) of new stuff was barely half full of a mix of gender/child/adult – which makes more work for others later. We sort by gender/adult/child and repack, so it can be put on pallets and taken to evacuees.
While Mrs NewWithTags kept an eye out for new tags, someone brought over a nice, used bra and Mrs NewWithTags snarled like she had smelled a 3 week old camping urinal and said “throw it out!”
I butted in saying, “Don’t”. She glared at me in disgust. I said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve been homeless before & that bra might be the very last one or the right size for someone who has been in a chemical soaked bra for 2 weeks.”
I’m wondering to myself why I need to point out that these people have lost everything including their bra or that we hardly had any bras donated? I suddenly realized Mrs NewWithTags was the source of tension in the group.
I reminded the group that bras don’t touch truly private parts, and if not stained or stretched…. it’s still good. Everyone nodded and the bra went into the pile.
Then someone asked where the “new only” box was. I was irritated with the time this was wasting and the amount of direction it required and the futility of it and said, “there is no new section, just find the right box.”
There was an audible pause, and I asked our group to look around at the 1000 boxes of used goods already packed and pointed out that no one is going to ask for the new box. I pointed to the half full box of new stuff. Everyone smiled and kept working.
Whatever this woman’s personal preferences about second hand items, our focus needed to be on people who may not have a home or a job let alone clothes. Their needs are what matters, not our personal or individual preferences. If no one wants it, fine… and it needs to be there so they can decide what is appropriate.
Another person delivered some items & asked where to put them. It’s a frequent occurrence because each bag has random items that must be carried to the right section for packing. I motioned toward the pile as I was gathering trash. Apparently, people had also thrown out recyclable bags on the advice of Mrs NewWithTags. I started a box for the bags and reminded our group that people need something to carry stuff in. Everyone nodded again.
It’s amazing the things you notice after you’ve lost everything. You never forget that experience of not having simple things you once took for granted and can’t have in that moment, like a bra or a bag to carry stuff.
We had managed to pack at least 100 boxes in 3 hours and there were easily 150 new bags dropped off during that time. There was no time to decide anything beyond what was stained or worn out. I noticed someone threw out a nice fold-away cot and a pair of barely used roller blades because they were dated.
Seriously. It came back to you know who. I wanted to say “you’re white privilege is showing”. I saw in her someone who always had everything new and had never struggled and I wanted us thinking about the Hurricane victims not avoiding pissing her off. I mean, hey, if “new” is that important to you… buy it and donate it.
The tension dissipated as Mrs New Tags left and we hit get-r-done mode. 3 people whispered that they didn’t want to say anything to Mrs NewWithTags, who had everyone sort by size and they had a hard time convincing her there was no time for that either.
Another lady suddenly spoke up that unless items were stretched, stained or worn out, keep it all. Everyone nodded in agreement looking around at the work to be done. It was awkward to point out the elephant in the room, but it put the focus rightly on those in need.
It seemed odd to need to point out that items were not headed to a retail shop or that they’ll likely be on a table when they arrive.
Suddenly, 2 people dropped off 2 boxes of bras and everyone said — almost simultaneously — “keep it if it’s clean and in good condition”.
That was a pretty good moment of unity.