An Open Letter to Critics of Mutual Aid

Updated: May 18, 2020

Dear Critic of Mutual Aid,

None of us are entirely sure that you understand the meaning of “mutual aid.” When you talk about it, we hear the white neoliberal individualism within you that you haven't interrogated yet. You show us that you have very little experience being a member of a healthy community. For many of us, the conversations that would need to be had with you first, before we can even address any of your questions or accusations on the surface, is far too much work for your attitude.

With that in mind, let's get something straight about Mutual Aid:

Mutual Aid is NOT Charity.

Charity under Capitalism is a system of control which "offers" resources stolen from global racist exploitation back to those it was stolen from in exchange for proof of adherence to a set of rules, restrictions, and conditions. The exploited need to be deemed "worthy" of what is "generously" offered. It is a mechanism of hierarchy and oppression. It is dehumanizing. It has no place in leftist space.

Charities have requirements for people to receive what they need and they are often behavioral conformity, mental, emotional, and sometimes physical labor, obedience and compliance, and threshold conditions. These conditions are often impossible to meet for the people who need resources the most and are inherently colonial, racist, ableist, sexist, and queermisic.

The relationship between the individual or entity distributing charity and the individual receiving it is authoritarian and hierarchical. It puts the person in need of receiving those resources in the position of having to prove to the distributor that they are "worthy" of receiving what they need and that they are "one of the good ones" of their particular vulnerable group or intersection. In order to judge this, the receiver is required to always be completely accessible to the distributor in every way.

"Good" houseless people, for example, are mysteriously humble with the condition of enduring, constant fatigue, harassment, and criminalization. They don't show any signs of depression or substance use. They don't express any emotions that make housed people uncomfortable in any way.

"Good" Black and Brown people are mysteriously humble with the condition of enduring, constant racism, harassment, and criminalization. They don't show any signs of resentment or hostility. They don't express any emotions that make white and white passing people uncomfortable in any way.

"Good" third world and global south people are mysteriously humble with the condition of enduring, deliberate destabilization, sabotage, and authoritarian threat of violence. They don't show any signs of resentment or resistance. They don't express any emotions that make their white overseers uncomfortable in any way.

Frankly, this relationship is toxic.

If we were discussing a romantic relationship, the professional advice would be to seek outside support, leave the abuser, and reclaim your autonomy and self-respect. That is what Mutual Aid is. There is no way to consider yourself anti-capitalist or value anti-capitalism without mandatorily engaging in mutual aid praxis.

Please, save your excuses.

Mutual Aid is not just about money.

However, because we understand that Capitalism is a system designed to benefit all white and white passing people, it is extremely important that all settlers plan on regularly putting in a good deal of money into Black and Brown people. Remember: you’re on stolen land soaked in the blood of a proletariat stolen from Africa.

We suspect that you, as a critic of mutual aid, have encountered at least a handful of circumstances where you thought your intentions were good enough to be granted information, kindness, and "the benefit of the doubt." Maybe you're tired of being told to pay a Black person for taking the time to educate you, or having a non-man request money before they'll entertain you.

People who are used to walking through life with complete disregard for another's boundaries often feel personally affronted when someone asserts them. Sounds like you need to do better.

The point of mutual aid is that you become a community member. When you engage in mutual aid, you help others get by and get helped in return. This process requires time and effort; creating or entering a healthy, revolutionary community is a lot of work. There's a lot to unlearn in order to make that community truly safe and healthy. You need to not be toxic.

What's easy about mutual aid is that you don't really have to go that far out of your way to engage in it. Mutual aid can be driving people to work every day because you are the one with a car, helping a neighbor clean their apartment, tending the community garden, or teaching someone else how to sew or build furniture. It can be picking up extra toilet paper or trash bags at the store for your neighbor. It can be babysitting your single Black neighbor's children so they can get some rest. It can be asking your white family for $40 instead of $20 and then giving that $20 to someone else. It can be giving your netflix account login to an Indigenous person so they have something to watch. It can be checking in regularly with your elderly neighbor who lives alone.

Integrate with your community. Participate in it!

Capitalism destroys communities and interdependence because it requires isolation to sustain itself. What mutual aid does is replace the settler mythology of “independence” with organic communities. We engage in mutual aid because the cure for capitalism is strong communities. Strong communities value all labor and encourage its individual members to do what they can for each other. We’re not asking for respect anymore. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to move past that.

Stop trying to undo our work.



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