Saturday, June 29, 2019

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Robert Smith and Morehouse

When you do something good for people you should be praised for your actions. You may have heard that Black American billionaire Robert Smith attended the 2019 Morehouse commencement where he promised to pay off the entire student loan debt of the graduating class, a gift that will amount to the not insignificant sum of about $40 million. 

Billionaire Robert F. Smith, who received an honorary doctorate at Morehouse College’s Sunday morning graduation exercises, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the schoolBut during his remarks in front of the nearly 400 graduating seniors, the technology investor and philanthropist surprised nearly everyone by announcing that his family was providing a grant to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019. 

This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.” The announcement came as a surprise to Smith’s staff and to the staff at Morehouse, and elicited the biggest cheers of the morning.

About 400 new graduates, predominantly Black men, will be able to start their professional life without any student debt. An adult's twenties and thirties are critical times to establish savings, investments, retirement accounts and capital for business creation. It is also a time to save money for marriage and child care costs. There is a huge wealth gap between Black and White Americans. There is a student loan gap between Black and White Americans. Black Americans owe more in student loans and earn less after graduation, in large part because of discrimination. So when Smith stepped up to do his part to help Black people who were in a tight spot, you might reasonably think that he would be universally lauded.

And you would be wrong.
A minority of (Black) people immediately came out of the woodwork complaining that well they had already left Morehouse so what about their problems. Others complained that Smith's actions made it more difficult to build a society with the sort of (high) taxes and (extreme) wealth redistribution policies which they preferred. 

Some sneered at what they thought were Smith's wrong-headed "We can do it!" approaches to fighting racism. Some were irritated by Smith's fond memory of attending an integrated school. Some people said never mind Smith's philanthropy, billionaires shouldn't be allowed to exist. And obviously some folks didn't like the fact that Smith's (second) wife is CaucasianNow obviously if you are only doing a good deed for praise or to cover up crimes that's a different story.  I don't have any information that this is the case with Smith. He has given away a lot of money in the past. He has approached other people, particularly wealthy Black people, to do the same. He's doing more even as I am writing this post. 

If I am dying of thirst in the Sahara and a stranger offers me water, I'll drink the water and be thankful, not tell the Good Samaritan that I wanted some Faygo Moon Mist so f*** off. Worse, if I am sitting on my rump watching someone die of thirst I have no business lecturing the dying person that he shouldn't have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Yelling at the Good Samaritan that in a fair world he wouldn't have excess water to give away and that I don't care for his wife's melanin levels may make me feel better but it doesn't help save anyone's life does it?

I think it's possible to advocate for massive reformatory or even revolutionary social changes without dismissing the things that each individual can do on his own, whether it's working at a homeless shelter, giving money to the needy, or paying off the student debt of 400 young men. Perhaps at some future time when the Black community is the wealthiest group in America and Black billionaires are a dime a dozen we can use silly standards to vet those with charitable intentions. Until that time I don't think we should be looking gift horses in the mouth. Removing problems for new graduates is a good thing.
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