Doing Good (November 2013 #3)

When is doing something good, good enough?

A question of the big picture, individual example and equity. 

If you haven’t heard about Batkid (a.k.a. Miles Scott) saving the day this past Friday in downtown Gotham (a.k.a. San Francisco), perhaps you were being held captive by The Joker – or just under a media rock.  Simply put, Make-a-Wish foundation, with the help of many who found Scott’s story touching, was able to entice thousands of San Franciscans (including our Mayor and police department) to partake in turning San Francisco into a Gotham scene for a short time so that 5 year old Scott (recovering from leukemia) could be granted his wish of being Batman’s sidekick and helping to save the day.  As a friend of mine put it, San Francisco was back to being San Francisco.  And, it would not be San Francisco if we also did not have some outlier voices weigh in on the spectacle.

“One of San Fran’s own supervisors, tweeted, “Waiting for Miles the BatKid & Wondering how many 1000s of SF kids living off SNAP/FoodStamps could have been fed from the $$…”

Another local celebrity who is very attuned to social justice posted on his facebook, “Ok, I’m going to say it. I can’t take it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (sparks shooting from my ears).  It’s almost like the city used a terminally ill child as a platform for a big ass PR stunt. Even if the gesture was sincere- even if it was beautiful- it still unveils some major dysfunction in our social mind.”

Even someone in my own family questioned, “I wonder how much of the response from the public has to do with the fact that this is a white kid?

I don’t reference these comments to identify this year’s contenders for holiday Scrooges; rather I deeply support the discourse of critical inquiry.  And, what frequently results from such inquiry happened for me – uncertainty – and thus, this week’s Monday Musing.

In full disclosure – I thought the Batkid event was awesome! Besides my own lifelong commitment to supporting young people, I am a huge superhero fan – I even have a framed Batman poster signed by Bob Kane.  When I first heard the comments above, I thought, “Awe, come on.  Let a kid have his wish for god’s sake.”  Then as I thought further, I reconsidered.  While timing may have been less-than-optimal, what is wrong with taking up these questions?  After all, engaging in this discourse does not equate with accepting premises as true, but rather models the act of shared meaning making for important topics.  As I engaged in more discourse, I was reminded that we sometimes situate our world and ourselves into forced “either-or”, “right-wrong” dichotomies.

The truth is that the money that went into funding this effort could have fed many hungry mouths, but then, so would the billions of dollars held in the coffers of Google, Apple, and so many other Bay Area entities.  As I understand, much of the money for this event was donated – and the event was used as a vehicle for additional fund-raising for the foundation.  Does the fact that this event was a charitable one somehow give us the perceived right to say whether or not and how it should occur?  Isn’t this what happens with our public education system every day?  Because it is publically funded – and perhaps because most of us went through the system, there seems to be an overwhelming capacity to dictate what public education should be, and what teachers, parents and students should do – from afar. 

I am troubled by the (history-informed) hypothesis that Batkid’s race played a role in how Joe Public responded both to him and to the event as a whole.  I am troubled because I absolutely believe this is true.  But, I struggle with a response for while I wish a young black child would have received the exact same level of excitement, warmth and response, I also don’t believe that a solution is as simple as not affording this opportunity to this white child.  Those of us who fight for educational equity are well aware that the wrong way to achieve this goal is to lower the bar for everyone.  So, I do struggle – I struggle to consider how to continuously fight for equity – while not losing sight of the individual.  I wonder what it might look like to plan a celebratory event such as this one through a lens of equity – without losing the celebration and without being too political?

Ultimately, Friday represented a good deed being done for a deserving child – and yet, I believe the investment and payoff was much greater.  As I received emails from family and friends across the country sharing how inspired they were, I could only hope that this story would have a “pay-it-forward” effect.  As one onlooker stated to a local reporter,  “This just restores your faith in humanity.”