Signals of virtue

Last updated: October 10, 2020

A lot of people get called out on social media for “virtue signaling”—defined by Oxford as “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.”

Since most social media fits that definition, the ire about virtue signaling is usually directed at people who are disingenuous, or cast judgment on others, or are privileged and don’t appropriately acknowledge their privilege. People who profit off of virtue signaling—such as white authors who write about racism—also receive criticism.

I think the ire and criticism are understandable. Privilege brings with it a justifiable degree of scrutiny. People want to know if you are using your privilege to help others and not just yourself. They want to know if you are contributing to make the world better, rather than just posting about it on Facebook.

I’m as privileged as they come, and I’ve done my fair share of virtue signaling on social media. It’s hard to say whether I’ve put in the work or resources to justify sharing my virtue. I have definitely spent more of my life going after praise, position, power, and money, rather than giving it away.

My virtue is a work in progress.

However, a coach recently cautioned me about being too afraid of virtue signaling, particularly with regards to donations.

“People need to tell other people when they donate money and share it all over Facebook,” she said. “That’s literally how donations work.”

So at the risk of signaling I am holier than thou, I wanted to share this list of organizations and projects that my family and I have donated to over the past year, sometimes as one-time and sometimes as monthly recurring donations.

The list

Coming as it does from people of privilege, this list deserves scrutiny. For example, the largest segment of our donations—over 25% of the money we’ve given—has gone to LGBTQIA+ organizations that directly benefit our family’s wellbeing.

And 20% of our donations have not gone to charities at all, but to Democrats, because the policies of the current presidential administration and complicit Republicans have proven recklessly dangerous to our family and many others. I know many people who will think those donations are inherently not virtuous.

I encourage you to scrutinize and tell me if you disagree with any of the donations, knowing it’s impossible to explore one’s donation activity without seeing the inherent contradictions and gaps. Some donations work within and even somewhat uphold systems of power, while others subvert those same systems.

Like my virtue, these donations are a work in progress. I’m signaling them today because I want to continue to improve this list, add to it, and hear where there may be gaps in our approach.

Virtue is, according to Oxford again, a “behavior showing high moral standards.” And in order to be moral, you have to be willing to listen to others’ ideas about right and wrong, in addition to sharing your own.

Nonprofit organizations (tax deductible)

Political organizations and candidates

Know of a charity or political cause we should add to the list? Send me a note and let me know.