Barnesville, Georgia. Summer of 2016.
A young man bikes a long distance to a college campus to register for the required courses associated with his major. Unfortunately, incoming and current students are unable to move into the dorms until next month, so the man decides to camp on the campus grounds until he is able to gain access to housing.
The aspiring student lives in a tent with impunity until he is approached by two police officers responding to a call about someone camping on college property. The man provides a candid explanation to the police, who are now so moved by his perseverance that they offer him adequate, but temporary shelter. His story is then shared throughout the community and even across the country, which leads the student to receive support, resources, employment. Of all the gifts received, however, the large sum of money donated to him through a crowdsourcing fundraiser that surprises him the most. The young man is grateful, humbled, and overwhelmed by the generosity and promises that the gifts received will not be wasted—especially the money.
Then, to his dismay, he discovers that the donation money is frozen due to the actions of a supposed ally with ill-intentions.
This is exactly what happened to Fred Barley, a 19-year-old Black homeless man of Conyers, Georgia. About a few weeks ago, Barley used his little brother’s bike to ride six hours from his hometown to Barnesville to register for courses at Gordon State College. Because the dorms were unavailable until August, the medical student decided to sleep on campus grounds in a tent until the dorms opened. Struggling with unemployment, Barley searched for possible work within the area in hopes to find something to generate much needed income. At night, he retreated to his tent equipped with two gallons of water and two duffel bags.
Barley did this until one Saturday evening when he was approached by two officers responding to a call about someone camping on school grounds. When he explained to the police what he was doing and why, the two officers paid for a hotel room for him to reside in for a few days. The wife of one the cops then posted Barley’s story on the Barnesville Community Facebook page. Moved by his determination, kind strangers from all over the country donated to him the necessary commodities such as clothes, shoes, food, a car and other items. In addition, Good Samaritans contributed money to Success for Fred, a GoFundMe campaign constructed and launched by Barnesville resident Casey Blaney.
Now Blaney was one of the people who read about the aspiring medical physician on the community Facebook page and decided to assist him. Through her efforts, the GoFundMe campaign ultimately raised over $184,000 within twelve days (which is beyond awesome). Barley expressed gratitude to the public in a video upon hearing the good news, stating that the money wouldn’t go to waste. Though overwhelmed and obviously exhausted, he also displayed sincerity when stating that the funds would finance his education and housing expenses.
So it was a shock to all involved when Blaney froze the fundraiser, explaining the cause with this status in the Success for Fred Facebook page:
To counteract the accusation, Barley posted the following on his Facebook page:
When I read the above message, I immediately recognized the hurt and honesty in Barley’s words. That alone earned Blaney’s accusation the side eye as the timing and lack of specifics raised fuchsia flags. So I began investigating further, following new information while examining old articles and posts to get to the bottom of what happened between Blaney and Barley.
What I noticed first hand was Blaney’s consistent display of White Saviorism. Also known as the White Savior Complex, it is when White people literally use their resources to “rescue” people of color—usually impoverished Black youth. This trope often rears its ugly head in Hollywood films such as Dangerous Minds and The Blind Side, but it is also common among White people who feel that their assistance is necessary in order for a disenfranchised group to thrive in society.
In the case of GoFundMe controversy, Blaney played the role of the White Savior who “rescued” Barley, a homeless young Black man with aspirations of becoming a doctor. She recalled her initial meeting with Barley in the following Facebook post:
So according to Blaney, the student asked her and her husband to assist him in finding employment, which they have done. She was going to walk away from the situation (and Barley) but decided that him having a job at the local pizzeria was clearly not enough. So with that in mind, Blaney created the fundraiser because, as a good Christian, she felt compelled to bend over backwards on his behalf.
Keep in mind that Barley told her that he needed assistance seeking employment, asking for nothing else. Though Blaney and her husband used their social capital to secure a position for him at the pizzeria, it was she who decided to go beyond Barley’s request. Her resolve and the actions that followed are typical of White Saviors who believe that they know what is best for those they are supposedly assisting. On the surface, it looks like they are “going above and beyond” to support members of the disenfranchised. But in reality the White Savior feels that the former is oblivious to their own needs. By going beyond what was requested of her, Blaney overstepped her boundaries to the point of undermining Barley’s ability to advocate for himself, a clear example of paternalism.
Her depiction of Barley in the post was also something worth pointing out. According to her account of their meeting, the young man was either soft-spoken as if ashamed or overly excited about her reaching out to him. Blaney even shared that Barley wished to meet her family, seeming extremely eager to do so. To me, her assessment of Barley resembled an offensive Black character in an Old Hollywood film: when distraught, he bowed his head and mumbled respectable words, but when grateful thanked the White woman for her kindness before breaking into a figurative song and dance. That’s because Blaney’s description of him is not only offensive and overly dramatic, but deeply rooted in White superiority as it contributes to the narrative of the White Savior Christian saving a person of color from savagery and the latter expressing gratitude for it.
Speaking of which, Blaney mentioned her Christian faith a few times, stating that God prompted her to reach out to Barley in order to help him. Again, this is the same rhetoric spoken by White missionaries traveling to Africa or other foreign countries to “save” the natives from their troubles. To put it into context, Blaney acted like a missionary doing God’s work during her interaction with Barley, almost describing him as completely helpless without her aid, forgetting that he is a student capable of caring for himself despite his homelessness. She further employed her faith and religious practices to portray herself as a big hearted woman to her support network on Facebook, using the fact that she launched a fundraiser for a Black man to prove that 1) she is a good woman and 2) she is not racist, therefore making her Christ-like.
Blaney is actually no different from Leigh Anne Tuohy, the legal guardian of Michael Oher, the Black teen on which The Blind Side is based. Suffering from the White Savior Christian Complex, she also came under fire in 2014 when she posted a picture on Facebook of herself with two Black teens. She mistakenly assumed that the young men were struggling financially, so she took upon herself to approach them to assist (sounds familiar, right?). The result was a shit storm of accusations of racism and illegalities regarding posting photographs of minors on social media without parental consent. The Tuohy debacle only happened because, like many drunk on White Saviorism, Tuohy was primarily concerned with perpetuating her image as the kind-hearted, God-fearing, colorblind Christian who adopted a Black teen who ultimately needed rescuing. And because Oher required her assistance, then so did the Black teens she randomly encountered in a fast food restaurant.
The disregard of boundaries and erroneous assumptions on the part of the White Savior tends to lead to unnecessary controversy. The unwilling participants involved are then placed in the awkward position to dispel the former’s supposed heroism on Facebook. Thus the White Savior is either embarrassed (as in Tuohy’s case) or extremely resentful at the person they “helped” for attempting to exert their autonomy. Blaney’s accusation came only after Barley declined her request to place the donated funds into a trust without the opportunity to choose his own trustee and attorney. According to the Georgia state’s Trust Fund Laws, the receiver of the trust wouldn’t have been able to make any changes to the document without the permission of the trustee and settlor (the person creating the trust). Since Blancy and her husband are relocating to Hawaii in a few weeks, it would be illogical for her to choose the trustee and settlor because she will no longer live in Georgia. And given that the $184,000 belongs to Barley anyway, recruiting his own attorney and settler was necessary to protect his investment.
So what’s the problem?
Here’s my theory: Blaney wanted control over the student’s donations to fund her family’s move to Hawaii. Because they’ve established a close relationship, she hoped he’d willingly comply with her requests to place the trust under her name. Doing so will allow her to either withhold the money from Barley or use it to manipulate him in some fashion. Whichever the pendulum would’ve swung, Blaney would have positioned herself to take full advantage of this man’s current circumstances regarding lack of housing and low socioeconomic status.
Despite his circumstance, Barley is indeed a student entering his second semester of college, making him educated enough to understand the legalities associated with having a trust and recruiting a trustworthy trustee, settlor, and/or beneficiary. And Blaney, the White Savior who constructed the GoFundMe campaign on his behalf (and out of the “kindness of her heart”), was not assigned any one of those positions. Translation: she wasn’t counting on this homeless Black boy using his common sense. The sudden swift of power and control both surprised and angered her, considering that “she is the reason why countless strangers so much as wrote his name on their checks.”
So since Barley gotten too big for his britches, Blaney did what any self-entitled White person would do: employ her privilege, power, and social capital to undermine the student by alleging that he possibly fabricated his story to swindle otherwise kindhearted individuals out of over $184,000. To conceal her true intentions, she took to Facebook to generate support from her fellow Christians and strangers alike:
As for Barley, he is placed in the position to defend himself against the sudden onset of accusations of fraud.
The infuriating part is that this nonsense occurred at a period where the lives of Black people (Black men and boys in particular) are at greater risk. The Black Lives Matter movement placed many White people on edge and the latter are utilizing various industrial complexes (mostly law enforcement) to protect themselves. This “investigation” against Barley made him a target for White counterparts believing that he cheated them out of money. Granted, the young man continues to generate countless supporters (one even orchestrated a Change.org campaign demanding GoFundMe to release the 184K to him), but Blaney’s accusation could make him yet another hashtag.
The good news is that Barley finally was awarded the donation money. The attorneys on both parties reached an agreement due to lack of evidence supporting Blaney’s accusations. But let’s be honest here: She had no proof to begin with. The fact that she didn’t even put up a fight confirmed my suspicion that she planned to steal the money—possibly to fund her family’s move to Hawaii.
When Fred Barley shared his story with the world, he thought he found an ally in a sweet hearted woman who bent over backwards to support his education. What he encountered, unfortunately, was a White Savior who attempted to undermine his intelligence, disregard his autonomy, and assassinate his character. Her incessant need to render Barley emotionally and spiritually feeble, and to keep up appearances on social media resulted in unnecessary drama that could have negatively impacted Barley’s future.