More is required of us

by Vanessa Daniel, Groundswell Fund

August 5, 2016 - Health & Environmental Funders Network

“I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.” – Michelle Alexander

What more is required of those of us working in philanthropy at this moment in history?

Over the past two years the streets have swelled with unprecedented levels of protest proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” across the U.S. and around the globe. Jesse Williams stood before us, as Alice Walker pens, with “a soul made of everything,” speaking clear throated truth – a truth about the lethal poison of American racism now being voiced by a growing chorus of celebrities and athletes and everyday people at their dinner tables and on social media.

Perhaps it is because of the herculean quality of this effort, powered by the thousands of people who have found the courage to stand up and say “enough!”, that the executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by the police, sank our spirits so low. The atmosphere feels thick with the question: why hasn’t any of it been enough?

Last week, my four-year-old daughter happened to open an old photo album to a picture of a rally that my friends and I organized as college students. The rally was in response to the murder of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant who was shot 41 times in a hail of bullets by plainclothes police officers in the vestibule of his New York apartment. One of our classmates had grown up in the same building and her family still lived there. We went to her building and stood in that vestibule, in that narrow space with walls riddled with bullet holes, and grieved the loss of Diallo’s life. That was nearly 20 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of rallies and protests against police brutality that I’ve attended in the 20 years since. Looking at that photo, I felt profound grief. I asked myself, over the past 20 years, what has changed? In the past 50 years, what has changed?

My wife and I spent an evening last week frantically looking through the mail for updated registration stickers for her car because she knows that for her, as a Black woman, a simple traffic stop for outdated tags could end in murder by the police – even when you follow orders, even when you have a four- year- old child in the backseat. Our hearts sink into our stomachs when we look into the bright and open face of our ten-year-old nephew. We know, like his grandmother and great-grandmother knew about the generations of black children before him, that until we win major societal change, there is nothing within our power that can be done to protect him from the police.

What has changed?

It is a difficult question. Difficult for those who would bury their heads in the sand of a “post-racial America” that doesn’t exist. Difficult for those of us who have worked for justice all of our lives and want to believe that the sweat and blood of so many freedom fighters has gotten us further along than we actually are. But it is a question we must ask. And, we must answer truthfully, that, in fact, not nearly enough has changed for racial justice in America. As the push for change intensifies, white supremacy roils and pushes back. Things are actually getting worse for Black people. When things get worse for Black people they get worse for a lot of other people by extension: people of color, women, queer folks and even poor white people.

We can’t stop at the question ‘What has changed?’ There is a more important question that all of us must ask ourselves: what more is required of us? What more can we do to stand up for Black lives and to dismantle the larger systems of racism that underpin not only the murder of Black people by the police, but also the taking of Black lives in less visible ways: through lack of jobs, inadequate schooling and healthcare, lack of access to reproductive justice, unsafe housing – the list goes on.

There are different answers being offered to this question from different groups. Celebrities and high profile athletes are now risking their careers and fame to speak out publicly. Black Communities are mobilizing in larger numbers to do more. More white people are trying to change hearts and minds within their own families by having tough conversations about race, that they used to avoid, at the dinner table.

Today, I raise the question for philanthropy, particularly for white and non-black people of color donors and foundation staff: what more is required of us to advance racial justice? It is a question I have been grappling with as a biracial Sri Lankan/white American working in philanthropy.

I have been fortunate to have worked shoulder to shoulder with white colleagues who have fought for racial justice in the philanthropic sector. I have seen multiracial efforts work to mobilize money for Black Lives Matter, and for women of color-led work; and to diversify foundation staff and boards. In a field like philanthropy, which is statistically whiter than corporate America and in which white people still hold the vast majority of economic and political power, the movement toward racial justice will be glacial without significant numbers of white colleagues taking concerted action to advance the effort. The hard reality is that although some white colleagues have taken action, not enough have made a commitment to work for racial justice. How do we know this? The state of giving in our field reveals it. The current overall share of philanthropic giving to Black-led organizations makes bank lending to Black families at the height of redlining look generous in comparison.

What more is required of us?

For white colleagues in particular but also non-Black colleagues of color, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves a few questions:

  •  When was the last time I spoke up to call out racial bias and racial disparities in funding during a meeting, instead of waiting for Black colleagues to do it? Do I value Black lives enough to start doing this, even when I feel afraid?
  • Have I taken the time to read, attend workshops, watch films and educate myself on what I never learned in school about what Black people experience in this country and how I can be an ally and co-conspirator in advancing racial justice?
  • Have I pushed my institution, and the funder/donor affinity groups I am a part of, to collect data on racial demographics of the leadership of our grantees? Or have I sat silently while the lack of data in philanthropy covers up persistent divestment from people of color-led work?
  • Have I set aside my own discomfort and my own fear of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake to work hard for racial justice because I know that Black lives are more important than white comfort?
  • Have I initiated conversations with white colleagues about racial justice and encouraged/supported them to advance racial justice in their work? Or have I avoided the topic because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable?
  •  Have I mounted a sustained challenge to grantmaking practices in my institution that have historically resulted in people of color-led organizations receiving the least amount of funding? Have I advocated for more grant funding for Black-led work, even if it means reducing grant dollars to white-led work to make this move towards equity possible?
  • Have I spoken up to demand diversity in hiring practices and board/trustee recruitment to attract and retain Black candidates into decision making positions within my institution?
  • Do I enable my white-led grantees to ignore racial injustice or do I require them to describe their work, or lack thereof, to advance racial justice in their proposals and then prioritize funding to those who demonstrate real solidarity with people of color?”
  • Have I risked anything that matters to me in order to use my proximity to the levers of money and power to stand up for Black lives and move more funding to Black-led work?

On one point I want to be clear: I am not saying white colleagues should match their colleagues of color in the intensity of the work to fight for racial justice in our field. I am saying they should exceed us. If you cannot honestly answer yes to these questions, if you have been sitting on your hands while Black people are dying, then no matter how good your intentions are, you are part of the problem. If you have been on the sidelines, break time is over. It’s your turn to be part of the solution. You are up to bat.

This may not come as welcome news to many people in our field. Philanthropy coddles and constrains those of us working within it with a culture that is famous for valuing comfort above justice, and the capitulation to the status quo over the backbone to speak up. Many people in our ranks may wish it didn’t feel so hard to stand up and do the right thing, but as Michelle Alexander so eloquently notes, “And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. And so do we.”

And so do we.

Vanessa Daniel is the Executive Director of Groundswell Fund, which supports a stronger, more effective U.S. movement for reproductive justice by mobilizing new funding and capacity-building resources to grassroots organizing efforts led by low-income women, women of color and transgender people. Vanessa has 18 years of experience working in social justice movements as a union and community organizer, researcher, freelance journalist, and social justice grantmaker. She serves on the Steering Committees of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network and the Health and Environmental Funders Network.

View blog post on the Health and Environmental Funders Network site, and at it's original posting on MomsRising.org.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.