July 19, 2018

White People and Activism in the Trump Era

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Caitlin Duffy, senior associate for learning and engagement at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), reflects on leveraging privilege and dissent in the face of fear.


 

afmj4pyP_400x400.jpgPeople in the United States are scared.

Some white people fear the loss of dominant social status, and they worry about the loss of good jobs or falling victim to terrorism and crime.

Donald Trump has spread and leveraged these fears to inch the country closer and closer to an authoritarian state, undermining public faith in and attacking the legitimacy of our electoral and judicial systems, federal agencies and independent media while pandering to white nationalists, endorsing police brutality and cruelly separating migrant families.

In progressive circles like NFG, we have our own brand of fear in the face of this new national reality. We dread the threat of nuclear war and publicly emboldened neo-Nazis, and worry about the coming of another economic recession, the erosion of our civil rights and democracy and how long it will take us to repair the damage.

To cope, we share cute animal pictures à la Vu Le, celebrate victories like that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and take intentional social media breaks to keep ourselves sane amidst the daily news of Trump’s regressive policies and dangerous rhetoric.

For my fellow white folks in this audience: How can we better leverage our fear for the fierce urgency of now?

When I moved from New Jersey to the District of Columbia five years ago, I was uncomfortable with protest and felt out of place when I attended rallies in front of the White House.

Through my political education and learning journey about whiteness, I’ve grappled with what “risk” really means to me and how I can push beyond my discomfort and fear.

And as it did for many of us, it really came to a head after the 2016 presidential election.

In the weeks leading up to inauguration, local organizers offered trainings and orientations on coordinated resistance, nonviolent direct action and our civil rights. Many prepared for arrest – some of us, like me, for the first time.

Protestors on Inauguration Day 2017 at a successful blockage
led by Black Lives Matter DC | Photo credit: Caitlin Duffy

 
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On inauguration day, I joined a blockade organized by a collective of DC-based activists including our local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which engages white folks in the movement for racial justice and fosters accountability to local partners like Black Lives Matter DC.

Our group’s goal was to help shut down one of roughly a dozen checkpoints around the National Mall using nonviolent tactics including sitting down in front of a secured entrance, linking arms, singing songs and holding up signs and art.

While participants at our location were not arrested, more than 200 were when the D.C. Metropolitan Police kettled demonstrators, journalists and legal observers while armed with riot gear, flash and smoke grenades, and pepper spray.

The ACLU immediately filed a federal class-action lawsuit for use of excessive force and unconstitutional arrests.

Those arrested faced decades in prison and underwent months of baseless prosecution until the remaining rioting cases were dismissed this month.

This crackdown on dissent is part of a larger trend, as dozens of bills have been introduced across the country to criminalize protest.

At NFG’s national convening, I was reminded of this experience at the film screening of Whose Streets, which documents the Ferguson Uprising in response to the murder of Mike Brown in 2014.

During one scene in which protestors form a human chain to block traffic on a Missouri highway, activist and organizer Brittany Ferrell becomes frustrated with attendees who move off the road, shouting that they knew it would be an arrestable action. I recognized both that frustration and fear.

Caitlin presenting at NFG’s National Convening on
NCRP’s new publication Power Moves: Your essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice 

 
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As white people, putting our bodies on the line in protest is one of our greatest resources. Compared to the state violence directed at Black and brown bodies, our whiteness privileges us to different treatment from police, the media and other white people who might counter us.

Beyond our grant dollars and institutional heft, grassroots leaders of color like Brittany and those who organized inauguration day actions are asking us to do more by helping serve as frontline buffers during civil disobedience. This is a critical opportunity to put our fear aside and our individual power in practice.

This August, white supremacists will march on our capital and cities across the country for the “Unite the Right 2” rally, a sequel to the deadly gathering in Charlottesville last summer.

Building on these recommendations for grantmakers and donors, find your local Black and people of color-led mobilization or join me in DC to confront and resist this blatant support of fascism.

Seek out trainings for white people that help you understand when and how to make space for the stories, healing and leadership of people of color, while also looking at when and how to effectively exercise our power and privilege in their service.

Now is not a time to “wait and see.” See you in the streets.


Connect with Caitlin at @DuffyInDC. 

Follow the NCRP at @NCRP.

Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on the NFG blog.

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August 14, 2019

Identify. Describe. Dismantle. Repeat.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, writes about calling out and then rejecting systems and institutions rooted in racism as a way to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist. This post was originally published here on Medium.

Nicky 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. The Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington, is a member of NFG.


 

Nicky GorenRecently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.

We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.

A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.

We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.

White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.

I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.

In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Let’s keep going.

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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.