Giving Compass’ Take:
• Vu Le argues that philanthropy is failing to address racial inequity, performing the role of the white moderate that Martin Luther King warned would prevent progress toward equality.
• Le offers specific advice for funders to better support communities of color. Are you doing enough to lift up these communities?
• Read about adopting a racial equity lens for grantmaking.
From his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
We have seen this out in the world, in people who call for “civility” during heated dialogues about injustice, who advocate for folks to see “both sides,” who play devil’s advocate in the name of differences in perspectives, while claiming to be aligned with equity and progress. Right now they are the people who are worried about property damage, who insist “not all cops” are bad, who loudly proclaim that rioting is not the answer. Even as the police continue to murder Black people for centuries without any repercussion, these folks continue to prioritize this “negative peace” and lack of tension to actual justice.
In nonprofit and philanthropy, the white moderate thrives. Foundations, it manifests in your white-moderate hoarding of assets, refusing to increase payout beyond the bare minimum even while the fires injustice rage on. Your white-moderate reluctance to fund Black, Indigenous, and other communities-of-color-led organizations over decades has contributed to all these problems. Your white-moderate disdain of funding advocacy and systems change work has let the fires spread unchecked. Your white-moderate discomfort with saying words like “white supremacy” and “slavery” and “reparation,” insistence on order and bureaucracy through grant applications and budgets and deadlines, dismissal of solutions proposed by marginalized communities in favor of those proposed by educated white elites, gravitation toward long timelines at your convenience—these things make you part of the problem even as we look to you for help solve problems.
The white moderate actively avoids anything controversial, anything that could be seen as “political.” Board members and organization leaders, if you cannot publicly call out white supremacy, if you can’t denounce white nationalism, if in this moment when millions are risking their lives in a pandemic to protest against police racism and you think it’s too political or uncomfortable to say that Black lives matter and act/fund accordingly, then you are a white moderate and you are part of the problem.
Read the full article about philanthropy and the role of the white moderate by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.
If you are looking for more articles and resources for Race and Ethnicity, take a look at these Giving Compass selections related to impact giving and Race and Ethnicity.
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