Part four in a four-part series. Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

“Anti-oppression can’t happen without the presence of spirit. Dehumanization, soul loss, and alienation are not states of mind, so it is not a change of mind that is needed. They are states of being. We need to help each other find balance that involves more than our minds — that engages all of our being.” Leticia Nieto, Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment (pg. 282)

In previous installments, we described what we call the Sisterhood — a community of six Black-bodied women and seven white-bodied women who are engaging in relational reparations. One of our foundational places together is a knowing that structural oppression has deprived us all of humanity and balance, and we believe that to come back into wholeness we need each other. We have more to experience with this truth, but so far, we are clear that cross-racial antiracist community is organic, messy, and embodied.

It is also true that these descriptors are rarely applied to institutional philanthropy. Many of us have a long history of relating to institutional philanthropy, either as directors of nonprofits or as donors and/or fundraisers. To us, philanthropy is often surgical, remote, cerebral, and is not geared to a reciprocal process of healing. 

When we started our group, we knew that we wanted to experience something beyond what we had experienced with philanthropy. But to step out of patterns and mindsets familiar to all of us, we all had some work to do to overcome historical cross-racial mistrust. The white-bodied women had to resist white saviorism to see that what they are doing is not something to be lauded. The Black-bodied women did not want the acceptance of the return to burden them with carrying the white-bodied women’s guilt and pain related to race and wealth. 

We found a new way through these patterns by having a ritual exchange with our return that negated old, historical energy. It has also been important to work in affinity groups to unpack the different, racialized programming we have around money, wealth, and philanthropy.  

From the white-bodied women’s perspective, here are some comments that represent the type of excavation and inquiry that has been useful:

  • The biggest question that nags me repeatedly is how can I stop this cycle. How can we stop the hoarding that goes back many generations in my husband's family and in mine?
  • I’ve come to see that philanthropy was a sandbox I’d been playing in. My real work lies in a direct return of wealth (a stand-in for stolen labor). What is more, I’ve been overlooking the larger cache of resources that my husband has been using for angel investments – these are funds I’m learning to claim in order to direct to Black-female owned ventures, moving even more wealth directly into the community.
  • Almost seven years ago, I changed my career to work in philanthropy. That’s when it became increasingly clear to me that philanthropy, in practice, often had little to do with recognizing the humanity of others or acting with love at the root. It was white dominance masquerading as altruism.

The Black-bodied women grappled with the value and meaning of receiving funds. When funds are returned without obligation, requirement, or expectation, it demands a level of acceptance and trust. The comments below reflect that shift:

  • Having lived in a state of lack, receiving the money made some of us feel like, oh my God, this is just too much, I can’t take this money.
  • We are recognizing, healing, and releasing old patterns of beliefs and behaviors we have about money and those with extreme wealth. We are learning how to be with money without the negative energy of money. 
  • The reality is when we aren’t worried about money, we are freed up to help transform the world and do what's needed to transform systems of oppression.

The lessons and healing of this relational reparations experiment is still settling into our bones, nervous systems, and spirits. As one of our white-bodied sisters says, “I was taught not to talk about money and that silence was a tool of separation. I'm not bound by that silence anymore, which is liberating.”

As we close out our article series, we hope that white and wealthy readers will reflect upon their own relationship to philanthropy and reparations — and then, voice these reflections with their networks. Social transformation has no recipe, but when funds are returned to Black Americans as an acknowledgement of centuries of harm and theft, the impact of this can go places that a “donation” can never go.

We believe that the return of wealth is a powerful modality for healing across race. This return needs to happen with intention and care, with an absolute grounding in the truth of white supremacy and its impacts on all of us. Returning requires everyone involved to transform in ways previously unimaginable. But when people gather for the purpose of truly reckoning with how white supremacy has shaped the past and present — when reparations are at the center — lives change.