There is no denying what many who work in or those who have lived through disasters have seen time and again: Disasters are not equalizers. Whether hurricanes, wildfires, humanitarian crises or other disasters, some populations are hit harder than others. Full recovery is not guaranteed, and for many, it takes months, if not years or decades.

At the core of this hard truth are the systemic inequities that marginalized populations such as Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, women and girls, gender-nonconforming people, and individuals with disabilities face even before a disaster. Consequently, donors who wish to ensure that their disaster giving supports full equitable recovery for these communities need to approach their philanthropy with an equity lens to maximize their impact.

Racial and intersectional equity

Similar to many other philanthropic entities’ response to our country’s racial reckoning, and after seeing firsthand how communities of color are disproportionately affected by disasters, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy has engaged in a multi-year effort to enhance its commitment to what we call racial and intersectional equity (RIE).

Like diversity, equity, and inclusion and other similarly named efforts, racial and intersectional equity captures our belief that race is the predominant defining and underlying characteristic challenging U.S. society.

We also recognize, as Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Our racial and intersectional equity commitment brings Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality into our analysis. Similar to Lorde, Crenshaw says intersectionality is “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”

As a global philanthropy serving organization, we realize that racial and intersectional equity looks different in international settings. A division may not occur along racial lines but may instead be based on ethnicity, caste, tribal affiliation, religion, or colorism.

The disaster racial wealth gap

Disasters amplify how interconnected identities can affect the prospect of full recovery. In every recent disaster, those who had access to resources were immediately better off than those who did not. They were more likely to have the funds or adequate insurance to rebuild their homes. That access, or lack thereof, stems from pre-existing disaster conditions and situations.

This was particularly true in the area of race. After a disaster, the white population of a community recovers faster and becomes wealthier, while communities of color do not recover as quickly, and poverty rates tend to increase. The more damaging the disaster, the bigger the racial wealth gap.

Researchers Junia Howell and Jim Elliott found that white residents gained $26,000 on average for disasters with damages under $100,000 and $126,000 if there was more than $10 billion in overall damages. For other races, though, that did not happen. While Black, Latino and Asian residents did see an income increase after small disasters, they lost income when there was $10 billion or more in damages. Black residents lost $27,000, Asian residents lost $10,000, and Latino residents lost $29,000. The researchers said, “These differences occurred even after the researchers controlled for a wide range of factors including age, education, homeownership, family status, residential mobility, neighborhood status and county population.”

Read the full article about race and intersectional equity by Tanya Gulliver-Garcia and Kristina "Yna" Moore at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.