The murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis has led to an outpouring of protest, rage, and in some cases destruction that should surprise no one. From Amadou Diallo to Trayvon Martin to Walter Scott to literally countless other killings (seen and unseen), we as a country have tolerated what can only be described as lynchings. This is, of course, the contemporary manifestation of a dehumanization of Black people rooted in slavery — and it’s crucial to see it in this historical context.
The deep anger, hurt, and fear felt by many Black Americans are the responsibility of white people. White peoples’ privilege (and the litany of things many white Americans have the luxury not to even worry about) takes so many forms it’s impossible to list them all here. But in aggregate it is the accumulated privilege of centuries of racist policies in every aspect of American life — from criminal justice to housing to healthcare.
The results are so pronounced — shocking disparities in basic rights and freedoms, net worth, and access to opportunity — that they stand in shameful contrast to the commonly embraced rhetoric about what America means. As Ibram X. Kendi notes in How to Be An Anti-Racist, “There may be no more consequential white privilege than life itself. White lives matter to the tune of 3.5 additional years over black lives in the United States.”
And that was before COVID-19. Now we’re all seeing the sickening statistics about the impact of this virus. The data tells us that the death rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times that of whites. There are of course multiple explanations for this: from bias in the health systems, to high rates of pre-existing conditions linked to a history of oppression and disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins, to disproportionate representation in front-line, “essential” jobs.
Every explanation, though, boils down to one thing: systemic, institutionalized racism. These deaths from COVID-19 are not a result of physical violence. But they are no less meaningful, no less of a violent blow, to the human beings who are losing a partner, a child, a sibling, a cousin, a friend.
The advantages of whiteness in this country are on stunning, horrifying display. This is not new, clearly. But maybe the moment can prompt more of us who are white to ask ourselves some deep questions about our role and what we can do — as citizens, as parents, as neighbors, as community members.
And for those of us in philanthropy — whether individual donors, institutional funders, or advisors — the issues we must grapple with are just as important.
First, if you want to make a meaningful difference in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it literally can’t happen without equity at the forefront.
Second, making a meaningful difference means committing to supporting organizations that are rooted deeply in — and trusted by — the communities they serve.
Third, for those of us who are white and working in institutional philanthropy in one way or another, we are obliged to do more — and to take more risks.
Read the full article about race and equity by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.