I’d had a nagging feeling for months. I loved my role as Education Fellowship Director at Camelback Ventures, a 6-month startup accelerator for people of color and women growing for- and non-profit education and conscious tech ventures across the United States. I loved it, and in many ways, I was really good at it. As I plodded along on my personal anti-racism journey, however, the nagging feeling slowed my pace until I looked around me and realized “I’m not the right person to lead this.” As a white woman, I knew I didn’t have the lived experience and perspective necessary to properly serve and create the community that the founders we work with deserved: Of our recent 2020 graduates, 94% are people of color and over 55% are women. I was afraid to say it out loud, believing that if I were to explicitly acknowledge it that I’d lose the opportunity to do this work that I love and believe in.
Systemic racism is insidious, enduring, and thriving in the complicity of white people today as it was generations ago. We can feel guilty about our ancestors’ past or our own present, but we can also choose to take responsibility now to be and do better.
I struggled with my identity and place in the organization, and what began as my biggest challenge became my biggest opportunity for good - within Camelback Ventures, and within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As Camelback looked to ways to make systems-level change, to mitigate enormous disparities in funding for founders of color, we saw how this could happen by working on ‘both sides of the table’ - with both founders and funders - through our Capital Collaborative program that piloted last year. Given that approximately 76% of foundation staff identify as white, it is safe to say that there is a lot of white privilege in philanthropy, and therefore a lot of opportunities to drive its use for good.
Some might argue that getting more foundation staff of color is the answer. While that is undoubtedly a need and an important piece of the puzzle, that is a generational solution. In the meantime, there is a critical need to change the current status quo with those who work in philanthropy now. According to Giving USA, in 2019 charitable giving in the U.S. reached $450B, with the two largest portions represented by individuals (69%) and foundations (17%). Yet, only 7% of foundation grantmaking goes to founders of color, despite their making up 39% of the U.S. population. (It is likely that these disparities exist on the individual giving side as well, although as of this writing I have not found clear statistics.)
When we’re looking for opportunities to make real change, we don’t need to look far, but we very likely need to intentionally look outside of our own networks. White Americans’ social networks are 91% white - the highest homogeneity among White, Black, and Latinx/Hispanic Americans. When I think about my own networks, I know this is uncomfortably true - while my professional network is more diverse (still pretty far from representative of our country’s demographics), my personal network has catching up to do.
Once I realized that Capital Collaborative is a place where my white privilege could be used to help shed light on other individuals’ white privilege and how it might be used for good, I reflected a lot on what this could look like in my personal life. I saw the burnout that happened (a common part of white identity development) when many friends and family members started ‘cramming for the anti-racism test’ after the George Floyd protests began. As with Capital Collaborative, my objective in my personal life is to practice and share learnings that we can use not only in this critical moment, but also in the next five months, five years, and five decades - or until they’re no longer necessary. Here’s how I’ve begun, and I invite you to join me:
- Review your personal giving. Get a sense of the demographics of your portfolio, and set goals around what you would like that to look like to help mitigate disparities in funding for Black, Indigenous, and person of color-led non-profits. Determine how you will hold yourself accountable to these goals.
- Looking for nonprofits led by people of color? Request our directory here.
- Review your personal spending. The next time you need or want a product or service, be intentional about finding one founded and led by a person of color. Then, share and amplify this business with your personal networks - whether this is by writing a review, sharing through word of mouth, or however else you typically promote businesses you love.
- Looking for Black-owned businesses? Check out Official Black Wall Street, Forbes' 100 Black-Owned Businesses to Support, Etsy’s Black-Owned Shops (editors’ picks), and more - side note, our team was very excited when we learned that Calendly is Black-owned!
- Practice being a “Liberated Gatekeeper.” As Amoretta Morris from the Annie E. Casey Foundation describes in her post Choosing to be a Liberated Gatekeeper: “Gatekeepers, after all, control the flow of power, funds, information and resources, and they’re often in a position to speak for and translate for people without access to those things.” Liberated Gatekeeping is not limited to a one-way flow - practice being the Liberated Gatekeeper for your white family and friends. Introduce them to information, resources, potential giving opportunities, and business founded by people of color that they wouldn’t otherwise access through their networks. This is how new networks are born and thrive.
When we think about systemic racism as a whole, we can feel hopeless and overwhelmed (I have) - especially as white folks who are ‘waking up’ to a history and present that we haven’t experienced ourselves. Not only have we not experienced it, but our predominantly white classrooms didn’t teach us about race and racism, and our white societal norms discouraged us from talking about them. Systemic racism is insidious, enduring, and thriving in the complicity of white people today as it was generations ago. We can feel guilty about our ancestors’ past or our own present, but we can also choose to take responsibility now to be and do better. We can also choose to feel empowered and hopeful - especially as givers and spenders who choose where our capital goes. We can use our capital for good, we can use our white privilege for good.