Economic Recovery Through Racial Equity: Thoughts from Maya Wiley

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On December 8th, 2009, Philanthropy New York hosted a program (presented by its Special Committee on Increasing Diversity in Philanthropy) with the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) and the Center for Social Inclusion on current strategies to increase the equitable impacts of government stimulus spending. One of the presenters was Maya Wiley, Executive Director of the Center for Social Inclusion, who shared her thoughts on structural racism in a time of economic challenge and political hope. Ms. Wiley was gracious enough to expand on her ideas for Smart Assets.

Communities of color, an unprecedented economic crisis, and billions in federal dollars for economic recovery: a recipe for transformation? It could be, but it isn’t inevitable. While the federal government is pouring almost $800 billion into existing safety-net programs, creating various competitive innovation funds for public infrastructure projects from education to broadband, and working rapidly on a phase two job creation strategy, it is still unclear how much communities of color will benefit. This should sound shocking. After all, the goals of the economic recovery include help to the communities most impacted, certainly the intent of many in government and other actors in the field.

But one-size-fits-all solutions rarely fit all, particularly communities of color. A race-focused systems analysis, which we at CSI call a “structural racism analysis,” reveals that the ways we have organized housing, jobs, transportation, education financing, healthcare, etc. interrelate to create substantial disinvestments in communities of color and build walls between communities of color and opportunities. These systems failures affect the entire nation, as the mortgage crisis makes clear. But prevention and solutions require a diagnosis of the systems failures that produced the mess in the first place and recognition that it isn’t a single issue or an isolated problem. Race clearly matters. Black families with household incomes of $350,000 per year were more likely to have a subprime loan than white families with household incomes of $50,000 per year. Solutions to these and related systems failures can’t look the same in all communities, but are surely relevant to all communities.

Philanthropy has a mighty opportunity to use this analysis and leverage its funds in ways that begin to transform failed systems into working ones. Philanthropy can use the analysis to understand where deeply harmed communities are, why they are harmed, and the strategic entry points for policy change that begins to transform broken systems into working ones. Supporting leadership and communications strategies in communities of color and data collection demands to ensure transparency and accountability in government programs, leveraging grant dollars so that communities of color can compete for competitive grants programs—these are just some of the opportunities before us. Thanks to Philanthropy New York, this discussion is taking place. We need to start cooking together if we are to eat at a table of shared opportunity.

Maya Wiley is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Social Inclusion, an organization which works to transform structural barriers to opportunity for communities of color; develop tools, strategies, and leadership for dismantling structural racism; and ensure that all share in the benefits and burdens of public policy. A civil rights attorney and policy advocate, Ms. Wiley graduated from the Columbia University School of Law in 1989. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1986. She has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa.

Prior to founding the Center for Social Inclusion, Ms. Wiley was a senior advisor on race and poverty to the Director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Institute, and helped develop and implement the Open Society Foundation—South Africa’s Criminal Justice Initiative. She has worked for the American Civil Liberties Union National Legal Department, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. in the Poverty and Justice Program, and the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. She currently serves on the Tides Network Board and has previously served on the boards of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota School of Law, Human Rights Watch, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Wiley was a contributing author to the National Urban League’s 2006 State of Black America, and authored a chapter on race, equity, and land use planning in Columbia, South Carolina recently published in Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity, from the MIT Press. Ms. Wiley was also named a NY Moves magazine 2009 Power Woman.

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