Philanthropy New York's Policy Corner - April 2023

Friday, April 21, 2023

Reckoning With Our History Provides the Foundation for Building Our Future
By: Marlon Williams, Vice President of Policy and Collaboration, Philanthropy New York


“To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

- James Baldwin


As communities of color nationwide have warned, we are currently seeing “anti- Critical Race Theory '' rhetoric transform from talk into a wave of legislation designed to bury painful truths about American history. Political leaders are now acting on strategically implemented racist rhetoric and dog whistles to forward anti-CRT legislation, putting the comfort of the white majority ahead of knowledge that provides a foundation for understanding the history of our country and combating racism. 

We know that to correct the inequities that persist both inside and outside the philanthropic sector, we must closely examine how our nation’s systems have upheld a racially inequitable society. This means that we cannot look the other way and hope to see real change. We cannot deny our nation’s history of exploiting marginalized communities but rather must closely examine how that history has created systems of inequity and recognize the urgent opportunity we have to re-imagine a new way of working to build a better society for all.  

I am an urban planner by training, so I am deeply familiar with how racial inequities are built into the geographic, social, and emotional landscape of our lives. Examining our country’s racialized history is critical to understanding why a building, highway, or business is in one neighborhood and not another. It is critical to understanding the ebb and flow of our nation's resources and why some communities are consistently under-resourced. Fully understanding the institutional impact of racism is critical for understanding the world as it is and provides the foundation for us to build something better. At its core, critical race theory – a group of concepts used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country – is exactly that. Below I’ve shared a few resources that have been helpful in shaping my understanding of the backlash to CRT and how to combat it. 

Looking to learn more?

Here are just a few resources that have been helpful in shaping my understanding of the backlash to CRT and how philanthropy can combat it.


Watching to frame the issue 
Listening for Context 
Reading for Understanding 
Supporting the Work


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