For philanthropy, racial equity isn't enough: Why we've moved to redistribution to address the racial wealth gap

Thursday, October 14, 2021

For philanthropy, racial equity isn't enough: Why we've moved to redistribution to address the racial wealth gap
By: Edgar Villanueva, Founder and Principal, Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital. This piece was originally published by Philanthropy News Digest on October 7, 2021.


The past few years have seen a radical shift in philanthropy, a shift that was further fueled by George Floyd's murder, the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, the ongoing pandemic, and a polarized presidential election. More companies, funds, and philanthropic organizations have come to better understand the importance of racial equity in their giving and the very important role philanthropy can play in addressing the racial wealth gap in the United States.

My organization, Decolonizing Wealth Project, and its corresponding fund, Liberated Capital, have been proud to help spearhead this movement. But recently, we came to a hard conclusion: It's not enough to just approach giving through a racial equity lens; we must shift from a conversation solely about grantmaking to redistribution through reparations if we want to honestly tackle and close the racial wealth gaps in this country. As funders we have the opportunity both to redistribute our wealth and to fuel the movement for reparations.

Last month, Liberated Capital made our first grants totaling more than $1.7 million as part of our #Case4Reparations funding initiative, a monumental step in this movement. This first-of-its-kind multiyear, multimillion-dollar initiative supports community-driven reparations advocacy and movement building efforts to redistribute wealth — both money and land — to Black and Native American communities.

Our twenty-three grantee partners, selected from among more than ninety proposals, are diverse in scope and geographic focus. They are working to reclaim land stolen from Black Californians a century ago and advocating for new legislation to establish a Reparations Task Force in New Jersey. They are a team of law and policy experts researching, organizing, and advocating for large-scale reforms in the District of Columbia's criminal justice system to serve as a national model for change. Their approaches vary, but they're united behind one goal: redistributing money and land to historically harmed communities who have been intentionally economically oppressed by racist policies and systems.

We didn't come to this new way of giving lightly. We were guided by two North Stars: the moment and the mission.

We're living in a unique moment of social reckoning, an awakening to how our country has historically harmed Black and Indigenous communities and how we can begin to repair that harm.

Our institutions are slowly starting to take note. In recent years, local governments in OregonRhode IslandVermont, and Illinois have explored reparations as a form of racial healing after generations of institutionalized racism. In the San Francisco Bay Area, individual residents and businesses can pay to help restore Indigenous land to Indigenous stewardship as a land tax for reparations. Even in the halls of Congress, representatives have introduced legislation to fund the first commission to study and develop proposals for providing reparations to African Americans. At every level, our institutions and leaders are responding to this moment and acknowledging how reparations can help heal our country.

But a moment also needs a mission. For us, that mission is an understanding that truth, reconciliation, and healing are all necessary to transform how wealth, land, and money are allocated in this country. This transformation is essential because those who hold the bulk of ill-gotten resources and influence — including philanthropy — must bear responsibility for repairing the harms done.

This also means trusting the Black and Brown people on the ground already doing the work. As explained in a recent open letter to the philanthropy community from people of color-led public foundations, including Decolonizing Wealth Project, our communities benefit most and can do the most good when they have the ultimate decision-making power.

Taken together, the moment and our mission inspired us to change how and why we give. Modern philanthropy is shifting away from focusing solely on "scale" and "impact" toward a bigger goal — to unearth, support, and trust organizations that are committed to racial healing and repair and are already doing the work on the ground. While our grants are barely out the door, we've already seen the effects of this shift. Reparative giving is resonating with donors and foundations, especially after the past few years of social reckoning.

Our fund has also been able to respond urgently and in sync with the movement in ways that bigger philanthropic outfits are often ill equipped to do. This has already had a real impact. "I can finally pay my team," said Kavon Ward, founder of Justice for Bruce's Beach, a grantee partner. "It makes me feel amazing to be able to pay the beautiful women on my team, and to also donate to Where Is My Land so we have seed money to continue to do the work for other Black families around the nation."

Philanthropy must play a critical role in helping our country heal through reparative giving. But this is possible only if more of us see the potential for liberation in shifting from supporting racial justice to going further and supporting giving power and wealth back to people who have historically had it ripped away from them. The time for reparations is now. Reparations have the potential to be transformative — for philanthropy and for our country.

Edgar Villanueva, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is an author, activist, and expert on social justice philanthropy. He is the author of Decolonizing Wealth and founder and principal of Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital.