The Reckoning Philanthropy Needs Right Now

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Reckoning Philanthropy Needs Right Now
By: Yi-Ching Lin, Vice President of Learning, Kathryn O'Neal-Dunham, CEO, and Marlon Williams, Vice President of Collaboration and Policy, Philanthropy New York.

If you have attended a Philanthropy New York program in the past five years, you have probably experienced the ways that having honest, critical, and courageous conversations about race is key to building a more equitable, sustainable, and democratic society. Our programs are guided by the idea that if we understand how our past shapes current injustices, we can create a better roadmap for moving forward together.

Earlier this year, members were treated to a masterful presentation by scholar Gretchen Sorin on the history of African American mobility and the ways that it has been intentionally controlled and violently regulated. Dr. Sorin wove together incidents of state-sponsored racialized violence stretching from the early days of slave patrols in the 1600s to local police-regulated “sundown towns” in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Her presentation was part of our Annual Meeting conference on the theme of “Reckoning,” an act of looking back so that we are fully informed as we move forward. Reckoning with race is a principle that is threaded throughout all of our programming, from our introductory Philanthropy 101 course to our series on investing. It is a framework that must fundamentally inform the solutions and strategies that lawmakers and grantmakers craft to address the rampant racial inequity laid bare by the global COVID pandemic. 

You may have recently seen or read debates around Critical Race Theory, a body of academic research that shows how policies create and reinforce racism, producing unequal systems and outcomes across all aspects of American life. It is not an agenda created to divide us over race (our country did that in our founding documents). Instead, it lifts the veil from the laws and practices - many violent and dehumanizing - that have shaped this country and continue to inform our current racially inequitable systems.

Critical Race Theory - this practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society - is part of our work at Philanthropy New York, meant to help grantmakers to: 


Because understanding history, policy, and institutional bias is critical to building funding strategies that address the root causes of racial inequity. The more foundation professionals know about these structures, the better your tools for tackling inequitable issues. Effective philanthropy is a practice. Interrogating the impact of race and racism ensures the most effective and impactful grantmaking strategies.

Philanthropy New York articulates our value of learning as testing assumptions and challenging conventional wisdom in order to adapt and evolve practice over time. Understanding our country’s racialized constructs is critical to decentering the conventional narratives that shape philanthropic solutions.

For more information on the ways that Critical Race Theory is being used as a tool for disinformation and what your foundation can do about it, we encourage you to take a moment and listen to our colleagues’ from ABFE and the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity’s thoughtful analysis.

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