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After Charlottesville, How Do We Move Forward?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I must admit that I’ve struggled to write this post. I have been thinking a lot about the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville a week ago, and the President’s inexcusable comments equating people and groups that foment racial hatred, bigotry and violence with those who stand against them. But I have not been able to figure out the right words to say, although I have a lot to say.

Part of my struggle is this. To state – in 2017 – that neo-Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacist groups and individuals have no place in our society is hardly a courageous act. Over the past week a lot of good people and organizations in the nonprofit and philanthropy sector have made statements to say, and rightfully so, that they stand against all forms of racism, bigotry and hatred. But as we all issue statements and share them with each other (sharing with others who no doubt already agree with the sentiments being expressed), part of me wonders, what will that change?

But staying silent is not an option either. If we don’t stand up together and say, loud and clear, that we will fight resolutely against all forms of racism and bigotry in our country, the dark forces will have won. So we must speak out. And I must speak out.

United Philanthropy Forum firmly condemns white supremacy in all forms. The Forum condemns all ideologies, policies and actions rooted in a belief that white people are superior to people of other races and ethnicities. The Forum condemns the hatred and violence we witnessed in Charlottesville. The Forum stands firmly against racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia. There are not two sides on this matter.

How do we move forward as a country, and as a philanthropy field, after Charlottesville? I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I offer three suggestions:

  • Take a hard look at your organization’s policies, procedures and activities, internally and externally, to ensure that you are doing everything you can to advance racial equity and inclusion in your daily work. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide is one good place to start, as is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Implementation Guide. This is not quick or easy work, but nothing will change until we all take actions in our own organizations to move further down the road to engage in equitable practices.

  • White folks, it’s time for us to step up in a bigger way. In a new post entitled White People Show Us, PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell and Michael McAfee talk about the value of white allies in the work to advance racial equity, and that now is the moment for greater action. They urge white people to “call out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic,” yes, but to go even further to “lead the way in designing and implementing equity-centered public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms” that overcome white supremacy and create a just and fair society. Tamara Copeland, President & CEO of Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, shares a similar sentiment in her recent post, noting that white people must “lead this charge” and “use your voice to speak up, not simply in reaction to racists’ actions or statements, but proactively.”

    In his latest post, nonprofit leader Vu Le describes an “existential weariness and a sense of despair that I hadn’t seen before” in many leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. That’s heartbreaking to hear, and that’s something that white people like myself will never be able to fully understand. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up more forcefully as strong partners and allies with people of color to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion in our communities and our country. We need to assume a bigger share of the burden. Whatever we’ve been doing up until now hasn’t been enough.

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Did my previous comments make you uncomfortable at all? I would be surprised if they didn’t, even just a little. Talking about race in any kind of open and honest way makes most people uncomfortable, at least that’s been my experience. But as the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy's Dee Goodrich wrote in a recent guest post for the Forum, it’s “time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” If we are to make progress in fighting all forms of racism and bigotry that prevent us from having a fully equitable society, we can’t be afraid to talk about matters of race that might make us uncomfortable. For people and organizations who are new to this journey, I urge you to listen and learn from those who have been deeply engaged in this work for a long time. For those of you who have been on this journey for many years, I urge you to be gracious and understanding with people just starting out who have the best of intentions but who may not always ask the right questions or phrase things in exactly the right way.

United Philanthropy Forum started in earnest last year on a journey to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion in philanthropy; we view our role as one of a convener, connector and collaborative partner. We recently launched a Racial Equity Working Group, co-chaired by Tamara Copeland and Susan Taylor Batten, President & CEO of ABFE, that will advise the Forum’s staff and board on our work in this area. The group will help us ensure that regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) in the Forum network are able to easily access the best resources and programming to help them address racial equity in their own networks, so that we can spread this work more broadly across the philanthropy sector and achieve greater impact. Last month we also launched a new member peer community on racial equity, diversity and inclusion, to provide an open and collaborative space were our members can connect, share and learn together around this important work.

At the Forum’s annual conference last month, keynote speaker Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, noted that we are in a struggle for the civic and moral soul of our nation right now. It is bigger than any political leaders; bigger than any political parties. Philanthropy has a vital role to play in that struggle, not just with dollars but also with voice. Philanthropy is rooted in a love for all people, and thus has a particularly important role to play in lifting up our country’s civic and moral values. We have a lot of work to do. Speaking out isn’t enough, but it’s a necessary start.

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO, United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer

Learn More at the Forum’s Resource Page on Philanthropy’s Response to Charlottesville
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