After an historic year of reckoning for the country and the philanthropic community over racial injustice, the real test of our progress is what comes next.
In 2020, many donors and businesses confronted, for the first time, the inherent tension between the tremendous good that philanthropy can do and the white supremacist systems that make philanthropy necessary and often, possible. Within just 30 days after the nation watched George Floyd be tortured to death by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, individual donors, foundations, and corporations pledged $2 billion to support racial equity in the United States. By contrast, donations in the same category totaled just $166.4 million in all of 2019. Some of these newly pledged funds supported Black-led organizations like the ACLU of Louisiana
At ACLU of Louisiana, increased support has been transformative. It has empowered our organization to dramatically expand our staff capacity, engage in extensive voter education and electoral advocacy in the race for Orleans Parish District Attorney, bring more cases challenging immigrant detention and mass incarceration, and launch a new initiative called Justice Lab, which is challenging unconstitutional policing across the state.
Now the shared challenge for our country and for the philanthropic community is translating this momentum into lasting, structural change.
Dismantling systemic racism must begin with a full accounting of our history and an acknowledgement of the challenges that long predated Trump’s presidency. The first ships carrying enslaved people to our shores arrived in 1619. And ever since our founders – the majority of whom owned enslaved people – declared that “all men are created equal,” presidents have come and gone, but systemic racism has remained.
Reversing 250 years of chattel slavery, followed by 100 years of Jim Crow segregation, and our current state of mass incarceration and a widening racial wealth gap, will take a sustained commitment at the national and local level. While the President certainly has enormous power over federal policies that impact issues like immigration, reform in district courthouses and state legislatures can dramatically change the lived experiences of our most marginalized neighbors. The groundswell of opposition to America’s white supremacist status quo must be led by the people who have borne the weight of injustice most heavily.
How can donors at any level invest in our country’s founding promises of equality and justice for all, until they are realized? The ACLU of Louisiana has several core values that if adopted, could act in service to those who want to drive change:
- Build a foundation of understanding. Building an anti-racist community cannot happen without allyship of other races. Feel welcomed to the movement and start your commitment by learning as much as possible about the pervasiveness of racism. The ACLU of Louisiana has a list of essential anti-racist reading, listening and viewing that could be a great starting place. Donors should not miss Nikole Hannah-Jones’s “What Is Owed” article in the New York Times Magazine, which examines the history of the racial wealth gap in America, nor Edgar Villanueva’s landmark book about philanthropy, Decolonizing Wealth.
- Center and support directly impacted people: Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, says that to change the world, we must “get proximate” to those who are suffering. Organizations led by Black people who know first-hand the perils of structural racism, and are thus uniquely qualified to address it, are most often proximate. Your philanthropic investment in these leaders and their work will be felt in communities that have been historically excluded and disfavored.
- Make “Good Trouble”: If you have a calling to address systemic racism, and if you feel a sense of belonging in the movement, take a next step. Go beyond giving back, and consider what you might give up. If you sit on a foundation or corporate board of mostly white people, for example, you might set a goal to fill half the board with people from the communities you aim to serve. If you are an individual donor, dream up with a Black leader what a stretch gift – an upgraded, unrestricted, and multi-year pledge – could do for his or her organization.
Philanthropy has long acted as a shadow government in the United States. Last year, charitable giving totaled nearly $450 billion, while the federal government spent just $104 billion on housing and education combined. The politicians who create our budgets are accountable to American voters. Philanthropists are accountable to almost no one, and because of our country’s history of oppression, most of those with access to wealth, are white.
This Giving Tuesday, this December, and for years to come, we have the opportunity to invest in a more equitable city, state and country. Let’s rise to the occasion by supporting Black-led organizations. At ACLU of Louisiana, a generous donor is matching all gifts to our affiliate up to $25,000. Your support will allow us to meet evolving challenges with flexibility and dismantle structural racism from the ground up rather than the top, down. To make a gift to ACLU of Louisiana visit laaclu.org/give. Thank you for your support.