Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity

Article excerpt

Keywords: Racial equity, white culture, white privilege, capacity building, organizational change


Against the backdrop of persistent racial inequities in every region of the country and across nearly every aspect of U.S. life, few foundations can escape reflecting on race and how it relates to their grantmaking priorities, internal operations, and community leadership. While many foundations have chosen to focus on diversity and inclusion, a small but growing number have engaged more deeply with the cumulative impact and current reality of structural racism1 - the ways that history, culture, public policy, institutional practices, and personal belief s interact to maintain a racial hierarchy.

These foundations have developed and invested in compelling strategies to address the root causes of systemic racism. Some are asking their grantees to show the impact of their efforts to close racial gaps and reflect the concerns of those most affected and marginalized. Others have reviewed their grantmaking portfolio to examine the impact of their investments in communities of color, while some have increased their grants for community organizing, advocacy, or other policy change interventions to address racial inequities. And some have turned the lens inward to examine barriers that may exist to staff and board members of color, taken on recruitment and retention strategies, and assessed vendors and other policies to overcome access and inclusion issues.

All of these efforts are important and necessary. But we believe they will prove insufficient to addressing structural racism or fulfilling the promise of racial justice because they ignore or obscure the other half of the problem.

The racial disparities driven and maintained by public- and private-sector policies that many foundations seek to address not only disad10.9707/1944-5660.1189 vantage communities of color but also overadvantage whites. But processes aimed at racial equity change can overlook the privileged side of inequity. For foundations to work toward racial equity through their philanthropic investments and leadership, they must shine a light on white privilege and white culture both internally and externally. This means engaging in dialogue, reflection, and action on racial equity, not only to target their grantmaking and leadership activities to effect equity in the fields they fund, but also to examine and change their staffing, operations, and organizational culture to more closely align with their equity goals and values.

For more than a decade individually, and over the past five years in partnership, the authors - a woman of color and a white woman - have consulted on and supported the racial equity efforts of foundations and other social change organizations. Through our experience as racial equity practitioners, we have encountered at least three challenges to engaging foundations in exploring white privilege and white culture in their internal and external work toward racial equity:

1. Foundation structures often embody dominant (white) culture and white privilege. By definition, this is normalized and difficult to see, prompting resistance and defensiveness about dissecting core ways of doing business.

2. Accustomed to identifying social inequities that focus on the community, it can be challenging to turn the mirror inward, particularly on sensitive topics like race and privilege. Few organizations are prepared for the emotional responses and conflict that naturally emerge f rom this work.

3. This change process itself can privilege white people by centralizing and accommodating their learning curve, which is sometimes steep and often lags behind people of color - who might appreciate the change process while also at times feeling marginalized within it due to the priority given to supporting the needs of whites.

This article offers our reflections on these challenges, as well as the following tools for tack ling them:

* Create a container with intentional group norms. …

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