Centering Race and Intersectional Equity for Effective Disaster Recovery

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia and Kristina "Yna" Moore

From a global pandemic to the recent invasion of Ukraine, globally impactful disasters are an increasingly frequent part of our reality, and thus an important factor as funders consider grantmaking priorities and the funding landscape in which they operate. In light of these events and global trends that will make disasters of this scale and complexity imminent, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) reflects in this series on why grantmakers must consider disaster funding, what we’ve learned from the last two yearswhat individual donors can do to help in a disaster, and how to approach this work with an equity and community-based mindset.

There is no denying what many who work in or those who have lived through disasters have seen time and again: Disasters are not equalizers. Whether hurricanes, wildfires, humanitarian crises or other disasters, some populations are hit harder than others. Full recovery is not guaranteed, and for many, it takes months, if not years or decades.

At the core of this hard truth are the systemic inequities that marginalized populations such as Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, women and girls, gender-nonconforming people, and individuals with disabilities face even before a disaster. Consequently, donors who wish to ensure that their disaster giving supports full equitable recovery for these communities need to approach their philanthropy with an equity lens to maximize their impact.

Racial and intersectional equity

Similar to many other philanthropic entities’ response to our country’s racial reckoning, and after seeing firsthand how communities of color are disproportionately affected by disasters, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy has engaged in a multi-year effort to enhance its commitment to what we call racial and intersectional equity (RIE).

Like diversity, equity, and inclusion and other similarly named efforts, racial and intersectional equity captures our belief that race is the predominant defining and underlying characteristic challenging U.S. society.

We also recognize, as Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Our racial and intersectional equity commitment brings Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality into our analysis. Similar to Lorde, Crenshaw says intersectionality is “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”

As a global philanthropy serving organization, we realize that racial and intersectional equity looks different in international settings. A division may not occur along racial lines but may instead be based on ethnicity, caste, tribal affiliation, religion, or colorism.

Racial and intersectional equity is both a unique area of our work and one that we are striving to embed in all that we do. We captured our commitment in late 2021 through an RIE statement that will continue to guide our equity journey in the years ahead:

“The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s board and staff envision an anti-racist organization guided by values that promote and nurture racial justice, intersectional equity, and the empowerment of disenfranchised and marginalized people and communities in all the work we do.”

CDP’s Race and Intersectional Equity Vision Statement

The disaster racial wealth gap

Disasters amplify how interconnected identities can affect the prospect of full recovery. In every recent disaster, those who had access to resources were immediately better off than those who did not. They were more likely to have the funds or adequate insurance to rebuild their homes. That access, or lack thereof, stems from pre-existing disaster conditions and situations.

This was particularly true in the area of race. After a disaster, the white population of a community recovers faster and becomes wealthier, while communities of color do not recover as quickly, and poverty rates tend to increase. The more damaging the disaster, the bigger the racial wealth gap.

Researchers Junia Howell and Jim Elliott found that white residents gained $26,000 on average for disasters with damages under $100,000 and $126,000 if there was more than $10 billion in overall damages. For other races, though, that did not happen. While Black, Latino and Asian residents did see an income increase after small disasters, they lost income when there was $10 billion or more in damages. Black residents lost $27,000, Asian residents lost $10,000, and Latino residents lost $29,000. The researchers said, “These differences occurred even after the researchers controlled for a wide range of factors including age, education, homeownership, family status, residential mobility, neighborhood status and county population.”

Root cause analysis

Philanthropy, during non-disaster times, is often focused on trying to address society’s ills one by one. This stems from the origins of financial donations as a means of providing charity. For example, child hunger is often addressed by school nutrition programs. While these are critical initiatives that lead to improved educational and employment opportunities, COVID-19 has shown us how disasters disrupt these efforts. School nutrition programs became food banks and outreach programs, with virtual learning replacing classroom education.

Despite extensive research into root causes, not nearly enough grantmakers look at using their philanthropy to solve the source of inequities, such as why children are hungry and what systemic changes are needed to create better outcomes.

During disasters, the emergency management focus is on returning communities to their pre-disaster state. But if equity matters — at CDP, we believe it does — the focus must also be on reducing inequities and making communities stronger.

This is where philanthropy can shine. Disaster grantmaking can play a crucial role in creating meaningful and successful recovery for everyone affected by a disaster, not just the few who can afford it.

The role for philanthropy

By working together to truly understand racial and intersectional equity and view disaster recovery with this lens, we can address the systemic issues at play that could hinder communities from building back stronger.

Imagine a world where renter households achieve the same success in home recovery as owner households. Children are able to stay in schools that continue to provide quality education. Working individuals are able to achieve pre-disaster employment and income rate quickly, regardless of zip code. Small businesses are able to stay open. Food bank usage only increases temporarily. Together we can help make this a reality.

We invite all donors to delve into how your funding reduces marginalization and addresses racism. Examine your disaster-giving plans to ensure they include a strategy for addressing root causes, as well as the impact of a particular disaster. Explore how you are building connections and listening to local organizations, and whether and how you are supporting and accountable to marginalized communities before, during, and after disasters.

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia is director of learning and partnerships, and Yna Moore is senior director of marketing and communications at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP). They co-chair CDP’s Racial and Intersectional Equity Committee. Find Tanya on Twitter at @TanyaMGulliver, find Yna on Twitter at @ynamoore, and follow @Funds4disaster on Twitter.

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