Foundations, Act on What You Control to Confront Racism

Anthony Richardson

As far back as I can remember, racial constructions have been a part of my reality and lived experience. From my mom telling me that I had to work ten times harder than my white counterparts to be successful, to growing up in under-resourced neighborhoods of color where heavy police presence is normalized, I was confronted with race.

Further, whether it was my high school guidance counselor telling me, You look like you run fastjoin the militarydon’t apply to college; “random” DWB (driving while Black) police stops; or being referred to as an “uppity [n-word]” in the workplace, I have always been fully aware that perceptions of race impact life prospects and outcomes for many people of color.

The generational trauma caused by the historical enslavement of Africans and people of African descent is not lost on me. It is embedded in the fabric of America’s DNA and continues to manifest itself through various socioeconomic disparities — ranging from health, wealth, housing, and education to racial profiling and police brutality.

Over the past week, my inbox has been inundated with countless reactions and comments about the ongoing protests and unrest sweeping across the United States. There is, of course, no silver bullet for eradicating racism. But in the spirit of thinking globally while daring to act within the realm of things we can control, foundations should consider incorporating the following practices to address racial bias within our own organizations and grantmaking:

  1. Adopt zero-tolerance policies prohibiting all forms of racism, bigotry, or prejudice — including, but not limited to, in “safe spaces” such as staff retreats and after-work happy hours or social gatherings.
  2. When an employee of color is mistreated based upon their race or skin color, do not put the onus on them to address or rectify the issue. Act swiftly and boldly, as the matter can become toxic, erode office culture, and potentially lead to litigation if left insufficiently addressed.
  3. Racial equity “trainings” are helpful but do not go far enough. Hire people from the communities you seek to serve and pay them equal to similarly situated employees.
  4. Recruit board members from the communities you seek to serve. Be intentional and creative about uplifting non-traditional voices on your board.
  5. Prioritize grantmaking to support organizations with diverse staff and board composition.
  6. Provide grants to promote democracy building, specifically geared toward racial justice.

During this time, I humbly ask that all foundation leaders refrain from (albeit perhaps well-intended) efforts to “fix” or “address” racism by bombarding a person of color in the office with the laborious task of educating the organization on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or the history of race relations in America. Not only does this single people of color out as “the other,” it also: 1) puts more work on our plates which, in some cases, is outside the scope of our professional training and expertise; 2) reinforces stereotypes; and 3) perpetuates the falsehood that racism can only be addressed by people of color.

Any effort to build race consciousness within an organization should be owned and driven by everyone in the organization, from the mailroom to the boardroom.

In order to navigate the complexities of racism while simultaneously aspiring toward career goals, I — like so many of my professional peers of color — have had to develop and strategically employ what W.E.B. Du Bois termed, in The Souls of Black Folk, a double consciousness.

We are tired of living in two worlds.

We are tired of carrying the weight of the Black Experience in the workplace.

We are tired of suppressing our thoughts to avoid being labeled as “angry.”

We are tired of being ostracized, fired from our jobs, and unable to provide for our families when we speak truth to power.

I share this post in an effort to build awareness and help push our sector forward during a time of much-needed healing and reconciliation. We cannot forge ahead in silos or in silence, nor through a single act of unilateral grantmaking.

The greatest human act is to love. And it is only through love, empathy, and taking action that we can overcome these tumultuous times of civil unrest amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony Richardson, J.D. is executive director of the Nord Family Foundation. He serves on CEP’s Board of Directors.

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