By Jane Wales
Many were thrilled to see that the Kellogg Foundation had made a $75-million commitment to attacking racial disparities in communities across the country. It brought to mind the superb work of Anne Kubisch and her colleagues at the Aspen Roundtable for Community Change – whose work on structural racism remains among the most thoughtful approaches to analyzing and acting on this insidious problem. And so I turned to Anne’s colleague Keith Lawrence – and this is what he had to say:
“Hats off to the Kellogg foundation for publicly adopting racial equity as a central grant-making principle!
“This is a bold step by a major philanthropic sponsor of initiatives designed to eliminate racial disparities in communities across America. It’s bold because a racial equity perspective explicitly challenges a number of faulty ‘wisdoms’ about race and its connections to familiar socioeconomic outcome patterns, and about the appropriate posture for philanthropy in this arena.
“Kellogg’s recent decision to transform itself into an anti-racism organization sends an important message to those who would believe that President Obama’s election signaled the end of race in America. While that historic development is a great leap forward for our democracy, and a welcome reminder that large numbers of voters hunger for a politics of hope and connectedness, it should not cloud our recognition that we still have a long way to go in truly extending opportunity to all Americans. Thankfully, old-fashioned, in-your-face racism has receded and most of us now consciously embrace colorblind values. But we’re not yet a colorblind society, because our opportunity systems and institutions maintain racially patterned inequalities without, for the most part, intentionally setting out to do so. Kellogg understands that racial privilege and disadvantage have been deeply inscribed into the physical, cultural, economic, institutional, and psychological spaces we navigate daily. Racially inequitable norms and practices in the employment, housing, criminal justice, health and other key sectors still combine to keep far more individuals of color on the margins than can reasonably be explained by their individual shortcomings. Personal responsibility isn’t irrelevant, but its contribution to chronic racial group inequalities is dwarfed by the effects of public policies, institutional practices and unconscious biases that continue to perpetuate racial disparities.
“By stepping up and reframing its race work in this way, Kellogg also sends an important message about the niche philanthropy occupies in our democracy. Americans have always relied on secondary institutions to extend democratic equality: public schools, trade unions, political parties, religious organizations and, among others, philanthropy. These “equalizing institutions” help create a common social fabric as well as additional opportunity pathways for those without social advantages. The extent to which philanthropic foundations have given a broader cross section of the public access to areas and opportunities once the exclusive preserve of elites – such as higher education, the arts, or specialized training – has been part of this equalizing stratum. This wholehearted embrace of a racial equity grant-making standard speaks loudly to others in this sector about what they can do to help our democracy achieve its full potential and substance”.
Keith could not have put it better. I am eager to hear the thoughts of others on Kellogg’s big bet, the work of the Aspen Roundtable on Community Change and the combination of research and action that is required.