A few days ago, NPQ ran an article by Will Cordery entitled “Dear Philanthropy: These are the Fires of Anti-Black Racism.” In it, he writes:
My call to philanthropy: fund racial justice. Fund the hell out of it. Fund racial justice work that centers organizing and power-building to counter anti-Blackness. Fund racial justice work that centers the lived experiences, leadership, and communities of Black people. Fund spaces that foster a radical imagination and the creation of new ways of being that could potentially replace centuries of systemic and structural racist practices in our society.
And have the staying power to give Black activists and allies the space to develop effective organizing strategies to achieve lasting change.
Understand that our specific programmatic interventions and strategies must serve a larger collective vision. Our struggle is mutual—and our liberation is mutual. Our collective liberation cannot fully be realized until Black people are free. When we take our focus off of addressing anti-Blackness, Black death continues to happen. Threats to Black life continue to happen. Amy Cooper continues to happen.
Black lives have always mattered.
But, as Megan Ming Francis, the author of a paper entitled “The Price of Civil Rights: Black Lives, White Funding and Movement Capture,” noted in February of 2019, the problem is not simply a general lack of funding, but also the control white-led philanthropic organizations exert over that funding—and by extension, movements.
Having studied the effects of the relationship of the NAACP to the now-long-defunct Garland Fund in the early 20th century, Francis concluded that the foundation’s influence had the effect of moving the organization’s priorities away from fighting mob violence against black people to educational equity.
At the time, the feeling among the NAACP was that before the organization could appropriately address issues like voting, labor, and housing, they had to end lynching and mob violence. However, the organization was seriously underfunded by 1925, and didn’t have any viable prospects of big donors to support that agenda. It was in this context that the Garland Fund offered the NAACP its largest grant ever—to pursue civil rights in education. As Francis wrote:
The focus on education sidelined concerns of criminal procedure, siphoned resources away from the campaign around workers’ economic rights, and undermined the concerns of black labor. However, the campaign also had the effect of dramatically transforming constitutional law with the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision. And even if it did not bring about direct change in education as many have alleged, it did have “cultural significance” which invigorated a new world of court‐centered and legislation‐centered civil rights claiming.
“Why does the protection of black bodies from private and state‐sanctioned violence remain an unmet challenge for civil rights groups committed to racial equality?” she asks in the study. “A major but under recognized reason…is directly connected to movement capture.”
Might the outcome been better, might the movement have gotten further, had the organization retained its original focus, the one that did not draw sufficient funding? This is an unanswerable question, but one clearly worth pondering in 2020, even as systemically sanctioned violence against Black people persists.
Over the past few weeks, calls for funding Black-led organizing have increased. Some have provided options that attempt to remove the direct intermediary function of white-led philanthropy. Here are two examples.
Borealis Philanthropy, which is a pooled fund led by people of color, released the following statement on Tuesday:
The shockingly brazen murder of George Floyd while he pleaded for his life has shown in unmistakable terms what anti-Black racism and police brutality look like in the United States. While Mr. Floyd’s horrifying death has galvanized millions, state-sanctioned violence against Black people happens every day. This week we also mourn Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson and Tony McDade, and many others whose names we don’t know.
Much has been written in our sector over the past few days in response to these murders. In crises like this, funders typically rush to make rapid response grants to show concern. While we applaud the impulse to do something now, this approach is at best a band-aid and, at worst, can send grantees on a boom-and-bust rollercoaster.
When communities came together in grief and outrage over the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, funders pledged to support them. Yet, as Will Cordery write