My first post on the fabulous and essential Role/Reboot, an online magazine about the evolution of gender roles in contemporary culture.
The post was inspired by the inspiring documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” well worth seeing:
My first post on the fabulous and essential Role/Reboot, an online magazine about the evolution of gender roles in contemporary culture.
The post was inspired by the inspiring documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” well worth seeing:
New York City’s mayoral primary was this week, and the discussion reveals many of the dumb ways we think and talk about race, power, and representation.
The narrative around New York politics has long been about identity and voting blocs: blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Jews, LGBTQ folks have their own enclaves, candidates, and voting patterns. Candidates for City Council or Mayor play to certain constituencies with certain targeted messages.
This election scrambled all that. The queer woman candidate lost among women and LGBTQ folks by double-digit margins, the Chinese candidate couldn’t carry the Chinese vote, and the African-American candidate couldn’t carry the black vote. In the space of two months, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate (a largely symbolic post), came from nowhere to the cusp of a runoff-avoiding plurality.
So how did he do it? And why did Thompson and especially Quinn implode? Here’s where the dum-dums step to the mic.
Let’s get a couple of things straight. It’s insulting to think that representation trumps reality: Liu lost the Chinese vote because people could see him implode, and De Blasio convinced them that he couldn’t win and they should get on board with someone who could. And Thompson lost the black vote because he didn’t come out against stop-and-frisk, while De Blasio did, strongly. There’s pride in seeing one of your own come to power, but they have to deliver. It’s as simple as that. People can see what’s in front of them. So stop being surprised that people didn’t automatically line up behind “their” candidate.
You’ll note that the common factor in the above two examples is De Blasio’s cunning. Another element of it is the ad that featured his family, his African-American wife and their Afro’d teenage son. As the NYT points out in a fascinating piece about his campaign strategy, the ad made clear that De Blasio’s opposition to stop and frisk wasn’t just a progressive checklist item, but grounded in a real fear about his son’s well being. Bloomberg called this tactic “racist.” I mean, honestly. This is like Chief Justice Roberts saying “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” No, sorry, it’s by educating people about the fictitious (as in, socially constructed) nature of race and emphasizing that part of people’s common humanity is their ability to draw on many different identities – and not be defined or determined by any one of them. Again, why is this so hard to grasp?
Don’t even get me started on how these fallacies play out in philanthropy. Suffice it to say that we need to make room for people to say the wrong thing so that real, sensible conversations can happen about how to acknowledge, respect, and balance differences of background and identity. If NYC voters can see past convenient labels to the reality of a candidate’s life and convictions, then funders have to be able to talk constructively about how and why they may or may not target particular racial or ethnic populations – without being called racist or automatically being thought of as progressive. What’s the thought process? We could all stand to do more unpacking of mental-emotional models via that kind of question.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you / I’m sorry that I made you cry / I didn’t want to hurt you / I’m just a jealous guy”
I wonder if implicit bias is the progressive version of unintended consequences.
A truly powerful idea that’s associated with conservative thought but has become widely accepted is “unintended consequences.” You try to alleviate poverty by providing a village with a better paved road, and the town becomes attractive as a route for drug smugglers to use in transportation, bringing violence to the town. You create certification processes for businesses so that consumers are protected, and business is disincentivized because the red tape becomes unmanageable.
For foundations, you provide grants in your focus area, and nonprofits that are desperate or don’t know any better modify their missions to go along with what you fund. You try to be clearer in your grant guidelines, and nonprofits hew ever more closely to what you say.
Unintended consequences are usually marshaled as an argument against government intervention, which makes them a popular resource of conservatives. But the reality of their existence means progressives are aware of and care about them as well, even if they don’t like some of the thinking behind them. They’re a hard-to-deny reality that undermines a central tenet of progressive thought, the value of intentional collective/government action in pursuit of greater social welfare.
I wonder if implicit bias is the progressive version of unintended consequences – a hard-to-deny reality that undermines a central tenet of conservative thought, that, as Chief Justice Roberts put it in a recent decision on affirmative action, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of by race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” If despite our conscious efforts, our unconscious minds betray us, Roberts’ notion is not enough.
Implicit bias is the idea that even if you don’t consciously hold racist beliefs, even if you would reject them with your conscious mind, you have still learned patterns of thought and behavior that encode biased and racially invidious beliefs.
Studies have been done looking at the way recruiters handle job applications differently based on something as superficial as people’s names (example, see page 4).
For foundations, implicit bias can affect the way that leaders of nonprofits are seen as legitimate or not, authoritative or not, trustworthy or not. There’s a gender dimension as well, as the study linked to previously points out as well.
My question is whether the moment for implicit bias to emerge as the counterpoint to unintended consequences has come. The beliefs that George Zimmerman had about Trayvon Martin based on the limited visual information he initially received – some were explicit (“they always get away”) and some were no doubt implicit. “Suspicious-looking” – so much is encoded in this slippery phrase.
We live in the era of the algorithm – they calculate what to recommend on Amazon or Netflix, what ads we see on Facebook, what search results we get on Google. We all walk around with implicit algorithms about race and propriety and danger. George Zimmerman’s came to light, tragically, fatally. How long before it becomes abundantly clear to all that implicit bias is real?
In the meantime, foundation folks who review and approve grant applications would do well to ask themselves about potential sources of implicit bias, and investigate means to mitigate them. Because it would be a tragic unintended consequence to allow implicit bias to undermine the laudable goals of philanthropy.
Whether or not comprehensive immigration reform passes this year – and after this week’s initial reaction by the House Republicans, things are looking less certain – the need for immigrant civic integration is a reality.
Here’s a modest proposal: philanthropy can help by creating and supporting spaces where communities can celebrate traditions of giving across cultures. Mutual aid societies, hometown associations, tithing, potlatch – most if not all cultures have established practices of individual collective giving.
“Everyone is a philanthropist” – and in being so, they draw on a wide variety of traditions. Let’s name those, lift them up, and learn from each other.
I was involved in a giving circle for a number of years that wasn’t culturally based, but I found it worked best as an “onramp” for people new to New York who wanted to learn more about philanthropy and nonprofits.
Community Investment Network is doing really interesting work bringing together leaders from giving circles across the country rooted in communities of color. A number of community foundations have ethnically- or racially-focused giving circles, and certainly women’s funds are popular, as the strength of the Women’s Funding Network attests.
Where I’d like to see this go is as a vehicle for immigrant civic integration at a local level. Philanthropy, community foundations, and other grantmaking public charities can be a venue for communities – both recent immigrants and immigrants from 100, 200, or 400 years ago (not necessarily voluntary…) – to learn about and from each other’s traditions are giving.
A lot of this will be based around faith traditions. As nervous as this may make some progressives, I think it’s a great place to start. Religious traditions can be a source of social-justice righteousness or daunting fundamentalism. But they’re large and accommodate many points of view. Not saying there won’t be disagreements, but faith just has to be part of the equation. That’s what drives a huge percentage of individual giving, right, isn’t that what we always read about in Giving USA?
So: community foundations, grantmaking charities, and other place-based funders – think about building shared traditions of giving as a means to promote immigrant civic integration. Because whatever happens in Congress, communities across the country are transforming as a result of migration. It’s another moment in a cycle that has repeated throughout the history of this country. Let’s use philanthropy as a way to make this one smoother.
P.S. Congratulations to New American Leaders Project on three years of trailblazing and important work. Missed out by one on being their 1000th “like” on Facebook.
One of my favorite parts of working at Hispanics in Philanthropy back in the day was serving as the HIP representative to the Joint Affinity Groups – the associations of grantmakers organized by population, generally personal identity. Them what experienced oppression, basically. We each had our own agenda, but we had a joint agenda. The promise of JAG was that we would own each other’s agenda – when Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues advocated with the Council on Foundations that their demographic surveys should include sexual orientation, the rest of us would have their back. Your issues are my issues.
This made so much intuitive sense to me – we’re stronger together, and I have people speaking out on my behalf when I’m not even there to speak for myself. What could be better?
Years later, I learned to call this “intersectionality.” I guess it technically means the intersections among multiple forms of oppression, but I’ve always thought of it as the intersection of multiple identities and the power and possibility that brings. And I’ve always enjoyed the thought that intersectionality is a way of life for younger generations – young undocuqueer activists like my cousin Juan and his husband Felipe live intersectionality every day, and use it as a base from which to fight.
Which means this week, of all weeks, I’m particularly attentive to who acts on intersectionality when some folks have had huge wins this week and others have had huge setbacks. The affirmative action non-decision, the Voting Rights Act defeat, the DOMA and Prop 8 victories, the Wendy Davis filibuster, and today, comprehensive immigration reform gathering 68 votes in the Senate – whew, as a politics junkie, I’m overwhelmed.
This week, of all weeks, is the time to live intersectionality, and to celebrate wistfully, to mourn with some joy in your heart, and above all, to resolve to keep fighting for justice and equality.
Kudos to Black Girl Dangerous for holding our feet to the fire. Check out her post on “DOMA, the VRA and The Perfect Opportunity“. Couldn’t say it any better. This is the chance to show your values, to show that you mean intersectionality.
And philanthropy? You’ve got no excuse not to be intersectional. Ask it of yourself, ask it of your grantees, ask it of your partners? How are you seeing the intersections of the issues you support, who’s living at the intersection of the issues you care about, and what can you learn from each other? I say “learn from each other”, not “learn from them”, keeping in mind a great quotation I saw on Facebook today, originally from aboriginal activist Lilla Watson:
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Indeed. My schtick on this blog is to have the post titles be song titles. “Fountain and Fairfax” is by the Afghan Whigs, one of my favorite bands from the early 90s. It’s shambolic indie rock sung by a white guy with a sandpaper throat who thinks he’s a soul singer from the 60s. Like many of their songs, “F and F” is about a drunk/junkie trying to make good. “Angel, I’m sober / I got off that stuff / Just like you asked me to.” The addict makes promises, over and over, and keeps breaking them. Time and again, he has a chance to start again and misses it. But not this time.
“I’ll be waiting for you / At Fountain and Fairfax”
Time to show up.
Philanthropy creates a bubble for those who work in it. We all know this. But on the inside, it’s so easy to forget. The surface of the bubble is so shiny, as it refracts the light coming from the outside. It’s a curved surface, so things on either side look distorted. But your eyes adjust. The brain is so skilled at adapting to new realities. With time, the funhouse image feels like a mirror, or a window.
But outside the bubble, reality goes on. Surface tension, surprisingly strong, keeps the bubble aloft on gentle breezes. But it can always be popped.
What does reality-based grantmaking look like? It begins with a clear understanding of what funders can and cannot do.
The funders who make a difference are the ones who invest for the long term, or who partner strategically, or who accept that small victories are big in the right context. Project Streamline a few years ago advanced the notion of “right-sizing” grants – they mean grant requirements. But it’s time to right-size grants, and our ambitions along with them, to the extent of the problems we’re addressing.
Funders can do more than they allow themselves, and they can achieve less than they think they can. And that’s OK. Life in the bubble is stifling; no air circulates. Step on out. See your surroundings clearly. Touch the ground. It’ll all be fine. We could all use the knowledge you’ve gained and benefit from the independent you should be allowed to keep. But please – see what you are. Know thyself.
Back 2 Reality.
In news from the reality-based side of philanthropy, happy 10th anniversary to the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity! Lori Villarosa and her PRE colleagues have been tireless, fearless advocates for a topic that’s essential for renegotiating the 21st-century social contract. Thank you Lori and company for moving that conversation forward.
I’ve been learning to play that song on the ukulele, the version I know is from the Mamas and the Papas – great stuff.
So, anything much happen in politics since last week? Wow! Quite an announcement Obama made last week. I’m doing a few immigration-related projects at work, so I’ve heard a few different perspectives. One person pointed out that it’s a decision to not enforce certain rules – the absence of enforcement viewed as a victory. Hey, I have DREAMers in my life, I’m not gonna complain.
It makes me think about philanthropy, winning, and perpetuity. When a campaign wins, on some level it faces an existential crisis – we got what we wanted, what next? One answer is always, ensuring effective implementation. Fine. But is there a larger narrative that readily justifies continued action – in that particular organizational form?
I once heard someone from a workers’ rights organization make the claim that a human rights framework provides that narrative. It gives you a list of things that are linked that you can choose to achieve in a certain order, with the next item on the list waiting after you’ve checked one off. Paid time off, check. Health benefits, check. Right to organize, check. Living wage, check. And so on. Sad to say, I don’t know that the idea has caught on.
So my question, as always, is what role philanthropy plays in all this. If, as I’ve argued, the archetypal model of a foundation is about privacy, autonomy, and perpetuity, then this is where perpetuity comes into play. A foundation supports a winning campaign, it doesn’t experience an existential crisis; it can move on to the next thing. Particularly when it has multiple programs. It can emphasize other programs. Or simply choose a new topic.
Single-issue nonprofits face a deeper challenge – they have to consider whether it’s worth going on, and if so, in pursuit of what goals? This may be an argument in favor of working on multiple issues; but can you be as effective? Focus on one thing, win, and face a crisis; or focus on several things, maybe never win, and continue in the fight?
One wonders if finitude, a self-imposed deadline, might put some more urgency in foundation consideration of these questions.
The thing is, programs at foundations that exist in perpetuity are almost always finite – but in unpredictable ways. If foundations imposed a deadline on a program ahead of time, would that make a difference? “We will be in this field for 10 years. We will try to accomplish A, B, and C, and we’ll do whatever we need to in service of that goal.”
All that’s a long way from the sweet victory of the DREAMers. But as we look to foster more such victories, it’s worth thinking about how this one part of the equation can play its role more effectively.
I haven’t read The Help, but I’m interested in the discussion surrounding the film’s release. I think of Colorlines as my go-to place for acute, well-informed critique on the politics of race and racial equity. So it’s intriguing to see a take there by Akiba Solomon, timed to the film’s release, that quotes as “the best review…I’ve read so far” a piece that appeared in…Entertainment Weekly. That’s remarkable! Colorlines seal of approval on a piece of critique that appeared in as mainstream a publication as you can get.
That’s no knock on Solomon. As a longtime loyal EW subscriber, I had been pleasantly surprised to Martha Southgate’s on-point rebuttal of the film’s presumption to tell the story of a key element of the civil-rights struggle from the perspective of those who were ultimately on the sidelines. Money line from Southgate: “the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.” The point that needed to be made gets made in a place where a sizable part of the film’s audience is likely to see it. Nice.
Now, there are several layers going on here, obviously. (And I promise one of them has to do with philanthropy.)
And it’s that last point that resonates with the concept of philanthropy. Sometimes the gift of voice is the gift that keeps on giving, well beyond the giver’s intentions or frames of reference. Ultimately, giving voice to the disenfranchised and then stepping the hell to the side, may be the best thing a philanthropist – whether an individual like the Skeeter character in The Help or a foundation making grants – can do in some situations. Once again, the Beatles get it right – “help! I need somebody, not just anybody” – there are good ways and better ways that donors can be…wait for it…The Help.
A recent story in the NYT documents the impact of the recession on different racial and ethnic groups. In percentage terms, Hispanics were hit the hardest, losing 66% of household wealth between 2005 and 2009 – with African-Americans similarly impacted. But the truly shocking numbers are the absolute figures. Black and Latino households have around $10,000 or less in household net worth – even after falling by more than 10% in the recession, white households have on average *ten times* the household wealth, over $100,000.
What the hell?! Even as we’re rapidly moving toward a “majority minority” society, wealth is so unevenly distributed across racial and ethnic groups. Reminds me of a line from an old Chris Rock routine – “we black people need to build wealth. I ain’t talkin’ ’bout rich, I’m talkin’ ’bout *wealthy.* Shaq is rich; the guy who owns the Lakers is wealthy.”
And now these clowns in Washington are falling over each other to drive our country’s future into a ditch. Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell has a really important piece on the SSIR blog about all the groups in line to help people before individual donors:
It’s a really illuminating perspective. But what’s missing is scale. The groups in that “line” are not created equal – and if one falls, the ones behind it aren’t necessarily capable of filling the gap. So when government, the second in line after private business, shrinks suddenly – do you think those household wealth numbers will go up? Pell grants, funding to help people mitigate vulnerability? The main reason Hispanic household wealth fell so much during the recession is that much of what folks had been able to gain was in their houses – the value of which tanked. Our infrastructure is Third World already; looks like our social safety net is headed the same way, with what are sure to be disastrous consequences.
Madness, I tell you – madness.
Hi – back after a couple of weeks under the radar. Per my last post, I was at the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and Council on Foundations (CoF) conferences back-to-back in Philadelphia. My guest post on the CoF website on one of the panels I moderated is here.
Welcome to new readers who began following me on Twitter in Philly. My mission statement for this blog is here, and my shtick is to use song titles for blog-post titles.
One of my biggest takeaways from the confluence of the “next-generation” (or really, “now-generation”) EPIP conference and the “mainstream” CoF conference is how distinct they are – like the black Amazon and the brown (sandy) Amazon:
The two conferences were alongside each other and many people, me included, traversed both, but our experiences were very different. I won’t say which one is sandy and which one is clear!
But the main difference had to do with how much the personal level – our individual narratives of class, leadership, social interaction, race, ethnicity – were not the background but the foreground and content of discussions at the EPIP conference. See here for a series of blog posts that break down different elements of the conference content. We heard from foundation CEOs who talked about their personal leadership journeys, trainers who helped us understand and break down narratives of class, social-justice advocates who talked about their organizing victories that sprang from marrying personal transformation with structural change. The personal is the professional, we kept hearing.
And on the other side of the river…nothing. It was all about roles, but not about the people who inhabit the roles. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Panels on “Why Aren’t Foundation Boards More Diverse?” and “Speaking of Race” brought in questions of identity.) I’m reminded of GrantCraft’s work on bringing your “whole self” to your role as a grantmaker. But that narrative, that approach, was absent during the CoF conference.
I came away from the Meeting of the Waters wondering if the EPIP mode is the way of the future. Will Generations X and Y expect the personal to be discussed alongside, as part of the professional, as they move forward in the field and become the “mainstream” audience of the CoF conference? What will this confluence of conferences look like in 10 or 20 years? (Assuming there is still a field of the type we recognize today, which, honestly, who knows….)