Racism and philanthropy is a hot topic. Don’t miss the forceful discussion of it hosted by the Bradley Center on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal (video here, transcript here). The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s five-year, $75 million America Healing initiative provided the impetus for the Bradley Center’s panel discussion, and Kellogg deserves great credit for sending two of its leaders to discuss the initiative at this panel, even though critics of Kellogg's approach were also invited speak. Foundations too often avoid any such serious discussion. Sterling K. Speirn, president and CEO of Kellogg, and Dr. Gail Christopher, vice president of Kellogg and leader of the initiative, joined Harvard’s Stephan Thernstrom, Ron Christie, and moderator William Schambra on the dais. Thernstrom had earlier attacked the America Healing initiative in an op-ed:
The foundation calls this “the most significant effort in our nation's history to bring racial healing to communities and dismantle structural racism in America.” In fact, it’s the largest single boondoggle ever created for the racial-grievance industry.
At the panel, president Speirn said the initiative was launched “because of our historic commitment to promoting racial equity and undoing the disparities in health, in education, and in the communities where we work.” This will require enabling people “to have courageous conversations about race, and historic, structural and current racism.” Dr. Christopher responded passionately to Thernstrom’s criticisms, adding that she felt “the danger in there being a major platform for that type of interpretation and denigration of this very important effort.” In the Q&A, Kellogg’s leaders were challenged by Robert Woodson, a black nonprofit leader with long experience in the nation’s toughest neighborhoods. He asked, “if racism were the problem in America, then how do you explain black-on-black dysfunction” in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere? Woodson added,
we have 3,000 blacks every six months dying at the hands of other blacks from violence. That is like a 9/11 every six months. And they are failing in school systems run by their own people ... how would looking at these problems through the prism of race address that? If the perpetrators of the evil are people of color, explain how institutional racism addresses that.
Speirn and Christopher said racism is not the only factor in such problems, but Woodson was unsatisfied:
by concentrating on white racism at the exclusion of these other kinds of issues in these troubled neighborhoods where I spend a lot of time, it provides an exemption from personal responsibility on a lot of people in those neighborhoods, because they are told by people like you that their problem is race, and therefore they have no responsibility for themselves.
On a related theme, I’ve critiqued the Tides Foundation and its support of “structural racism” activists for the Capital Research Center. Tides, a leading left-wing funder and incubator of nonprofits, has come under strong criticism in recent years. It is best known for its support of environmentalist groups like the violent Ruckus Society, but I argue that Tides has done more to re-make America through its support of “structural racism,” a theory that racial disparities in such statistics as education, home foreclosure, and wealth result from racist structures in America. One of the most extreme exponents of this theory is Eric Mann, who wrote the following for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (a group co-founded by a Tides Foundation board member who has also helped lead the Structural Racism Caucus): “the U.S. empire ... self-nominates as the main cause of organized racism and national oppression in the world.” Mann looks forward to a global movement for reparations that “will be driven by years or even decades of a ‘crimes against humanity’ tribunal, with European and U.S. imperialist civilization on trial.” The tribunal’s findings would “challenge the very legitimacy of the U.S. to exist as a nation state, and call into question its settler-state history of genocide against both indigenous peoples and blacks.” (Funders of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council include the Kellogg, Rockefeller, Ford, Mott, and Tides foundations.) Another effort linked to Tides, indeed one of its internal “projects,” is the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE). Because PRE targets donors for persuasion, it typically uses much milder rhetoric than Mann’s, yet sometimes its blog is startling. Consider, for instance, this post by Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly discussing the California state legislature’s consideration of new laws to regulate private foundations. Cohen called for stark changes in the direction of racial and ethnic quotas:
To restructure foundations for the representational equity they need, there has to be a clear plan and timetable for diversifying foundation boards, family foundation boards and others. … In discussions that will legitimately influence access to foundation resources, the foundation community must structurally incorporate community leaders into decision-making roles within grantmaking institutions. It’s time to democratize how foundations make decisions about community grantmaking. [emphasis in the original]
Unlike Woody Allen’s friend who cheated on his metaphysics exam by looking into the soul of the man next to him, I can’t know Cohen’s motives for advocating such policies. But anyone acquainted with human nature knows that moving in the direction Cohen advocates -- whether the move is enforced by social pressure or by legal coercion -- will bring out hucksters in the Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson mode who will happily shake down foundations the way they’ve long shaken down corporations. I don’t believe that will genuinely help minorities and poor people, any more than the same distressed populations were helped by the nonprofits who worked to erode mortgage lending standards using the same kind of racial grievance-mongering.