Being Pro-BIPOC is Being Pro-Humanity

In his recent blog post, Backlash: A Sharp Right Turn by a Philanthropy Member Organization, Phil Buchanan, president of Center for Effective Philanthropy, calls out the current critique of pro-BIPOC philanthropy.

Mr. Buchanan’s critique of the current conservative culture war is an example of why Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) supports culture AND why we are pro-BIPOC. This “backlash” (I actually disagree with that specific term, but more on that later) is a culture war – one meant to obfuscate an economic war on low-income White and BIPOC people by a small number of economic elites who have a loud platform and the resources to buy influence.

In GIA’s Racial Equity in Arts Funding Workshops, our partner from True North EDI shares Zaretta Hammond’s framing of culture as a group’s shared attitudes, values, social forms, customary beliefs, and material traits. The economic elites that are using anti-BIPOC cultural strategies do so knowing that culture – what we believe about ourselves and others and how we express this – matters to us more than statistics ever will. That’s why this small number of economic elites have invested so much money – through the corporate media, law schools, think tanks, and public advocacy – into the culture of individualism and against the culture of interdependence.

In his blog post, Mr. Buchanan makes the point that being pro-BIPOC is not mutually exclusive with being pro-low-income White. I agree; PLUS the statistics support that being pro-BIPOC HELPS low-income Whites. Why? Because when folks fear BIPOC people and efforts that benefit them, they vote against policies that benefit low-income White families as well.

In Stamped from the Beginning, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi tells the story of the management of Tredegar Iron Works’ decision in the late 1800s to place enslaved Black people in skilled positions to cut labor costs and how White workers protested, arguing that labor by enslaved folks would depress their wages. Management fired the White workers, replacing them all with enslaved laborers. White men who did not own property were required by law to serve on "slave patrols" in which they were forced to hunt, capture, and return to the economic elites enslaved folks who had sought their own freedom. Simultaneously, the members of such White-led "slave patrols" argued that this system was only fitting since the enslaved folks had “stolen their jobs.” This narrative continues to this day at our border.

In contemporary America, White people make up the largest share of those helped by such safety-net programs as Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – commonly called food stamps. And yet, studies have shown that Whites’ decreasing support for social safety-net programs correlates with increasing racial resentment. One study found that when a group of White participants was told that White people continue to be the “largest single ethnic group in the United States,” they proposed cutting $28 million from federal welfare spending. In a second group who were told that Whites’ population share is “substantially declining,” they proposed cutting nearly twice as much – $51 million. The study also found that White people were less likely to support social safety-net programs if they had been told that the achievement gap between White and BIPOC incomes is closing.

Studies have shown that in the first decades of affirmative action, the greatest growth in career and education has been experienced by White women, rather than by any racialized group. And yet, according to one study, nearly 70% of the self-identified White women surveyed – those most helped by affirmative action – either somewhat or strongly opposed affirmative action.

The strategy of convincing White people to oppose efforts that help them is a cultural narrative strategy executed by economic elites who oppose higher taxes for higher-income earners, the expense of consumer and environmental protections, and equality for women. The most recent chapter in this long-term strategy includes the opposition to pandemic relief and unemployment insurance masked as opposition to government support for critical race theory in schools. This small number of economic elites know that telling White people with low incomes that they’d rather not help them wouldn’t work. Instead, the elites insist that social supports help BIPOC communities at the expense of White communities. They develop fictional versions of BIPOC people that are fabricated but emotionally resonant and scary. These figures include the “welfare queen,” the “super-predator,” and the “terrorist.”

How these narratives are shaped and deployed by financial elites has been well-documented in books such as White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney López.

These acts are hateful and harmful, effectively deploying cultural strategies of metanarrative – the virtuous individual (such as the mythical White cowboy), the evil collective (bands of super-predators) – as well as stories (“A BIPOC person stole your job,…is driving up your taxes, etc.”). They do not bore you with statistics or even facts.

Culture matters and moves us more than any statistic could ever hope. This is why support for culture matters.

That is why GIA shares cultural funding strategies that reject the false binaries between supporting rural communities and supporting BIPOC communities. GIA rejects a cultural vision meant to inspire a cowering stinginess and instead embraces cultural support toward positive narrative change – one of celebration, intersectionality, and interdependence that recognizes that being pro-BIPOC is being pro-humanity.