The Future We Want: Racial and disability justice

The world is in the midst of a historic moment with our changing our practices in order to function during the pandemic and embracing the movement for racial justice. This is a time of great opportunity, as long as we recognize and embrace it. At the start of April I shared a letter calling for us to build deep resilience in our field. I’m heartened by our present and feel great urgency about our future. Six months into this pandemic, we are beginning to see evidence of how the grantmaking field is responding. In my prior blog post, I reflected on the important of advocacy and engagement with the public sector. I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on the importance of racial and disability justice.

The pandemic and national response to the murders of George Floyd and so many others have revealed our dehumanization of Black and other BIPOC people. Philanthropy has responded to the present crises admirably. However, we must expand and make permanent the increased focus on inclusion of and support for self-determination by those most impacted by social inequities and injustice.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s study, Philanthropy and COVID-19 in the first half of 2020 – which tracked foundation and individual giving globally – reveals that that only 5% of the pandemic-response dollars and 12% of the grants in their study were documented as intended for communities of color. A similar study by Exponent Philanthropy and PEAK Grantmaking, focused on foundation giving in the U.S., revealed that only 18% of PEAK Grantmaking survey respondents reported changing their practice to including equity as a primary driver for grant decision-making, with only 10% reporting tracking demographic data on leaders of organizations receiving emergency response funds.

According to the study, Shifting Practices, Sharing Power? How U.S. Philanthropy is Responding to the 2020 Crises, 11% of study respondents say that racial equity has become a key primary focus of their work following this year’s events. While 52% of respondents are considering new internal DEI practices toward power-sharing, only 17% are considering doing this by increasingly delegating decision-making to program officers and only 13% are considering an increased commitment to hiring BIPOC colleagues.

The Exponent Philanthropy and PEAK Grantmaking study revealed that among the changes in funder practice in response to the pandemic that were less likely to last beyond this year were considerations of equity. Only 29% of the 18% who changed their practice to embrace equity plan to continue this embrace into the future. These projections track with disturbing societal trends, in which people simply grow tired of caring about people who are different from us.

We must come together to make this prediction false. GIA has developed and shared our Black Arts & Cultural Funding and Justice Resource Hub and is sharing examples of equitable responses to the pandemic and the movement for anti-racism.

In her blog post, Navigating Toward Justice, Tiffany Wilhelm shared how The Opportunity Fund in Pittsburgh decided that this is the moment to accelerate the tenets of trust-based funding. They looked at the racial representation of their funding in “real time” as they made draft and final decisions about unsolicited grants from their COVID-19 Response Fund with a spreadsheet that was constantly updating the demographic distribution of their funding. Much of their funding was unrestricted and 43% of their funds went to Black-led organizations, with 23% going to organizations with Latine or multi-racial teams.

Throughout our work, GIA shares how racial equity is different from diversity and inclusion. Central to equity is self-determination by BIPOC people. An example of self-determination, NDN Collective recently launched the Radical Imagination Grant to support six Indigenous artists/culture bearers of all traditions, mediums and genres. In her blog post, Wilhelm shares the story of philanthropist Wendy vanden Heuvel’s strategic decision to share power by asking artEquity – a community who shared her justice-focused values – to take full control and power over how to allocate $1 million toward COVID-19 relief. artEquity started by asking questions including, “What can we do to rebuild a system of giving informed by our values and ethos of justice?” The artEquity team developed a plan to launch the Artist + Activist Community Fund. They have transparently documented where the funding is going so that they may identify who isn't receiving sufficient funding and seek out those folks for the next rounds of funding. GIA also looks forward to sharing our GIA Racial Equity in Arts Funding workshops online and to sharing our 2.0 workshops as a follow-up for past workshop participants in the near future.

The time is ripe to support intersectionality as well, including the embrace of disability justice. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy study revealed that only 1% of international pandemic-response funding went to people with disabilities. One bright spot is the COVID-19 Disability Inclusion Fund, a collaborative fund run by Borealis Philanthropy, that supports U.S. groups run by and for disabled people to lead transformational change. In their blog post, Relief Funding in Real Time, Esther Grimm of 3Arts and Meg Leary of the Walder Foundation share information about the collaborative  Arts for Illinois Relief Fund. At the time of writing, the first grants had gone out to 906 artists, 70% of whom are artists of color and artists with disabilities. GIA looks forward to featuring examples of intersectionality in funding in our upcoming virtual convening Power, Practice, Resilience | Remix’d, including several sessions on supporting artists and arts participants with disabilities.

As we look around us, we see the elements of the future we want. We see support for anti-racism in the arts, support for intersectionality and for disability justice. These need not be beautiful exceptions. These efforts can be our collective future.