Why Structural Racism Matters in Philanthropy

On Tuesday, August 21, Grantmakers in the Arts will host “Real and Not Real: The history of racialization in the United States,” a webinar by Race Forward, which will serve as foundational for future GIA Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy workshops.

Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) is hosting this webinar in follow up to the Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy workshop pilot at our 2017 annual conference in Detroit. Participants’ feedback of the pilot was overwhelmingly positive and many stated that they wanted more – more content on the history of racialization in the U.S. and more time to discuss with each other the content they were learning in real time. We are eager to create opportunities for our workshop participants and members to have more of both. GIA’s Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy workshops help participants recognize that cultural philanthropy is a system that has been historically racialized like so many societal systems and helps guide approaches to re-designing cultural philanthropy as an anti-racist system.

A racialized system is one that has racialized outcomes. As we can see, in such a system, white people (or, in this case, organizations and artists) are prioritized and therefore often achieve greater levels of success than Asian, Latine, African, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) peoples. Once these systems are established, they are passively maintained through our collective refusal to change the system. These systems allow significantly more resources to go to white people and organizations without anyone having to engage in interpersonal racial bigotry. Many people who allow racialized systems to continue uninterrogated, unaddressed, and uncorrected are engaging in structural racism but not engaging in racial bigotry. They are perfectly happy and comfortable with the successes of individuals of color all the while perpetuating the creation of systemic barriers for communities of color.

How does this happen? In part, by our collective refusal to talk about it directly. For instance, many of us prefer not to call a “mainstream” organization – one that was founded, led, governed, and largely staffed by white people – a white organization. Many of us prefer not to call a “culturally-specific” organization – one that was founded, led, governed, and largely staffed by ALAANA peoples or people of color – an ALAANA organization or an organization of color. Why? The structure of cultural funding – both public and private – has bred a field of stark inequity. The largest predominantly white nonprofit theatre companies in America have annual operating budgets between $50-$60 million. The largest predominantly African-American theatre company has an annual operating budget of $3.5 million. The largest predominantly Latine company has an operating budget of $2.5 million.

Divestment from ALAANA organizations is part of a larger pattern of divestment from ALAANA communities. For instance, African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population but they hold less than 3% of the nation’s wealth. Cultural funders’ continued commitment of requiring matching funds – rewarding organizations’ access to high-net-worth donors – and reliance on formula funding – which bases the amount you receive on the amount you already have – continues a cycle of poverty for ALAANA organizations at the insistence of said funders.

GIA is eager to share this upcoming webinar in which we explore this history and for the national rollout of our Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy workshops in which we will explore these issues, stories of success, and opportunities for alternative outcomes.

While opportunities are fast filling up for 2018, please contact GIA President & CEO Eddie Torres at eddie@giarts.org to find out more about hosting a workshop in your community.