Blog: Structural Racism is the Silent Opportunity Killer

For a number of years, Grantmakers in the Arts has worked to advance racial equity in the cultural field and among its membership. These efforts can be seen throughout many of GIA’s activities: sessions at its annual conferences, day-long preconferences, articles in the GIA Reader, policy positions and papers, required board and staff training on how to unpack racism, and, last year, a national forum on supporting African, Latin@, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) artists and arts organizations.

“ALAANA” describes individuals and communities as opposed to naming them relative to a dominant group. GIA introduced the term in 2013, and it has gained traction as a frame being used to engage with the work of advancing equity in the field.

At the organizational level, GIA’s commitment to racial equity was further substantiated in the development and adoption of the Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy: Statement of Purpose by the GIA board of directors in early 2015. This living document has had a positive ripple effect in our community. While no document is perfect, it carries with it accountability to and for our field.

To continue this work, GIA is now providing its membership the upcoming web conference series, “Practices for Advancing Racial Equity in Arts Grantmaking,” which offers examples on how some members have aimed to address inequitable outcomes in their funding practices. We understand that the series’ focus on practices is just one of many examination points for how we can make impact in increasing philanthropic and government support to ALAANA artists and arts organizations.

Let us place the series in the context of GIA’s history and our current moment. In 2009, GIA published a Reader article summarizing the 2008 Arts & Social Justice preconference. It stated:

Structural racism is the silent opportunity killer. It is the blind interaction between institutions, policies, and practices that inevitably perpetuates barriers to opportunities and racial disparities. Conscious and unconscious racism continue to exist in our society. But structural racism feeds on the unconscious. Public and private institutions and individuals each build a wall. They do not necessarily build the wall to hurt people of color, but one wall is joined by another until they construct a labyrinth from which few can escape. They have walled in whole communities.

We know that the work of undoing racism in our profession requires systemic change. Systems shape the behavior/conduct of institutions and individuals. In the terrain of institutional systems, one needs to reflect on philanthropic policies, programs, decision making processes, our understanding of impact and evaluation, and the reinforcement of racial stereotypes. Individuals in these systems are actors that affect the operations, structures, and social arrangements within them. They are the I in a we – the self in community. To separate the individual from the institutions is difficult; yet to assert individualism as the pathway to system change is false.

This series will provide the field one small opportunity to examine and deepen our understanding of how structural racialization operates in our institutions and our sector, and then use that knowledge to work to change it.

 –  Roberto Bedoya; writer, cultural activist, and former GIA board member