Grantmakers in the Arts’ Racial Equity Theory of Transformation

Grantmakers in the Arts presents our Racial Equity Theory of Transformation as an articulation of our values as a jumping-off point for experiments in changing grantmaking practice – not as a definitive position that never changes. Please use this to inform your work, even if that includes critiquing and refuting elements of the theory.

Replacing notions of cultural inferiority with the financing of cultural self-determination is one way toward moving into an increasingly just economic system. Why? Racism was established to facilitate economic exploitation. How? Using cultural inferiority toward dehumanization of BIPOC people and separation of all oppressed peoples from each other. Replace cultural inferiority and we reduce dehumanization and separation, reducing economic exploitation. If the dehumanization of BIPOC through the assertion of their cultural inferiority facilitates economic exploitation, cultural self-determination for BIPOC is a part of economic self-determination for BIPOC and all oppressed peoples.


The goal of Grantmakers in the Arts’ racial equity work is intersectional economic and social justice through cultural change – a social and economic system in the U.S. in which all can thrive, rendering philanthropy obsolete through its being unnecessary.

The GIA member’s community of practice supports more than just arts – we support cultural change.

Culture is a frame for considerations and approaches to social issues. The goal of Grantmakers in the Arts’ work is racial economic and social justice through an intersectional lens ultimately realized through cultural change.

It is essential that we change culture to create economic justice. Racism was created to facilitate economic exploitation of all by a small number of wealthy people, with our keeping BIPOC people at the bottom of the society, and to cement lower and middle class White people’s acceptance of their own oppression by making it seem generous in comparison.

These policies include mandatory slave-catching militias peopled by low-income Whites, redlining, and tying educational funding to property taxes.

Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery provided the philosophical and legal framework for this strategy, while the cultural framework for this strategy was provided by assimilationist racism.

According to Ibram X. Kendi, assimilationist racism is the belief that the inferiority of BIPOC folks is cultural and can be corrected through exposure to Western European or White culture.

Assimilationist efforts are often well intended. Many early abolitionists believed that African slaves could be saved and freed – as long as they abandoned their African cultures and assimilated into the culture of their owners and would-be saviors. Federal Indian law and policy joined removal with assimilation as official government policy.

Assimilationist racism often uses cultural hierarchy to justify and obfuscate economic hierarchy. All forms of racism keep low-income and middle-income BIPOC people and White people separate, which facilitates economic exploitation of all by the few. Assimilationist thinking persists to this day in many forms – including in philanthropy, in the arts, and in the overlap between the two. We evidence this thinking when we passively parrot phrases like “mainstream organization,” when we mean “White.”

Philanthropy is a by-product of an economic system that allows a small number of people to horde great wealth while poverty continues for many, while casting those small number of people as heroic.

Philanthropy has reinforced assimilationist racism by asserting the expertise of philanthropists and philanthropoids over the people being helped, reinforcing the notion of BIPOC cultural inferiority.

Cultural and Economic Self-Determination

Financing cultural self-determination is one way we loosen the hold of White supremacy. Using Donella Meadows’ Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, GIA believes that arts exist at the foundational level of the mindset or paradigm out of which the system – its goals, power, structure, its culture – arises. GIA believes that our allowing racialized outcomes in any system hinges upon our denying the full humanity of racialized people. Denying the validity of the creative expression of racialized people is central to denying their humanity. Resourcing the self-determination of the cultural expression of racialized communities is central to affirming their humanity.

Racial justice will require an ecosystems approach. GIA recognizes that no individuals, organizations or even fields can actualize systems-change alone or in a vacuum. Grantmakers must follow the leads of the communities they seek to serve, while also leveraging our power and privilege by organizing with each other.

GIA treats arts as part of self-determination. GIA believes that every form of support to oppressed peoples must include support for their cultural self-determination for the sake of affirming their humanity, so they are more than just problems to be solved but are generative, creative, expressive fully human.

Indicators of increasing cultural self-determination include:

  • Increasing valuing of BIPOC cultural expression as different from and equal to White cultural expression
  • Increasing resources going to the cultural expression of BIPOC artists, communities, cultural businesses and organizations

Loosening the hold of White Supremacy Culture is one way toward moving into an increasingly democratic economic system: an economy that centers community ownership and democratic governance that builds political, cultural, and economic power for workers.

Indicators of increasing economic self-determination include:

  • BIPOC communities exercising increasing control over philanthropic and public resources
  • Increasing support for BIPOC-owned businesses, Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBE), and other similar models
  • Increasing philanthropic support for such models such as worker co-ops, community land trusts, and mutual aid networks, among others
  • Increasing policy support for the models above as well as pro-worker policies as universal health care and universal basic income
  • Increasing investment into communities instead of the carceral system

If the dehumanization of BIPOC folks through the assertion of their cultural inferiority facilitates economic exploitation, cultural self-determination for BIPOC folks is a part of creative space and voice for economic self-determination for BIPOC folks and all oppressed peoples.