Since the more visible resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party following the 2016 presidential election, many people of color have declared that the hate and violence that we are witnessing is simply an outward manifestation of the quiet ways in which racism is experienced every day. Our country is yet at another crossroad in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. The stakes continue to climb. And the question is: are we now ready to confront the racism that thrives daily?
The events in Charlottesville happened partially because the voices of these hate groups have been validated at the highest levels of government and their members have been given permission to come out of the shadows. However, the events in Charlottesville also happened because of a long history of unaddressed racism and the explicit denial of America’s racism both past and present. This denial prevents us from exhibiting the very best of who we are as a nation.
The murder of Heather Heyer on August 12th in Charlottesville came about as a result of a very public and clamorous manifestation of racism and white supremacy. But, there is another form of racism and white supremacy. It operates in eerily quiet ways. It has seeped into our social fabric and corroded the ways in which we distribute social goods such as health care, housing, education, food, income, wealth and the like.
Dr. David Williams, professor of public health, sociology and African-American studies at Harvard University, spoke at our annual meeting in 2015 and shared data that suggests that African Americans, due to racial inequities in health, lose their lives at a rate comparable to a “fully loaded jumbo jet, with 265 passengers and crew taking off from Boston Logan Airport and crashing today, everybody on board dying, and the same thing happens tomorrow. And the same thing happens every day next week and every day next month and every day for a year."
After his talk, the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers and its members spent the better part of 2016 learning about this quiet racism through the Putting Racism on the Table Series—a six part lecture series focused on issues such as structural racism, white privilege, implicit bias, racism in our criminal justice system, racism’s impact on non-black communities of color, and philanthropy’s role in addressing racism. Philanthropy has been slow to respond to racism, but since this series, we have witnessed the activation of our members. WRAG members are ready to respond.
In February 2017, WRAG launched the Racial Equity Working Group, a collaborative effort to envision a racially equitable region, engage community members to inform that vision and how best to achieve it, and advance systems and policy change toward that vision. At a meeting of the Racial Equity Working Group last week, our members declared that they will use their voices to raise the volume on these issues, including the role of federal, local and state policies in perpetuating racism. White members are declaring that they will use their privilege and identities as white people to be allies in the fight to dismantle racism. Some of our members want to take advantage of these last gasps of the confederacy, similar to that which we witnessed in Charlottesville, to advance a long overdue reparative justice strategy.
We ask that you continue to learn about racism and commit to respond in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. We invite you to visit www.puttingracismonthetable.org and watch the lecture series to get a better understanding of what we mean by quiet racism. Unless and until we come to terms with this quiet version of racism, it will continue to rear its ugly head in these very public ways while people of color suffer needlessly and our nation fails to “live out the true meaning of its creed.”