Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Rebecca Arno, Vice President of Communications at the Denver Foundation.
by: Rebecca Arno
As a white woman, I’m not expected to talk about race. My colleagues of color don’t go through a day without thinking about it – and I have to say that this is increasingly the case for me. Dramatic disparities persist in our society for people of color, in terms of education, economic stability, health, and social justice…and a fabulous session on the last day of the conference addressed these issues with power.
Called “The Myth of a Post-Racial Society,” the session was moderated by Alandra Washington from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and featured Dr. Gail Christopher, also from Kellogg, Lauren Casteel from The Denver Foundation, Janet Langhart Cohen, author of the play “Anne and Emmett” that had been performed Tuesday evening, and her husband, William Cohen, former U.S. Secretary of Defense.
The panel was powerful indeed, immediately dismantling the myth that we have entered a “post-racial society” with the election of President Obama. Dr. Christopher likened the myth of a post-racial society to the myth of the “happy slave” persistent during the Civil War era. Secretary Cohen noted that persistence of the prison-industrial complex as an economic development strategy for rural America, with its focus on incarcerating an overly-large percentage of young men of color, is an example of how we are certainly not a “post-racist” society. Mrs. Cohen reminded the audience that it is unacceptable that only 10% of children of color finish college.
Confronting the issue in a very personal way, Ms. Casteel said that it is important to move from an understandable sense of outrage to reason – to find a “reasonable rage” with which to address these issues.
In the question and answer period, several audience members, white people and people of color, shared powerful personal experiences about their experiences with racism. The atmosphere of remembrance, acceptance, and healing was palpable in the room. But this short session only scratched the surface of the need for such discussions.
Dr. Christopher suggested that the funding community come together in a concerted effort to create a “Fund for the Healing of Racism.” “We have to put racism in front of us, so that we can put it behind us.” I will add the voice of one white woman enlivened by a “reasonable rage” to this call for action. I’m fortunate to work at The Denver Foundation, where our Inclusiveness Project (www.nonprofitinclusiveness.org) addresses these issues of inequity…but the conversation begs for broader adoption throughout the foundation community.